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California Gold Rush
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These early gold-seekers, called "forty-niners," traveled to California by sailing ship and in covered wagons across the continent, often facing substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly-arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush also attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia.
At first, the prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning, and later developed more sophisticated methods of gold recovery that were adopted around the world. Gold worth billions of today's dollars was recovered, leading to great wealth for a few; many, however, returned home with little more than they started with.
The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. San Francisco grew from a tiny hamlet of tents to a boomtown, and roads, churches, schools and other towns were built. A system of laws and a government were created, leading to the admission of California as a state in 1850. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service and railroads were built. The business of agriculture, California's next major growth field, was started on a wide scale throughout the state. However, the Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans were attacked and pushed off traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental harm.
The Gold Rush started at Sutter's Mill, near Coloma on January 24, 1848. James W. Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento pioneer John Sutter found pieces of shiny metal in the tailrace of a lumber mill Marshall was building for Sutter, along the American River. Marshall quietly brought what he found to Sutter, and the two of them privately tested the findings. The tests showed Marshall's particles to be gold. Sutter was dismayed by this, and wanted to keep the news quiet because he feared what would happen to his plans for an agricultural empire if there were a mass search for gold. However, rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March 1848 by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan. The most famous quote of the California Gold Rush was by Brannan; after he hurriedly set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies, Brannan strode through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"
On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report that there was a gold rush in California; on December 5, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress. Soon, waves of immigrants from around the world, later called the "forty-niners," invaded the Gold Country of California or "Mother Lode." As Sutter had feared, he was ruined; his workers left in search of gold, and squatters invaded his land and stole his crops and cattle.
San Francisco had been a tiny settlement before the rush began. When residents learned of the discovery, it at first became a ghost town of abandoned ships and businesses whose owners joined the Gold Rush, but it then boomed as merchants and new people arrived. The population of San Francisco exploded from perhaps 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 full-time residents by 1850. As with many boomtowns, the sudden influx of people strained the infrastructure of San Francisco and other towns near the goldfields. People lived in tents, wood shanties, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships.
In what has been referred to as the "first world-class gold rush," there was no easy way to get to California; forty-niners faced hardship and often death on the way to the gold fields. At first, most Argonauts, as they were also known, traveled by sea. From the East Coast, a sailing voyage around the tip of South America would take five to eight months, and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative route was to sail to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama, to take canoes and mules for a week through the jungle, and then on the Pacific side, to wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco. There was also a route across Mexico starting at Vera Cruz. Eventually, most gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail. Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid fever to cholera.
To meet the demands of the new arrivals, ships bearing goods from around the world%u2014porcelain and silk from China, ale from Scotland%u2014poured into San Francisco as well. Upon reaching San Francisco, ship captains found that their crews deserted and went to the gold fields. The wharves and docks of San Francisco became a forest of masts, as hundreds of ships were abandoned. Enterprising San Franciscans then took over these abandoned ships and turned them into warehouses, stores, taverns, hotels, and one into a jail.Many of these ships were later destroyed and used for landfill to create more buildable land in the boomtown.
Within a few years, there was an important but lesser-known surge of prospectors into far Northern California, specifically into present-day Siskiyou, Shasta and Trinity Counties. Discovery of gold nuggets at the site of present-day Yreka in 1851 brought thousands of gold-seekers up the Siskiyou Trail and throughout California's northern counties.Settlements of the Gold Rush era, such as Portuguese Flat on the Sacramento River, sprang into existence and then faded. The Gold Rush town of Weaverville on the Trinity River today retains the oldest continuously-used Taoist temple in California, a legacy of Chinese miners who came. While there are not many Gold Rush era ghost towns still in existence, the well-preserved remains of the once-bustling town of Shasta is a Californiia State Historic Park in Northern California.
Gold was also discovered in Southern California but on a much smaller scale. The first discovery of gold, at Rancho San Francisco in the mountains north of present-day Los Angeles, had been in 1842, six years before Marshall's discovery, while California was still part of Mexico. However, these first deposits, and later discoveries in Southern California mountains, attracted little notice and were of limited consequence economically.
By 1850, most of the easily accessible gold had been collected, and attention turned to the task of extracting the gold from more difficult locations. Faced with gold that was increasingly difficult to retrieve, Americans began to drive out foreigners to get at the most accessible gold that remained. The new California State Legislature passed a foreign miners tax of twenty dollars per month, and American prospectors began organized attacks on foreign miners, particularly Latin Americans and Chinese. In addition, the huge numbers of newcomers were driving Native Americans out of their traditional hunting, fishing and food gathering areas. To protect their homes and livelihood, Native Americans responded by attacking the miners. This provoked counter-attacks by miners on native villages. The Native Americans, out-gunned, were often slaughtered. Those who escaped the massacres were many times unable to survive without access to their food-gathering areas, and they starved to death.
Johann Augustus Sutter
(February 23, 1803 %u2013 June 18, 1880) was a Californian of Swiss descent famous for his association with the California Gold Rush (in that gold was discovered by James W. Marshall in Sutter's Mill) and for establishing Sutter's Fort in an area that would later become the capital of the U.S. state of California, Sacramento. Although famous throughout California for his association with the Gold Rush, Sutter ironically died almost poor, having seen his business ventures fail while those of his elder son, Augustus Sutter, prospered.
Capt. Sutter's account of the first discovery of the Gold:
I was sitting one afternoon," said the Captain, "just after my siesta, engaged, by-the-bye, in writing a letter to a relation of mine at Lucern, when I was interrupted by Mr. Marshal, a gentleman with whom I had frequent business transactions - bursting hurriedly into the room. From the unusual agitation in his manner I imagined that something serious had occurred, and, as we involuntarily do in this part of the world, I at once glanced to see if my rifle was in its proper place. You should know that the mere appearance of Mr. Marshal at that moment in the Fort, was quite enough to surprise me, as he had but two days before left the place to make some alterations in a mill for sawing pine planks, which he had just run up for me, some miles higher up the Americanos. When he had recovered himself a little, he told me that, however great my surprise might be at his unexpected reappearance, it would be much greater when I heard the intelligence he had come to bring me. 'Intelligence,' he added, 'which if properly profited by, would put both of us in possession of unheard-of-wealth - millions and millions of dollars, in fact.' I frankly own, when I heard this that I thought something had touched Marshall's brain, when suddenly all my misgivings were put at an end to by his flinging on the table a handful of scales of pure virgin gold. I was fairly thunderstruck and asked him to explain what all this meant, when he went on to say, that according to my instructions, he had thrown the mill-wheel out of gear, to let the whole body of the water in the dam find a passage through the tail race, which was previously too narrow to allow the watter to run of in sufficient quantity, whereby the wheel was prevented from efficiently performing its work. By this alteration the narrow channel was considerably enlarged, and a mass of sand & gravel carried off by the force of the torrent. Early in the morning after this took place, Mr. Marshal was walking along the left Bank of the stream when he perceived something which he at first took for a piece of opal - a clair transparant stone, very common here - glittering on one of the spots laid bare by the sudden crumbling away of the bank. He paid no attention to this, but while he was giving directions to the workmen, having observed several similar glittering fragments, his curiosity was so far excited, that he stooped down & picked one of them up. 'Do you know,' said Mr. Marshal to me, 'I positively debated within myself two or three times whether I should take the trouble to bend my back to pick up one of the pieces and had decided on not doing so when further on, another glittering morsel caught my eye - the largest of the pieces now before you. I condescended to pick it up and to my astonishment found that it was a thin scale of what appears to be pure gold.' He then gathered some twenty or thirty pieces which on examination convinced him that his suppositions were right. His first impression was, that this gold had been lost or buried there by some early Indian tribe - perhaps some of those mysterious inhabitants of the west, of whom we have no account, but who dwelt on this continent centuries ago, and built those cities and temples, the ruins of which are scattered about these solidary wilds. On proceeding, however, to examine the neighbouring soil, he discovered that it was more or less auriferous. This at once decided him. He mounted his horse, and rode down to me as fast as it could carry him with the news.
