Life at the Oriflamme Mine, 1875-1876
By Gale Sheldon
When the cry of "Gold!" was heard from Julian in 1870, Amos Weed packed his carpentry tools and gold pan and struck out for the mountains cast of San Diego. It was during this interval that Weed took charge of the Oriflamme Mine and Mill for his cousin, Ephraim W. Morse, one of its owners. This mine was situated six miles southwest of Banner and four miles east of the Stonewall Mine at Cuyamaca. Morse, a prominent San Diego merchant, lawyer, real estate promoter and civic official, had become a part owner in the early 1870's.
Both Weed and Morse had joined the gold rush to California in 1849. They sailed from Boston aboard the Leonore and arrived at San Francisco after a five-month voyage around Cape Horn. After a brief attempt at placer mining in the gold fields, where the cousins panned gold together, Weed journeyed to San Diego. A carpenter by trade, he worked on the army barracks and a post office for a few months, then returned to San Francisco. While placer mining near Tuolumne the following year he picked up an 18 1/2 ounce gold nugget.1
Weed lived in Oregon for three years and for a time in the Hawaiian Islands before settling permanently in San Diego in 1862. He lived here until his death at the age of 90 on April 29, 1918. Always much interested in the San Diego & Arizona Railway, he requested that his ashes be scattered along the railroad tracks from San Diego to Tijuana. 2
The Julian-Banner gold mining bonanza had flared quickly and then nearly died. Gold production for 1875 was only one-fifth that of 1872 and 1873, so it was inevitable that many mine owners wished to sell. Amos Weed was authorized by Morse's letter of September 6, 1875, to take charge of the Oriflamme Mine and Mill to put it in saleable shape.3
Life at the mine, often alone, has been recorded in several letters written by Weed to Morse during his stay there.4 The frequent misspellings, the lack of punctuation, and the sometimes faulty grammar do not detract from the story they tell. Many of Weed's early letters contained requests for tools and materials. In one of them he wrote:
I want you to send me Tea kittle stew pot & cover rip saw compasces Chalk line and Saw Set Wheel Barrow Bowl and Turn Table with holes punched if required (one hot Oil cinnamon which you will find in the cupboard at the curtis house please send) ...
James Pierce, a business partner of Morse, visited the mine early in September. On September 12 following his visit, Weed wrote him concerning the equipment and tools on the property:
Since you left I have the tools all collected. I am now left alone king of the field and Monarch of all I survey My right there is none to dispute except the Quails.
The next morning after you left I was at the Black smith shop and mised the anvill thought Some one had taken it but happened to think where Mr. Geddes was diggin I went there and throwed some dirt away and found it I did not see him put it there Concequently I put in another place . .
On September 19 Weed concluded a letter to Morse thus:
... You will please send by Hamilton to the Stone wall Mine 2 Bots of Dr. Kennedys Rheumatic Dissolvent. I have the Sciatica so bad in my back I am afraid I shall be laid up
I suppose you will take a trip up here soon to look at the mine you can soon see where the money expended has gone.
Please send my mail matter to the Stone Wall in care Frary & Farley ...
Because a good supply of water was required for operating a stamp mill, Weed began a long letter by indicating the current water situation. He continued with a detailed account of the mining progress at the Oriflamme as he saw it:
Oroflamn Mine Sept 23d /75
Yours of Sept 17th and 20th came to hand yesterday. It has rained here one day and one night since I came up though not enough to make any perceptiable difference in the runing of the water at [t]he Mill though it has raised the springs somewhat ...
As far as the Mill is concerned it is one of the best that has ever been brought to these range of Mountains. But when it comes to Mining and Milling I think you will find that it cannot be done for $4.50 per ton. from the fact it cannot be worked long without timbers, and the wooden Shute which has been in use will the bottom plank be ground to powder before long.
... You say the last crushing went as high as 28.00 per ton, If so from what athority also please state if it was the rock being crushed when I arivd as it will give me a better insite to Judge the chaicture of the ore. I can asure you I never have seene such inferior looking class of ore before that contained much gold as that they were crushing when I came up. The gold is so fine it is almost imposabje to test the Claim by Morter. I can get a very fine collor out of the rock about half way down the Shaft . . . I took a piece of the rock from a vein about 6 inches wide about the size of a hens egg it prospected very large the gold was so very fine it seemed to the eye more like yellow paint then gold ...
You will please send 2 Joints Stove pipe one joint to set on the Stove. I think the Stove is No. 7 anyhough the circumference of the pipe is 104 inches. Please also send my hammer and draw knife and that part paper of I inch brads, which you will find in my chest at the house...
Some days the wind blows a hericane up the Canion The winder frames hav. shrunk so much the winders will not stay in without piecing ...
On September 30 Weed reported that all parts of the claim had been prospected, but he had been unable to get an experienced miner to help. He wrote: "I suppose I could find plenty in Julian but it would be some one who owed a bill to some one they would try to palm off on to me." In a postscript to the letter Weed noted that the mine was in as good condition to sell as it could be. A further note on the back dated October 1 included this item: "When you cone [come] up bring your Opra glass as it is a fine prospect from off the mountain on to the desert."
A storm, popcorn, how not to fire a shotgun, unhealthy drinking water and an earthquake were all noted in Weed's letter of November 15
For God sake what kind of a tempest have you got in San Diego! It is blowing the top of the hills off here ... I cant make a fire in the stove it blowes the fire clear acrost the flare . . . I am out of grub . . . I find gold everywhere on the ledge . . .
