Oh my darling, Clementine was still a popular song in the 1960s. Perhaps it reflected the fascination at the time with all things American. It was the sort of song where even a bad singer could enjoy the singing of the refrain.
Oh my darling, oh my darling
Oh my darling, Clementine
You were lost and gone forever
Dreadful sorrow, Clementine.
The song was inspired by the California Gold Rush, which reached its peak in 1849. Gold was first found in California on this day in one hundred and seventy-nine years ago. Francisco Lopez, a native Californian, found a gold nugget while looking for stray horses on 9th March 1842. It was a discovery of gold six years later in 1848 that prompted the California gold rush that reached its peak in 1849, against the background of which was set the song Oh my darling, Clementine.
The gold rush brought riches to some people, but left most of the prospectors with little more than the money they had started with.
Prospectors were people of extraordinary strength and endurance, going to the most inhospitable places imaginable in search of mineral wealth. A letter from 1909 led to a journey a century later into the mountains of British Columbia to explore the territory from which the man had written:
. . . I am prospecting for ore in the Selkirk Mountains. I am about four hundred miles east of Vancouver and one thousand west of Winnipeg. Sometimes fortune favours me and sometimes not. Two years, no doubt you’ve already heard of the Great Panic of 1907 which caused so much unemployment in the United States; and of course when that country is in any financial difficulties Canada suffers also. However, I had some minor claims previous to this panic but had to sell out for next to nothing as they were copper and this metal dropped about 10 cents per lb and ruined thousands. It is going up again and I trust it remains at some permanent point as fluctuations ruins a man with a small claim. . . We have six feet of snow where I am just now. The season’s fall is between twenty and thirty feet and snow shoes are the order of the day.
Seventy years after the California Gold Rush there were still people travelling from Europe in the hope of finding riches, still people enduring extreme weather and hardships they would have hardly imagined let alone have previously encountered. Gold could captivate lives.