At the conclusion of Mr. Marshal's account, and when I had convinced myself, from the specimens he had brought with him, that it was not exaggerated, I felt as much excited as himself. I eagerly inquired if he had shown the Gold to the workpeople at the mill and was glad to hear that he had not spoken to a single person about it. We agreed not to mention the circumstance to any one and arranged to set off early the next day for the mill. On our arrival, just before sundown, we poked the sand about in various places, and before long succeeded in collecting between us more than an ounce of gold, mixed up with a good deal of sand. I stayed at Mr. Marshall's that night, and the next day we proceeded some little distance up the south Fork, and found that gold existed along the whole course, not only in the bed of the main stream, where it had subsided, but in every little dried-up creek and ravine. Indeed I think it is more plentiful in these latter places, for I myself, with nothing more than a small knife, picked out from dry gorge, a little way up the mountain, a solid lump of gold with weighed nearly an ounce and a half.
Notwithstanding our precautions not to be observed, as soon we came back to the mill, we noticed by the excitement of the working people that we had been dogged about, and to complete our disappointment, one of the indians who had worked at the gold mine in the neighbourhood of La Paz cried out in showing to us some specimens picked up by himself, - Oro! - Oro - Oro!!!
Native Americans Strike Back
Native Americans in the United States
are the indigenous peoples from the regions of North America now encompassed by the continental United States, including parts of Alaska. They comprise a large number of distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which are still enduring as political communities. There is controversy surrounding the names used: they are also known as American Indians, Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, or Indigenous, Aboriginal or Original Americans. In Canada they are known as First Nations peoples.
Not all Native Americans come from the contiguous U.S. Some come from Alaska, Hawaii and other insular regions. These other indigenous peoples, including Alaskan Native groups such as the Inupiaqa, Yupik Eskimos, and Aleuts, are not always counted as Native Americans, although Census 2000 demographics listed "American Indian and Alaskan Native" collectively. Native Hawaiians (also known as Kanaka Moli and Kanaka Oiwi) and various other Pacific Islander American peoples, such as the Chamorros (Chamoru), can also be considered Native American, but it is not common to use such a designation.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of new people within a few years, compared to a population of some 15,000 Europeans and Californios beforehand, had many dramatic effects.
First, the human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans became the victims of disease, starvation and genocidal attacks; the Native American population, estimated at 150,000 in 1845, was less than 30,000 by 1870. Explicitly racist attacks and laws sought to drive out Chinese and Latin American immigrants. The toll on the American immigrants could be severe as well: one in twelve forty-niners perished, as the death and crime rates during the Gold Rush were extraordinarily high, and the resulting vigilantism also took its toll. In addition, the environment suffered as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats.
However, the Gold Rush propelled California from a sleepy, little-known backwater to a center of the global imagination and the destination of hundreds of thousands of people. The new immigrants often showed remarkable inventiveness and civic-mindedness. For example, in the midst of the Gold Rush, towns and cities were chartered, a state constitutional convention was convened, a state constitution written, elections held, and representatives sent to Washington, D.C. to negotiate the admission of California as a state. Large-scale agriculture (California's second "Gold Rush") began during this time. Roads, schools, churches, and civic organizations quickly came into existence. The vast majority of the immigrants were Americans. Pressure grew for better communications and political connections to the rest of the United States, leading to statehood for California on September 9, 1850, in the Compromise of 1850 as the 31st state of the United States.
The Gold Rush wealth and population increase led to significantly improved transportation between California and the East Coast. The Panama Railway spanning the Isthmus of Panama, was finished in 1855. Steamships, including those owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, began regular service from San Francisco to Panama, where passengers, goods and mail would take the train across the Isthmus and board steamships headed to the East Coast. One ill-fated journey, that of the S.S. Central America, ended in disaster as the ship sank in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas in 1857, with an estimated three tons of California gold aboard.
Within a few years after the end of the Gold Rush, in 1863, the groundbreaking ceremony for the western leg of the First Transcontinental Railroad was held in Sacramento. The line's completion, some six years later, financed in part with Gold Rush money, united California with the central and eastern United States. Travel that had taken weeks or even months could now be accomplished in days.
The Gold Rush stimulated economies around the world as well. Farmers in Chile, Australia, and Hawaii found a huge new market for their food; British manufactured goods were in high demand; clothing and even pre-fabricated houses arrived from China. The return of large amounts of California gold to pay for these goods raised prices and stimulated investment and the creation of jobs around the world. Australian prospector, Edward Hargraves, noting similarities between the geography of California and his home, returned to Australia to discover gold and spark the Australian gold rushes.
California's name became indelibly connected with the Gold Rush, and as a result, was connected with what became known as the "California Dream." California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. Historian H. W. Brands noted that in the years after the Gold Rush, the California Dream spread to the rest of the United States and became part of the new "American Dream."
"The old American Dream . . . was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard . . . of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream . . . became a prominent part of the American psyche only after [Sutter's Mill]."
Generations of immigrants have been attracted by the California Dream. California farmers, oil drillers, movie makers, airplane builders, and "dot-com" entrepreneurs have each had their boom times in the decades after the Gold Rush.
S. Shufelt's Letter
The New York Herald printed news of the discovery in August 1848 and the rush for gold accelerated into a stampede. Gold seekers traveled overland across the mountains to California (30,000 assembled at launch points along the plains in the spring of 1849) or took the round-about sea routes: either to Panama or around Cape Horn and then up the Pacific coast to San Francisco. A census of San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena) in April 1847 reported the town consisted of 79 buildings including shanties, frames houses and adobes. By December 1849 the population had mushroomed to an estimated 100,000. The massive influx of fortune seekers Americanized the once Mexican province and assured its inclusion as a state in the union.
S. Shufelt was one of those gold-seekers. All that we know about Mr. Shufelt is contained in a letter he wrote from the gold fields to his cousin in March 1850. We don't know if he struck it rich or whether he ever returned to his wife and home - we don't even know his first name. On May 11, 1849 he boarded the steamer Panama in New York City along with about 200 fellow fortune hunters risking all on a gamble in California. Behind him he left a wife and child in Windham, NY near the Catskills.
