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As It Was: Northern California Miner Steals Poke, Faces Whipping

One spring in Northern California, a miner known as Smith was preparing to return home to his family in Illinois with $2,000 in gold dust.  He kept it on his body during the day and used it as a pillow when he slept at night.

One evening as Smith and some companions were gathered in the cabin they shared, minus one named Frenchy, they heard some rustling, but dismissed it as probably a rat.  Word was that Frenchy had gone to Humbug.

When Smith went to bed, his money was missing.  The men searched the cabin and discovered the chinking between logs had been removed near Smith’s bunk, so they sent Cyrus Hurd to find Frenchy.   

Hurd and a constable, Abraham Thompson, caught Frenchy in Yreka, recovered the stolen gold, and returned to camp.  Frenchy confessed to an informal miners’ “jury,” which chose whipping over hanging.  Smith got his money and Constable Thompson soundly whipped Frenchy and ran him out of camp after confiscating his poke to compensate the expenses of running him down.

Source: Wells, Harry L. History of Siskiyou County, The. Oakland, D. J. Stewart, 1881, pp. 105-106.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.