Monday, December 15, 2014

Manuscript Monday—Colombian Gold Rush

People are often surprised to discover the geographic breadth of the CHS manuscripts collection. Papers from Mexico, Panama, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Hong Kong remind us that borders are in a sense a political fiction; California is as much a part of the Pacific Rim as it is a state in the Union. The Asbury Harpending papers (MS 950) are a case in point. After speculating in mining operations throughout the West and Mexico, Harpending turned his unscrupulous eye on Colombia and in its rich gold fields. This payroll statement for March 1890 is representative of Harpending's Colombian adventures. It includes the names of all of the employees of El Cristo Mine, including the women who washed and sorted the ore above ground. Little else is known about these working people—Harpending and business associates likely viewed them as operational costs to be managed and controlled—but documents such as these provide a poignant reminder of their individual humanity, swept up by the powerful forces of international commerce. Each name had a story.

Gold mining continues in Colombia today, often under extremely dangerous conditions. Moving photographs of some of the men, women, and children who work in the mines can be found here:

Jornales empleados en el mes de Marzo de 1890, Asbury Harpending papers, MS 950, California Historical Society
Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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