Mr. Shufelt reveals his motivation when he tells his cousin that: "I have left those that I love as my own life behind and risked everything and endured many hardships to get here. I want to make enough to live easier and do some good with, before I return." These same thoughts no doubt inspired the majority of those who made the trek to the gold fields - they were not intending to stay, but planned to make some money and return to their origins.
Mr. Shufelt's letter was discovered at an auction in 1924 and is now part of the collection of the Library of Congress.
Since publishing this eyewitness account we have heard from a descendant of Mr. Shufelt who provided some more information. His first name was Sheldon and he was born in 1818. He married his wife Margaret in 1844 and they had a son in 1847.
Returning home from the goldfields, Sheldon was captured by Spanish bandits while crossing the Panama isthmus. He was confined and held for ransom. He managed to escape and make his way home but he had contracted a tropical disease from which he died in 1852 at age 34. His wife, Margaret, died in 1861 at age 42.
Prospecting - Coyote Hole
What Price Freedom?
One of the miners here is an African American. Many were brought to California as slaves, even though California entered the Union as a free state.
On the mines the Americans seemed to exhibit more tolerance of Negro blood than is usual in the States - not that Negroes were allowed to sit at table with white men, or considered to be at all on an equality. - anon.
Many African Americans came to California during the gold rush, and some bought something very special for their families with the gold they found - their freedom. William Swain noted in his diary: There are Negroes here laboring for their liberty. On the Louisiana claim one is to pay $120,000 for himself, [and his] wife and child, and yet he is a free man here. His wife, like the wives of others, is held as a pledge of good faith.
Law, Order, and Justice for Some - Discrimination
The lure of gold promptly made California the most culturally and racially diverse society the world had ever known - tensions were bound to arise. Benjamín Vicuña MacKenna, a Chilean noted: San Francisco is a hodgepodge of cities. You can hear all the languages on earth in its streets: Chinese, Norwegian, Russian, and Polynesian. You can see the garb of all the nationalities. There are Chinese with belted black pantaloons and blue blouses, with pigtails down to their knees; a Mexican with his sarape or blanket; the Chilean in his poncho; a Parisian in his smock; an Irishman with coat and crushed felt hat; and the Yankee in his red flannel shirt, heavy boots, and trousers belted at the waist. Cultural diversity remains a Gold Rush legacy.
Prejudice and discrimination against people of color intensified during the Gold Rush. White 49ers resented Chinese miners and treated them deplorably. The Chinese were ridiculed in political cartoons, and assessed Foreign Miners' Taxes. They were physically attacked, and sometimes had their long, braided hair, called queues, cut off.
Spanish-speaking people were not spared. The first Foreign Miners' Tax targeted them. The Society of Hounds shamelessly attacked Chileans in San Francisco.
The Hounds were...nothing but an organization of soulless wretches whose only object was pillage, robbery and banditry. One night they attacked Little Chile, a tent community at the foot of Telegraph Hill. They murdered a mother and assaulted her daughter. - Mariano Vallejo
Deep prejudice against African Americans remained as well, even though California was admitted to the Union as a free state. Archey Lee, a slave brought to California by his master in 1857, won his freedom in a landmark fugitive-slave case when nearly 4,000 free African Americans financed his defense.
In 1855, Reverend Peter Cole spoke out against such persecution: The Rights of the Negro, or War! We must, we will have it! Our Destiny is with us! The blood, the wrongs all cry for revenge.
No group of people faced more prejudice and discrimination than California's native people. In the onslaught of the Gold Rush and the American settlement, which followed, many Indian tribes were forced from their ancestral lands. The natural resources they depended upon for food and shelter were destroyed. Laws were enacted that prevented them from voting, owning property or weapons of any kind, serving on a jury, or testifying in a court of law. Eventually there were bounties placed on their heads, and legally-sanctioned massacres of defenseless villages. The editor of the San Francisco Bulletin spoke for most white Americans: It is a painful necessity of advancing civilization that the Indians should gradually disappear.
Ultimately, there was an organized campaign that was explicitly designed to hunt and kill Indians, with bounties placed on their heads. The expenses of these paramilitary efforts were covered by the federal government and by the sale of state bonds. By 1866, newspaper articles endorsed the action. The Chico Courant proclaimed: It has become a question of extermination now. It is a mercy to the red devils to exterminate them. Treaties are played out. There is only one kind of treaty that is effective - cold lead. California's Indians very nearly did disappear. By 1900, their population had been reduced from 300,000 to only 16,000.
Coinciding with droughts, floods, and violent political rebellions in mainland China, the Gold Rush and corresponding economic boom in California drew many Chinese (mostly men) across the Pacific Ocean. The crossing was exceptionally unpleasant, lasting 62 days on average, with miserable conditions that modern scholars have compared to African slave ships. By the end of 1851, there were an estimated 4,000 Chinese nationals in California; by the end of 1852, just one year later, there were approximately 25,000. Before 1860, only 8% of the Chinese population stayed in San Francisco, while the vast majority sought their fortunes in the gold fields.
The early Chinese miners faced increasing discrimination and hostility from their white counterparts. Initially, when the number of Chinese miners was relatively small, they attracted little attention, and were mostly seen as picturesque and amusing. As their numbers grew, their presence excited increased violence, hostility, and envy. Before 1852, there was not much specific anti-Chinese activity, but when Governor John Bigler declared in an 1852 speech that the Chinese were a menace to the state, anti-Chinese activity accelerated. Chinese miners, for example, were especially hard hit by the ever-increasing miner's taxes that were levied cruelly and unevenly on miners.
The Chinese in San Francisco faced a different set of circumstances than their counterparts in the mines, and they adapted to meet the economic opportunities available to them. San Francisco circa 1850 had an overwhelmingly male population, and consequently laundry and other household tasks presented often insurmountable challenges to the otherwise-occupied men. The Chinese in San Francisco, many of whom had been forced from the mines, started laundries in great number; these required a low capital investment, little space, and allowed the Chinese to avoid working for or competing with whites for jobs. Chinese restaurants also flourished, though in less numbers than the laundries due to their greater initial expense. The Chinese also engaged heavily in the fishing industry, but even there they could not escape the increasingly harsh taxes and fines that were levied against them. The Chinese also worked as farmers, domestic helpers, and in trade industries making boots, candles, cigars, and other products.
Indian Gold Washing
Many Indians of both sexes were at work washing gold from the mud of a small spring. Their extraordinary skill was surprising. The women were dressed, but they exposed completely those parts of their persons which are carefully covered in more evil-minded lands. The division of labor they followed was this: the men dug and gave the mud to the children, who then carried it in baskets to the women. The women, lined up along the stream, then washed it in grass baskets of the most perfect construction. - Vicente Pérez Rosales
This peaceful scene would not have existed after 1848, for Indians were quickly eliminated from independent mining. Some were exploited as low-paid laborers for white miners. In the end, the Gold Rush devastated the Indians.
A Frenchman named Covillaud described his plan to exploit the Indians: I intend to show the Indians how to wash gold. I will pay them with glass beads, knives, handkerchiefs, tobacco and trinkets which they consider valuable. For any of these little articles they will work many hours, digging gold whose value they are not aware of.
Almost immediately, Indians became targets of white miners. These aggressive newcomers thought nothing of running the Indians off from their diggings, stealing their gold, and killing them if that was the simplest thing to do.
