The Miner’s Ten Commandments

My last post about old western gold town sparked my interest in the whole subject of mining.

So I dived into the subject. So many fascinating tidbits of life in those towns. Nothing settled the west as quickly as did the discovery of gold and silver. The first gold publicly discovered was in January, 1848, and that event changed the course of history. Henry Bigler, a workman at a sawmill in the Sierra Nevada foothills, found the nugget that opened a great migration. Gold was found then throughout Montana, California, Arizona, Nevada. Camps and towns sprung up – places named Drytown, Strawberry Valley, Poker Flat, Queen City, Poverty Hill, Port Wine (named by prospectors who found a cask of wine hidden in a nearby canyon), Oroville, Goodyears Bar, French Corral (founded by two Frenchmen), Timbuctoo, Rough and Ready, Dutch Flat, and Yankee Jims.

Adventurers descended on the west from the rest of the country as well as thousands lured from overseas. But rather than finding gold for the picking, most found miserable drudgery, A few might pick up a nugget, but then have to pay a dollar for a piece of bread and another dollar to butter it. He paid $100 for a blanket, $100 for a horse, and $20 for a shovel with which to dig his fortune or his folly.

Often the winners in these towns were those who turned from that pick to laundering, cooking, merchandizing. or, as mentioned before, the world’s oldest profession. The era produced great characters, including Black Bart (more on him in a future post), Baby Doe, Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, and Senator-for- a-month Haw Taber. It nourished the creative talents of authors and artists like Bret Harte and Mark Twain.

Because these towns and camps sprung up so rapidly there was little law, and the miners were forced to write their own laws which gradually spread throughout the camps and became known as the Miners’ Ten Commandments. In 1853, they were enacted into Federal Law. according to “Sunset Gold Country,” a guide to California’s mining past. I’m not going to vouch for that but would love to do more research on it.

So here’s the Ten Commandants. Some truths and chuckles here.


1. Thou shalt have no other claim than one.
2. Thou shalt not make any false claim nor jump one. If thou do thou must go prospecting and shall hire thy body out to make thy board and save thy bacon.
3. Thou shalt not go prospecting before thy claim gives out. Neither shall thy take thy gold to the gambling table in vain.
4. Thou shalt remember the Sabbath. Six days thou mayest dig, for in six days labor thou canst work enough to wear out thy body in two years.
5. Thou shalt not think more of thy gold than how thou shall enjoy it.
6. Thou shalt not kill thy body by working in the rain. Neither shall thou destroy thyself by getting ‘tight’ nor ‘high seas over’ while drinking down thy purse.
7. Thou shalt not grow discouraged, nor think of going home before thou hast made thy pile.
8. Thou shalt not steal a pick, a shovel or a pan from thy fellow miners, nor borrow a claim, nor pan out gold from others riffle box. They will hang thee, or brand thee, or brand thee like a horse thief with the letter R upon thy cheek.
9. Thou shalt not tell any false tales about ‘good diggings’ in the mountains, lest your neighbors return with naught but a rifle and present thee with its contents thereof and thou shall fall down and die.
10. Thou shall not commit unsuitable matrimony nor neglect thy first love. If thy heart be free thou shall ‘pop the question’ like a man, lest another more manly than thou art should step in before thee, and then your lot be that of a poor, despised comfortless bachelor.”
I think my favorite is number ten, although nine brought a giggle or two.

I’m starting a mini contest for those who reply. The winner will receive a copy of my new book, “Catch A Shadow,” along with one of my early westerns.

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20 thoughts on “The Miner’s Ten Commandments”

  1. LOL…thanks for that! Numbers 9 and 10 are my favorites!!! Made me laugh!

    That was an interesting read! Thanks Patricia

  2. Hi Pat,

    Loved the 10 Commandments and I’ll agree #9 made me laugh. Sounds like selling picks and shovels made more sense, more money and was certainly less back breaking labor for those miners. But in today’s world, we’d call those merchants “price gougers” (not sure if I spelled that right).
    Great post!

  3. These are great, Pat. I hope you’re planning to blog on some of the other fascinating folks you mentioned. Lotta Crabtree was a darling. And the saga of HT and Baby Doe is an epic in itself! Looking forward to more.

  4. <p>HEY! Where’d my comment go?<br />
    Hmmmmmmm….<br />
    I wrote one about two hours ago but I guess it got sucked into cyberspace.<br />
    Anyway, I loved the list, Pat.</p>

  5. Pat, delightful commandments! Wonder if the writer was a Moses and he found his own burning bush. lol Very funny.

    Yes, the true ones who made a fortune were the people who provided the miners with their essentials. What exorbitant prices! I’d have been one of those folks and lined my pockets.

    Thanks for the great blog and giving lots of chuckles!

  6. Linda. . . I definitely would have been one of the merchants. They’re the ones who really got rich. It’s also interesting to me how short the gold mining boom was. At the peak of the Gold Rush (early 1850’s) some 120,000 miners were busy digging for gold. By 1873, the total was down to 30,000 — and more than half of them were persistent Chinese who laboriously reworked claims that weren’t worth anyone else’s efforts.

  7. I think number 10 is my favorite I just love this websight the things you ladies come up with to talk about and it’s always interesting. I think what Mary said was funny I think alot of my stuff has gone out in cyber space too.

  8. Great post! I have learned so much from this blog. I loved number 10 but 9 did make me chuckle as well.

  9. Loved the post. I will have to say number 9 and 10 were the best. I got a good laugh out of them.

  10. This was great loved #9 also. Thy shall not put thy gold in a holy pocket you may leave a trail back to your claim and lose it all.

  11. This is a mining story I’ve always loved: In 1874, gold miners at Oro City, Colorado discovered that the heavy sand that impeded their gold recovery was the lead mineral cerussite, that carried a high content of silver.
    They went from hating this pesky sand to finding out they were standing on a mountain literally made of solid silver.

  12. Patricia, what a clever post! I loved your mining commandments 🙂 And reading about mining–it was such a difficult living! I can’t imagine not getting discouraged with all the adverse conditions and the low chance of striking it rich!

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