By: Craig MacDonald
There was much optimism in California’s Mother Lode during the holiday season of 1849. Gold had been discovered a year earlier and miners were scampering to the Sierra Nevada foothills to make their fortunes.
Some succeeded right away but even those who didn’t thought it would be only a matter of time before their labor paid off in gold.
Like his peers, William George Wilson was a hopeful miner in Auburn- Georgetown area northeast of Sacramento. Unlike most his fellow miners, Wilson brought his wife with him from Utah to the California gold fields.
Women were such a rarity to the area that miners sometimes traveled several miles out of their way to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson washing clothes in a stream.
But the miners were in store for a real treat that holiday season. On Christmas Day, Mrs. Wilson gave birth to a 12-pound boy- the first child to be born on Canyon Creek during the Gold Rush.
The Wilsons were a modest couple and kept the birth a secret. However, the child’s cries were heard by a couple miners who spread the rumor that the Wilsons found a 12-pound nugget, “the handsomest ever seen!”
“News of the big find spread like wildfire up and down the canyon where hundreds of men were at work,” wrote William Bennett in his memoirs. “At once, there was a grand rush to Bill Wilson’s cabin. Every miner was anxious to see the 12-pound lump.”
The Wilsons loved the joke. They took a few miners at a time into their cabin to see the living nugget.
“Each of the miners loved being had,” Bennett wrote. “As each squad came out of the cabin, the men solemnly asserted that the Wilson nugget was the finest ever seen.”
The miners further spread the rumor in every direction and the well-kept joke continued for three days. Miners came from more than 10 miles away, just to see what they thought was a giant nugget.
The baby brought luck to many of the miners who saw it. Wilson made a big gold discovery near his cabin. Within a week, he dug out more than $3,000, including a nugget valued at $300.
Even when the joke got out, miners still dropped by the Wilson cabin to see the baby of Canyon Creek. A group of them made a gold ring for Mrs. Wilson because of the happiness she brought the Mother Lode.
Here’s another holiday story from the California Gold Rush, reprinted with permission from Old West Christmas – Tales with a Twist. goldrushglimpses.com