The miners are sometimes guilty of the most brutal acts with the Indians, such as killing the squaws and papooses. Such incidents have fallen under my notice that would make humanity weep and men disown their own race. - anon.
Antonio Coronel witnessed a number of senseless massacres of Indians he was powerless to prevent. I could not continue to watch this horrible killing. The situation was so disgraceful that to kill an Indian in cold blood was the same as to hunt a hare or rabbit.
While the gold rush and its masses of foreigners quickly overwhelmed the north, Los Angeles and much of southern California generally held on to its Mexican culture and traditions. The voracious appetites of miners created a cattle boom which sustained the southern Californio ranching economy for nearly a decade. But Los Angeles was at a crossroads. Opportunistic legislation, steep taxation, and costly land litigation resulted in dramatic changes. As the southern California cattle industry declined, irrigation systems opened newly acquired lands to cultivation, and agriculture blossomed with grains, vegetables and citrus. California's new gold was orange! The Southern Pacific Railroad put the southland on wheels, and boosted the citrus industry. The railroad wielded enormous political power, and obtained huge tracks of land. They promoted a massive land boom, and hundreds of thousands of new immigrants were lured to southern California: Eden was for sale.
James Wilson Marshall
(October 8, 1810 - August 10, 1885) was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush. Marshall was forced from his own land by the resulting wave of gold seekers, and never profited from his discovery.
In January of 1848, James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at Coloma near Sacramento. The crew was building a saw mill for John Sutter. On the cold, clear morning of January 24, Marshall found a few tiny gold nuggets. Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended upon California in search of instant wealth.
The first printed notice of the discovery was in the March 15 issue of "The Californian" in San Francisco. Shortly after Marshall's discovery, General John Bidwell discovered gold in the Feather River and Major Pearson B. Reading found gold in the Trinity River. The Gold Rush was soon in full sway.
In 1849, quartz mining began at the Mariposa mine in Mariposa County. Gold deposits were often found inside quartz veins. In 1850, California became a state. Also that year, gold-bearing quartz was found at Gold Hill in Grass Valley. This led to the development of the great underground mines in that district and a major industry the continued for more than 100 years.
In 1851, Gold was discovered in Greenhorn Creek, Kern County. This discovery led to the rush to the upper Kern River region. By 1852, California's annual gold production reach a then all-time high of $81 million.
Other important dates and discoveries:In 1852, hydraulic mining began at American Hill just north of Nevada City and a Yankee Jims in Placer County.
In 1853, the first extensive underground mining of buried river channels commenced in the Forest Hill District, Placer County.
Also in 1853, the placers at Columbia, Tuolomne County, began to yield vast amounts of gold. This continued until the early 1860s. At that time, Columbia was one of the largest cities in the state.
A partial exodus of miners took place in 1853 when gold was discovered on the Fraser River in British Columbia.
In 1854, a 195-pound mass of gold, the largest known to have been discovered in California, was found at Carson Hill in Calaveras County.
By 1855, the rich surface placers were largely exhausted, and river mining accounted for much of the state's output until the early 1860s.
In 1859, the famous 54-pound Willard nugget was found at Magalia in Butte County.
By 1864, California's gold rush had ended. The rich surface and river placers were largely exhausted; hydraulic mines were the chief sources of gold for the next 20 years.
Women of the Gold Rush Speak
How many women participated in the gold rush is unknown.
Like most people, they lived anonymously, leaving little record of their passing.
Yet, surviving letters, diaries, reminiscences, even newspapers and court records,
permit a glimpse into the past. You are invited, through the following document excerpts
from They Saw the Elephant, to touch the lives of some of the women
who saw the elephant, the women of the California gold rush.
"Madame Eleonore is still able to use her old eyes to good effect, which gets over with the public, and Madame Adalbert dresses well enough to make up for the rest...I should certainly be the last one to abuse these good ladies, as some of them treated me with great kindness, and, I might say, generosity. Need I add that it was not because of my personal charm? To them I was only a dramatic critic who had to be won over and muzzled, and I suppose they succeeded well enough. I can't help smiling when I think of the glowing write-ups I used to give them in Monday's paper, far better ones than Parisian stars usually received. The hypocrisy of the press? Oh well, perhaps. But they are nice people."
..............................................................-Albert Benard de Russailh
"I determined to set up a rival hotel. So I bought two boards from a precious pile belonging to a man who was building the second wooden house in town. With my own hands I chopped stakes, drove them into the ground, and set up my table. I bought provisions at a neighboring store, and when my husband came back at night he found, mid the weird light of the pine torches, twenty miners eating at my table. Each man as he rose put a dollar in my hand and said I might count him as a permanent customer. I called my hotel 'El Dorado.'"
From the first day it was well patronized, and I shortly after took my
husband into partnership."......... -Luzena Stanley Wilson
"In one corner, a coarse-looking female might preside over a roulette-table, and, perhaps, in the central and crowded part of the room a Spanish or Mexican woman would be sitting at monte, with a cigarita in her lips, which she replaced every few moments by a fresh one. In a very few fortunate houses, neat, delicate, and sometimes beautiful French women were every evening to be seen in the orchestra. These houses, to the honor of the coarse crowd be it said, were always filled."......... -Eliza W. Farnham
"I concluded to make some pies and see if I could sell them to the miners for their lunches, as there were about one hundred men on the creek, doing their own cooking - there were plenty of dried apples and dried pealed peaches from Chili, pressed in the shape of a cheese, to be had, so I bought fat salt pork and made lard, and my venture was a success. I sold fruit pies for one dollar and a quarter a piece, and mince pies for one dollar and fifty cents. I sometimes made and sold, a hundred in a day, and not even a stove to bake them in, but had two small dutch ovens."......... -Mary Jane Caples
"She is genuine Castilian, owns a train of mules and buys and loads them. We bought the flour she sent to Weaverville. I had a strong idea of offering myself...but Angelita told me she had a husband somewhere in the mines and she has a boy about five years old. So I didn't ask her."......... -Franklin Buck
"We saw last April, a French woman, standing in Angel's Creek, dipping and pouring water into the washer, which her husband was rocking. She wore short boots, white duck pantaloons, a red flannel shirt, with a black leather belt and a Panama hat. Day after day she could be seen working quietly and steadily, performing her share of the gold digging labor."
........................................................................ -San Francisco Daily Alta
"I have before spoken of her....Her husband would give her no money to speculate with, so she sold some pieces of jewelry, which she didn't value particularly, & which cost her about twenty dollars at home, with this jewelry she purchased onions which she sold on arriving here for eighteen hundred dollars, quite a handsome sum, was it not?...She also brought some quinces & made quite a nice little profit on them."......... -John McCrackan
"As she began to make considerable money the bigger, if not better, half of this couple began to feel quite rich and went off on a drunk, and when his own money was spent he went to his wife for more, but she refused him, and he, in his drunken rage, picked up a gun near by and shot her dead."