I have in the Old Curtis house in the kitchen 2 Sacks pop corn suspended by the rafters. the roof leaks so bad I expect it is all wet I wish you would take it home and dry it you will find the popper somewhere in the kitchen . . . Deer are quite plenty here. I run a hall for my sht gun the other day in an acorn shell and went down the creek a short distance saw a big buck be was coming down the hill toards me I had to fire square for his brest the gun kicked so bad the bullet raised nocked off one of his horns. A gun is not fit to shoot bullets out of. Could you not hire a second handed rifle and molds from Henrich the gun smith for me for a few months ...
I hope you are well of the dysentary. I think the cause of it was by drinking the water so low down in your cistern which was very unhealthy . .
You probably remember you once had a trial of that before on the Yuba river in 1849 by drinking so much of that impure water . . . I wish I had something to read anything I would not care what. 33 minutes past 2 Oclock Shock of Earth Quake. 35 minnutes past 2 Oclock 2d Shock each of which lasted very near a minnuete. At first I ran from the house. I thought the Chute was falling but not yet . . .
On December 19 the immediate concern was the trapping of foxes:
I have found out now what caught my chickens it was the foxes. Those signs we saw on the hill the other day wer fox signs they live partly on Mancinito berries. I see fresh tracks every morning.
If you can get me a fox trap any where I wish you would and send me ...
Mr. Cleveland was speaking to me about fox skins perhaps he would like to send me a trap and take his pay in fox skins. I would like to catch enough to take home and make Daniel a present to make a carriage robe ...
When a question arose concerning Weed's wages, he was not hesitant in informing Morse of his demands. He wrote on December 20:
You say there is some misunderstanding with your folks in regard to my wages, when I came up I had an understanding with you for forty dollars per month to take charge of the property here and keep the same from going to waste but I did not agree to doe anything more, but when I came up Mr. Pierce wanted me to prospect the mine which I did immediately do thurroughly and since you concluded to get out some rock I have been at work faithfully every day getting out as much as I could.
Now for the amount of work I have been doing since I have been here I think I ought to have $2.00 per day and board Sundays excepted as when any more men comes to work they will expect me to cook for them besides. Should this not meet with the views of your people, you will please let me know immediately so I can commence work elsewhere . . .
By January 1, 1876, the gold ledge was looking better, a miner had been hired to help get out ore and winter had come to the mountains. Wrote Weed from Julian:
I should not be in a hurry about pressing a Sale for this claim if I was in your place until I found out something more about it as I think by holding on you might make in the end ...
We had a snow storm the other day but it is nearly all gone it is getting very cold now night before last my water bucket frose over sitting by the Stove in the morning it was 1/2 inch thick I don't know when I have suffered so much with the Cold I shall go down again armed with another Blanket ...
Amos Weed's belief in the richness of the Oriflamme's ledge remained unchecked. On February 5 he wrote Morse, "You seem to write as though you had some doubts about the rock having gold in it, but when you come up again that doubt will soon explode, we are at work for proffit to you now not to prospect." The March winds took their toll at the mine. Weed reported the story in a letter written on the 30th:
Did you have a gale of wind at your place last night? When we quit work last night the sky was clear and warm but blowing quite fresh after supper it commenced to blow a gale and at eight oclock it began to snow. The wind still increasing until it became so terific that we were frightened the house would go, it continued at intervals till morning. When I got up I looked up the hill and discovered the Chute had blown over during the night ...
The following day, April 1, Weed added this item to his message: "...The weather is getting to be quite warm there is no snow to be seen here now with the exception of the Sanbernardino Mountain that is white yet.."
By April 22 the miner, Toohey, had quit and Weed also had be. come anxious to leave. In his letter to Morse he said, "I hope you will send some [one] here this week in my place as I want to go east as soon as I can get away sometime in May." By May 8 the desire to depart from the Oriflamme Mine had not diminished. He wrote:
I am sorry the Sale of the clame is not made yet as I would like to get away soon as I can I wrote home that I would be there on the 4th of July sure a promise I would like to fulfill if posable. I worked on the Aarne up to last Saturday night and am completely tired and wore out and I do not feel like working any longer alone ...
As if this did not make his position clear enough, he added a postscript which read, "Please bear in mind I want to get home by the 4th of July."
In his final letter from the Oriflamme Mine (May 18) Amos Weed carefully listed his stock of provisions for the benefit of the-person who would assume his job:
(grub on hand 125 lbs Flour) 125 lbs Potatoes) about 40 lbs corned Beef) most 5 gal Keg Syrup) 1% Can 15 lbs Lard 25 lbs Beans) 15 lbs Sugar) 4 Papers Soda) 2 Bot Mustar 1 Pepper) 2 lbs raisens) 3 lbs rice) I lbs Tea) 2 qts Vinegar) 3 lbs Butter) 6 cans condenced milk) I can Salmon 1/2 lbs 5 lbs cheese other things such as he needs be can bring with him ...
And to this was added a postscript: "My eyes will be turned towards the top of the hill from this on for some one to relieve me."
Weed did not have long to wait. On May 25, 1876, Morse sent a Mr. Farley to replace him at the Oriflamme Mine.5 Records indicate that Amos Weed pocketed $403.49 in wages and returned to his home in the East, but it is not known if he arrived in. time to help celebrate the festivities of the Fourth.
1. "Amos Weed. A Veteran Pioneer Settler of San Diego-January, 1850" (MS in Biographical File, Serra Museum).
2. San Diego Union, May 1 1918.
3. Morse to Weed in E. W. Morse, Letter Press Book No. 7, p. 176 (Serra Museum).
4. "Oriflamme Mine" (Document File, Serra Museum, containing series of letters from Amos Weed to E. W. Morse, September, 1875, to May, 1876, lists of purchases for the mine and miscellaneous papers).
5. Morse to Weed in E. W. Morse, Letter Press Book No. 7, p. 604 (Serra Museum).