......................................................................................... -William Manley
"I think if it is not too warm, it will be fine fun--sailing and riding the Donkeys--. Most of the conversation for the last few days has been about the Isthmus--and I really think some of the gentlemen dread it worse, than Mrs. Allen and myself."......... -Margaret De Witt
"Another insect which is rather troublesome, gets into your feet and lays its eggs. The Dr. and I have them in our toes-did not find it out until they had deposited their eggs in large quantities; the natives dug them out and put on the ashes of tobacco-nothing unpleasant in it, only the idea of having jiggers in your toes."......... -Mary Jane Megquier
"Magnificent woman that, sir," he said, addressing my husband; "a wife of the right sort, she is. Why," he added, absolutely rising into eloquence as he spoke, "she earnt her old man," (said individual twenty-one years of age, perhaps) "nine hundred dollars in nine weeks, clear of all expenses, by washing! Such women ain't common, I tell you; if they were, a man might marry and make money by the operation."......... -Louisa Clapp
"...a very handsome Chinese girl...quite select in her associates was liberally patronized by the white men and made a great amount of money."-Elisha Crosby
"...strangely alluring...with her slender body and laughing eyes"-Albert Benard
"...a tall, well-built woman. In fact, she was the finest looking woman I have ever seen.".-Charles P. Duane
"Everybody has seen the charming Miss Atoy, who each day parades our streets dressed in the most flashing European and American style."-Frank Soule'
James W. Marshall
James Wilson Marshall was born to Philip and Sarah Wilson Marshall in Hopewel, New Jersey on October 8, 1810. He was the oldest of four children, and the only male. In 1816, the Marshall family relocated to nearby Lambertville, where Philip constructed a house on approximately five acres of land.
When Philip Marshall died from dieabetes in 1834, James left New Jersey and headed west. After spending time in Indiana and Illinois, he settled in Missouri (in an area created by the Platte Purchase) in 1844, and began farming along the Missouri River. It was there that he contracted malaria, a common affliction in the area. On the advice of his doctor, Marshall left Missouri in the hopes of improving his health. He joined an emigrant train heading west and arrived in Oregon's Willamette Valley in the spring of 1845. He left Oregon in June 1845 and headed south along the Siskiyou Trail into California, eventually reaching Sutter's Fort, California in mid-July.
It was here Marshall met John Sutter, the founder of Sutter's Fort, an agricultural settlement. Sutter was also the alcalde of the area, as California was still a Mexican possession in 1845. Sutter hired Marshall to assist with work around the fort (carpentry, primarily). He also helped Marshall to buy two leagues of land on the north side of Butte Creek (a tributary of the Sacramento River) and provided him with cattle. It was here that Marshall began his second stint as a farmer.
Soon after this, the Mexican–American War began in May 1846. Marshall volunteered and served under Captain John C. Frémont's California Battalion during the Bear Flag Revolt. When he left the battalion and returned to his ranch in early 1847, he discovered that all his cattle had either strayed or been stolen. With his sole source of income gone, Marshall lost his land.
Marshall soon entered into a partnership with Sutter for the construction of a sawmill. Marshall was to oversee the construction and operation of the mill, and would in return receive a portion of the lumber. After scouting nearby areas for a suitable location, he eventually decided upon Coloma, located roughly 40 miles upstream of Sutter's Fort. He proposed his plan to Sutter, and construction began in late August. His crew consisted mainly of local Native Americans and veterans of the Mormon Battalion on their way to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Construction continued into January 1848, when it was discovered that the tailrace portion of the mill (that is, the ditch that drained water away from the waterwheel) was too narrow and shallow for the volume of water needed to operate the saw. Marshall decided to use the natural force of the river to excavate and enlarge the tailrace. This could only be done at night, so as not to endanger the lives of the men working on the mill during the day. Every morning Marshall examined the results of the previous night's excavation.
On the morning of January 24, Marshall was examining the channel below the mill when he noticed some shiny flecks in the channel bed. As later recounted by Marshall:I picked up one or two pieces and examined them attentively; and having some general knowledge of minerals, I could not call to mind more than two which in any way resembled this --sulphuret of iron, very bright and brittle; and gold, bright, yet malleable. I then tried it between two rocks, and found that it could be beaten into a different shape, but not broken. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (who was working at the carpenters bench making the mill wheel) with the pieces in my hand and said, "I have found it."
"What is it?" inquired Scott.
"Gold," I answered.
"Oh! no," returned Scott, "that can't be."
I replied positively,--"I know it to be nothing else
News of the discovery soon reached around the world. The immediate impact for Marshall was negative. His sawmill failed when the all able-bodied men in the area abandoned everything to search for gold. Before long, arriving hordes of prospectors forced him off his land. Marshall soon left the area.
Marshall returned to Coloma in 1857 and found some success in the 1860s with a vineyard he started. That venture ended in failure towards the end of the decade, due mostly to higher taxes and increased competition. He returned to prospecting in the hopes of finding success.
He became a partner in a gold mine near Kelsey, California but the mine yielded nothing and left Marshall practically bankrupt. The California State Legislature awarded him a two-year pension in 1872 in recognition of his role in an important era in California history. It was renewed in 1874 and 1876 but lapsed in 1878. Marshall, penniless, eventually ended up in a small cabin, earning money from a small subsistence garden.
Marshall died in Kelsey on August 10, 1885. His body was brought to Coloma and buried on the property where he had owned his vineyard. The grave was in a hill that overlooked the south fork of the American River. In May 1890, a monument was erected over his grave site. A statue of Marshall stands on top of the monument, pointing to the spot where he made his discovery in 1848
James Wilson Marshall's Grave Site
James Marshall Monument & Grave Site
El Dorado County
Elizabeth Wimmer who as a young girl while working with her father a gold prospector, learned to identify gold baring ore. The gem was taken to her and she used the old folk method of letting the nugget sit overnight in lye soap water. In the morning the ore appeared shiny indicating pure gold. The famous California Gold Rush had begun. The nugget weighted approximately one-third of an ounce with a value of $5.12. John Marshall, foreman of the mill, gave Jennie the gem while dubbing it the "Wimmer Nugget". She carried it around in a buckskin pouch. It was displayed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
Much has been written about James Marshall's discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848, thereby precipitating the California Gold Rush. Little is known, however, about the one person present who was able to recognize the shiny rock which others believed to be mica or fool's gold. To prove it was the real thing, Jennie Wimmer boiled the nugget in her soap kettle. The rest of that story is history, but who was the mysterious "Mrs. Wimmer" who is mentioned only briefly, if at all, in the many accounts of the California Gold Rush?
Elizabeth Jane "Jennie" Cloud Wimmer knew gold when she saw it because she had often panned the auriferous streams near Auraria in Lumpkin County, Georgia. Her family moved to north Georgia from Virginia in 1838 when Jennie was sixteen years old. Her father, Martin Cloud, had been a prosperous tobacco planter in Patrick County but had been ruined financially by an unscrupulous partner. Hoping to recoup his losses by striking it rich in gold, Martin loaded his family and what few possessions they had left into an ox-drawn wagon and headed south.
While Martin Cloud and his son James were mining, Jennie and her mother Polly contributed to the family income by operating a boarding house and eating establishment for miners. Whenever Jennie had any free time, she was out prospecting with her gold pan and soon developed a sharp eye for gold-bearing ore.
The winter of 1839-40 was unusually severe and wet, which not only impeded mining but also caused widespread illness among the miners. Jennie reported devoted herself to nursing the sick until she became seriously ill herself.
A rare early account of her life says that she was nursed back to health by a young miner named Obadiah Baiz (also spelled Bays and Bayse), whom she later married. It seems more likely that they married in Virginia before coming to Georgia. No marriage record has been found either in Virginia or Georgia, but on file in Patrick County, Virginia, is Obadiah's application for a license to marry Elizabeth Jane Cloud along with a note from Jennie's father giving his written consent for the marriage, since she was under age. Both are dated August 4, 1838.
There is no record of how much success the Cloud family had during their sojourn in Georgia, but they apparently lingered there only a couple of years. In the summer of 1840, Obadiah and Jennie decided to immigrate to Missouri and become farmers instead of miners. It was a journey that almost claimed Jennie's life. While crossing the rain-swollen Mississippi River, a log struck the plank ferry and caused it to capsize. Thrown abruptly into the churning, muddy waters, Jennie managed to save herself by grasping the tail of one of the oxen and clinging to it as the beast struggled ashore. After arriving in Missouri, Jennie and Obadiah were neighbors with Peter and Polly Harlan Wimmer. Unfortunately, both Obadiah Baiz and Polly Wimmer died of a deadly malady called "wasting fever" (probably cholera) in 1843, leaving Jennie with two small children and Peter with five. It is not surprising that the two bereaved parents married the following year.
The Foremothers Tell of Olden Times
Many and many a time it has been noted that there is nowhere in all this country, a monument to the foremothers of the land. It is a trite saying that the Puritan foremothers are deserving of honor, since they not only had to endure the hardships and privations of a new country, but were obligated to endure the forefathers, too.
And so it comes that the pioneer woman of California—the dear foremothers—have never been properly honored. Time and again the gray-haired, blithe-hearted Pioneers have ridden in carriages, but the women, always by their sides in the primitive cabins, or crossing the plains with their little children tugging at their skirts and a baby at the breast, were in the background. In deadly dread of Indians, more for the tender little lives about them than for their own, for the thought of laying down their own burdens must have been rather a pleasant one, they cowered in the covered wagons that crawled across the plains or prayed to heaven in the fearful storms about Cape Horn, or in the fever-laden heat of the isthmus. They tell a brave tale about a pioneer woman in one of the early caravans. The wagons were surrounded by Indians, and she, with her little brood, had retired to her wagon. When they lifted the canvas flaps they saw her with her babies behind her, and two great pistols across her knees. They spoke to her, but she did not answer, for her mouth was full of bullets. She had resolved to sell the lives of her babies dear.
In spite of the hard conditions of life, the lack of all the creature comforts, the business of child bearing and rearing went on apace. Families were large and the burden must have been well nigh crushing, for gold mining was not always profitable, and women knew what it was to be obligated to help to fill the family larder. Heaven alone knows how these women toiled and silently suffered. Their hair is white now, and their faces deeply graven with lines. They say that wrinkles tell in cipher the story of a woman’s life, and these faces tell a noble story that they who run may read.
When January of 1850 dawned upon California her population had jumped during the preceding year to approximately 100,000 people, nearly all of them men and nine-tenths of them gold-fever immigrants. It was not until these hurried adventurers had rushed to the mines and made their stake that they sent for their Eastern wives and the girls they’d left behind them, and the era of women pioneers really began. But women came to the Golden State prior to 1850, yes, three years before the forty-niners arrived. Some of those earliest pioneer mothers are still living. It is with their interesting experiences that this article deals. Read the personal reminiscences of several of them and you get facts and scenes that seem hardly credible, so marvelously have all things changed since California was an obscure Mexican territory.
Mrs. F.A. Van Winkle of Colusa, who was originally Miss Frances Anne Cooper of Howard county, Mo., and then the wife of the late Dr. [Robert] Semple, the founder of Benicia, arrived in Napa on October 3, 1846, from Council Bluffs, Ia., and was one of the first white women married in California. Mrs. Van Winkle’s story is of more than passing interest. It is historical and filled with information.
Here is the tale as it was simply told by Mrs. Van Winkle the other afternoon at her present residence in this city, 911 Van Ness avenue:
“We came to California the same year as the ill-fated Donner party. It started about a month ahead of us, but it kept taking imaginary short cuts and hurrying until it met with frightful disaster. My father, who was captain of our train, led his party of about eighty people across trackless plains and mountains for five months, simply with the sun and the stars as guides, and came west almost as straight as the crow flies. He believed in moving every day, if only three miles and the result was that all our oxen were in better condition when they arrived in California than when they started. Several of the survivors of the Donner party, young George Donner and Mrs. Reed, came to our house in Napa after they were rescued. I heard the other day that Mrs. Reed’s daughter, ‘Patty’ Reed, who was then a very little girl, is living on Franklin street in Oakland. She is Mrs. Martha Lewis now.
“Both father and mother were born in Kentucky, but like a good many other Kentuckians of those days, they moved out to Missouri, where we children were born. Then father was appointed Indian Agent at Council Bluffs, Ia., old Colonel Thomas Benton getting him the position. There was no town there then—just the agency buildings. The only white people besides us were the blacksmith and another family. We children grew up there with the Indians as our playmates.
“There were several Indians—Chippewas, Ottawas and Pottawattomies—at the Council Bluffs agency when father was in charge. They were all lazy. They considered it a disgrace to work, and would rather be killed than made to labor. They didn’t know any English, and wouldn’t talk much in their own language, but as a girl I used to speak Indian.
“One day I read a pamphlet written by a man who had been in California. His name was Hastings, and he was a cousin to Judge Hastings. His description of the beautiful flowers blooming in winter, of the great herds of Spanish cattle in lovely fields, of glorious scenery, and of the ideal climate and blue skies, made me just crazy to move out there, for I thought such a country must be a paradise. Mother though so too, but father told us it was a dangerous trip and that Indians might kill all of us on the way. He had been a good ways west, hunting buffalo, and he knew something of the great stretches of plains. But we kept talking about California until father decided to put it to a family vote whether we should go or stay.
“Father went out with Fremont in 1845 to explore the Far Western country. The parties separated and returned. Father came home in time to lead our party, although we had already decided to go anyway.”
The pioneering spirit appears not to have been monopolized by the men.
“So, in May, 1846, we started, I being then 20 years of age. We hadn’t been on the way a month — there were no roads or trails—when we were attacked one day by Indians. Five hundred Cherokees swooped down upon us on horseback and surrounded our wagon train. They rode around and around us. Father knew how to deal with Indians and after the wagons had been drawn together at the first alarm, he stepped out to parley with them, and offered flour and tobacco. The Indians of those days were simply crazy for flour and tobacco. They would take a little flour and mix it with water and make it into tortillas and pat them lovingly for hours like little flapjacks and then cook them on hot stones. Father took out a half barrel of flour and measured it out, a little cupful to each Indian, and he cut plug tobacco up and gave it to them. Then they all smoked the pipe of peace. We knew father simply detested smoking; it make him sick, and we almost laughed to see; him puffing away there with all those Indians. We were a little afraid of the Sioux Indians, for they were very wild and fierce, but father smoked with them and gave them flour and tobacco, too, when we encountered them a little while later.
“We ran into one herd of about 500 buffalo, and father killed several, but ordinarily he would not permit any delays or turning aside for game. We came steadily along, making about twelve or fourteen miles a day. There was no baggage but bedding and provisions. In one wagon drawn by two big oxen we had the bedding, and we used to ride in that. We rode all the way except up the slopes of the Rocky mountains and the Sierra Nevada. It was awful coming up those mountains. There were great rocks, waist high, that the wheels had to bump over, and it was all the poor oxen could do to drag the lightened loads.
“Altogether our trip was exceptionally fortunate. We made good time, came by the most direct route, had no sickness and lost but one person, a little baby that died after its mother had tried to doctor it herself.
“We were received at Napa by Mr. Yount, who had lived originally in Howard county, Missouri. He was just as glad to see us as if we had been his own family. He owned seven leagues of land there in the Napa valley, had 600 mares and thousands of horses and cattle. The whole valley was covered with grazing cattle. In those days the only Americans there were the Gregories, the Stewards, the Derbons and a few other families.
“Spanish vaqueros used to be riding all over the country in little groups. They never bothered us or happened in for meals. All they needed was a piece of jerked beef and some roasted corn, and they would carry that with them and ride hundred and hundreds of miles before returning to their homes. There were so many thousands of long-horned Spanish cattle in the country that anybody that liked went out and killed a beef when he needed meat, and no one said anything. And it was good beef, too, probably because there was so much excellent grass.
“All the Spanish families had Indian slaves. They never permitted them to walk, but made them go about on the trot all the time. Those Indians made good slaves, excellent. The Spanish vaqueros used to go up to what is now Ukiah and ride in among the Indian rancherias and drive out the boys and girls, leaving the mothers behind and killing the bucks if they offered any resistance. Then they would herd the captives down like so many cattle and sell them to the ranchers. About $100 was the standard price. A good girl would bring that, but some sold for as little as $50.
“I bought one Indian girl from a Spaniard for $100, but soon after that another Indian girl and two boys came to my house of their own accord and explained that they had no home and wanted to work. The four of them did all my work, washing, ironing, cooking and housecleaning. One of the girls was a splendid nurse. The shameful treatment of the Indians by the Spanish was never equaled by the whites. As Americans settled up the country the enslaving of young Indians naturally stopped.
“We had a Fourth of July celebration near Napa in 1847. It was given by us at the Yount place. It must have been the first affair of the kind in California. We had about forty guests, most of them Spanish people of some prominence in the country. I made an enormous pound cake for the center of the table. Nobody had brought an American flag to California, so my sister, now Mrs. Wolfskill of Winters, made a little one of some narrow red ribbon and cut some blue silk from her best dress, and sewed on but one star, for material was very scarce, and the whole thing was not bigger than a woman’s handkerchief. we stuck it in the top of the cake. One of our guests was a Dr. Bailey, an Englishman of whom we all thought a great deal. He died long ago, but his two daughters are married and are living near St. Helena in Napa county, where they own big wine vineyards.
“Father had written across the little flag, ‘California is ours as long as the stars remain.’ The Spaniards took it all right, but Dr. Bailey became very much excited and snatched at the flag. All through the dinner he insisted upon removing it, declaring that the American flag should never wave over California. After the dinner, as my sister and I were driving to our house, Dr. Bailey rode beside our wagon and we clung to the little silk flag and kept waving it at him from one side and then the other as he urged his horse close and tried to grab it from our hands. About a dozen years ago father lent the flag to the California Pioneers, and they have it in their collection yet.
“It used to be claimed that I was the first white woman married in California, but Miss Yount was married in 1845 to Mr. Davis. There were many early Spanish brides just as white skinned as I. Father had moved to San Francisco, now called Benicia, and had started a boarding-house. Dr. Semple, who was a native of Kentucky, owned nearly all the land where the town is now. In those days that was thought to be the coming city. The present San Francisco was but an insignificant group of tents occupied by Spanish people and bearing the name Yerba Buena. Governor Vallejo had made Dr. Semple a present of half of Benicia, believing that he would build it up.
“I was married in Benicia in the fall of 1847. The ceremony was performed in the big dining-room of father’s boarding-house, which was decorated for the event. There were two other women in town at the time, besides mother and my sisters, and they and about twenty sailors were at my wedding.
“The sailors were as proud as could be and came all dressed in white suits. We gave them a supper affair and they all enjoyed it. The wedding was set for 9 o’clock, but it was a stormy, rainy night, and very dark. Ex-Governor Boggs of Missouri was to come visit Napa to perform the ceremony. We waited until 10 o’clock, and were just despairing of seeing him that night when he arrived. He had ridden horseback all the way through mud and water, and he was a very large, stout man, too.
“My husband, Dr. Semple, owned the only ferry-boat at Benicia. It was often said that he made money enough with it to sink that boat a half dozen times over, but he was one of the most remarkable speculators I ever knew, and went right through his money.
“Our town was San Francisco, but the people down here took the name away from us. Dr. Semple opposed them, but it did no good. They named this place San Francisco and dropped the name Yerba Buena, so Dr. Semple called his town Benicia, after Mrs. Vallejo, whose maiden name was Francisca Benicia.
“At first we thought California would be a great stock country, a fine place for farming, an elegant climate to live in, but no one had any idea then that there was gold here. But in 1848 and 1849 Dr. Semple was the only man left in Benicia, and mother, my sister and I the only women. All the others had gone to the mines. We lived in Benicia just four years, then we moved to what is now Colusa.
“My husband owned half of Colusa, old Colonel Hagar owning the other half. Dr. Semple had an idea that he could make a fortune out of the land. So we went up there. We were the first white people in that part of the State. There was a big rancheria of Indians right in what is now the heart of the town of Colusa, hundreds and hundreds of them. And five miles up the river was another big rancheria on what is now known as the John Boggs place. John Boggs did not come to Colusa until a good deal later, but he had big droves of cattle, and did well and made money.
“In Colusa, in the early days we raised vegetables to sell to the miners, and we grew grain and shipped it down to San Francisco on steamers. When I first saw Sacramento it was an apparently endless sweep of small tents, not a frame building anywhere in sight. That was in 1850. It was a terrifying place. I was frightened. Men were gambling on all sides. They were shooting and cursing and yelling. The noise and uproar were awful.
“I lived in Colusa for thirty-two years, never getting away much. It was along in the seventies before I saw San Francisco and I haven’t visited Benicia for many years. Little by little, as more white people settled in Colusa, the Indians moved back farther from civilization. They disappeared somewhere. I still own a lovely home place of 670 acres at Colusa, and I’ve been offered $75 an acre for it and wouldn’t take it. About ten miles from the house is an Indian rancheria, with a little colony of Indians. They sell chickens and pigs, and in the summer time they work in the harvest field and manage to get along pretty well. There at Colusa are the graves of my parents—my mother, who died twenty years ago, and my father, who died ten years ago, and there in Colusa lives my nephew, Willard Green, the editor of the Colusa Sun. He was the very first white person ever in Colusa. He spent a year there taking care of the property of his uncle, Dr. Semple, before we moved up from Benicia.”
Mrs. Susan Cooper Wolfskill of Winters, widow of the late John Wolfskill, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1834, is a sister of Mrs. Van Winkle. She is visiting her younger sister, Mrs. Martha Cooper Roberts, at 564 Fourteenth street, in Oakland. Mrs. Wolfskill supplements her older sister’s reminiscences with some further interesting takes of the very earliest pioneering days.
“I saw the first gold ever discovered in California” said Mrs. Wolfskill. “Marshall came over to our house in Benicia and stayed all night. He was on his way to San Francisco from Sutter’s mill. He said he thought he had gold. He took out a little rag that looked like the bit of a bag that housewives keep aniseed in and opened it. We all looked at it in wonder. Three days after that Sam Brannan, a Mormon, came riding breathless into our place in Benicia and asked John Wolfskill, who was afterward my husband, for a fresh horse. He said that gold had been discovered, and that he was going up there to locate all the land he could and return to Monterey and file on it. Monterey was then the capital of California. But some time before that Brannan had been very unaccommodating to Mr. Wolfskill when he wanted horses to help bring his fruit trees from Los Angeles, so he would not let Brannan have a horse. Brannan rode on, urging his tired beast. He and [John] Bidwell were going to locate the whole gold-bearing country, but Mr. Wolfskill told them it was placer mining, and that they could not hold it all.
“Everybody was guarding the secret of gold in California in hope of monopolizing the product. My father was the first man to write of the discovery. He sent a long letter East to his old friend, Senator Thomas Benton, who had secured him the position of Indian Agent at Council Bluffs years before, and that letter of my father’s was primarily the cause of the gold fever that swept through the Eastern States.
“In 1848 and 1849 we had a school in Benicia. Father started it and got seven pupils to come from a distance and board at our places. They were Clements Harbin from Napa, whose family afterward owned Harbin Springs; Nanny Harlin from Martinez, and Lucy, Carmelita, Ellen, Joe and Goyla Knight from Knight’s Ferry. The other pupils were my two brothers and myself and my two sisters, Mrs. Calmes, who is now dead, and Mrs. Roberts, now of Oakland.
“In 1849 and 1850 our only source of social amusement was dancing. And such dances! We used to ride horseback miles to attend them. I rode all the way from Benicia to Sonoma, about thirty miles, and then danced all night. And the only music for these balls was the fiddle. We left Benicia in 1852 and went to Green valley, and lived there three years. Then we moved to Colusa, and I stayed there until 1860, when I was married and went to Winters to live on the old Wolfskill place, where my husband died.”
Mrs. Noble Martin of 2001 Haste street, Berkeley, widow of the late Senator Martin, was originally Miss Weare of Independence, Mo., and arrived at Sutter’s Fort, near Sacramento, on November 20, 1849, when she was 15 years of age.
“We were just six months to the day crossing the plains,” said Mrs. Martin. “Our destination was Sutter’s Fort, and we did not consider that we were really in California until we had arrived there. Mike McClelland, who was also from Independence, kept the hotel at Sutter’s Fort and was a family connection of ours.
“We came west by the old Santa Fe trail and passed through what is now the State of Kansas, but it was then Indian Territory. Of course, we received no mail and got no news on the way. It was not until 1860 that the Pony Express was started. As I remember it, our long journey was a continuous pleasure trip. When we arrived at Sutter’s Fort the whole inclosure was a human beehive, just swarming with people, and there were people in the little rooms all about the court, and soldiers, perhaps twenty of them.
“After a few days’ entertainment the women of our party moved over to Sacramento. I remember going down J street in a flat-bottom boat. We all camped out. I suppose there were 200 or 300 women in Sacramento at that time. From Sacramento we went up the river by boat to Marysville, and later to Bidwell’s Bar, and to each of the other new mining camps as they were formed.
“I sluiced many and many a day. One member of our party picked up a $400 nugget on the Honecut.
“There were no bakeshops in those early days, and I made many an apple pie, just of common dried apples, and sold them for a dollar apiece. The women helped in that way to support he families, for mining was not always a certain means of livelihood.
“Christmas, 1852, I was at Point Reyes, at the cabin of Dr. Crandell, who owned the land there. I was all alone that day, not a human being within ten or twelve miles of me. It was raining. As I stood within the cabin and looked out the door across the ravine, a great mountain lion came out about 300 feet away. He looked toward the cabin and then let out a frightful yell. I shut the door and threw the crossbar into place.
“Later, father and mother lived at Alta Hill, near Grass Valley, but after my marriage to Dr. Martin I lived for many years at Dutch Flat, and then moved to Berkeley. Up there in Nevada county, father and mother lie at rest at the foot of a big thirty-foot rock that rises like a natural monument. They were married when father was 21 and mother 17, and they lived happily together all those years, father dying at the age of 89 and mother at the age of 85 within four months of each other. A remarkable thing was that father, after he was 80 years old, homesteaded the farm where he died.”
These are by no means all the pioneer women, but their stories are typical. There is Mrs. Germain and Mrs. Mary J. Martin Hall of Fairfield, Solano county. Mrs. Hall is a pioneer of 1849, having left Missouri on May 1st of that year. It is wonderful how many pioneers Missouri furnished. They had pushed west twice before, and the fever still strong in their blood, came west across the desert and the mighty mountains to make their homes beside the Pacific waters.
It was November 4, 1849, when Mrs. Hall landed in the mining town of Ophir on the Feather river. She lived there until the fall of 1850, and, as a little girl, panned out $75 in gold. For fifty years she has lived in Solano county, but during the [1900 California statehood] celebration she will be the guest of Mrs. Martha Cooper Roberts in Oakland.
Another pioneer woman of 1849 is Mrs. Joseph Figel, who reached San Francisco November 23, 1849, in the ship Balance, which sailed from New York on April 1st of the same year, under Captain Charles Ruggles. Mrs. Figel was the daughter of the late Joseph Shannan, who was County Treasurer in 1852 and 1853. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Shannan, two daughters and a son.
Most of these women are widows, but their step is firm and elastic, their hair white but abundant, and their memories clear and untarnished. Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, was not more honored than they shall be, for these are the matrons of the commonwealth.
The Chronicle, San Francisco
September 9, 1900
General Sherman and the Discovery of Gold
In Chapter II of his memoirs, Gen. Sherman writes of his tour of the gold fields, meeting with Gen. Sutter, the Mormons at Morman Island, Kit Carson, and how news of the gold discovery reached Washington, D.C. – and the world.
remember one day, in the spring of 1848, that two men, Americans, came into the office and inquired for the Governor. I asked their business, and one answered that they had just come down from Captain Sutter on special business, and they wanted to see Governor Mason in person. I took them in to the colonel, and left them together. After some time the colonel came to his door and called to me. I went in, and my attention was directed to a series of papers unfolded on his table, in which lay about half an ounce of placer-gold. Mason said to me, “What is that?” I touched it and examined one or two of the larger pieces, and asked, “Is it gold?” Mason asked me if I had ever seen native gold. I answered that, in 1844, I was in Upper Georgia, and there saw some native gold, but it was much finer than this, and it was in phials, or in transparent quills; but I said that, if this were gold, it could be easily tested, first, by its malleability, and next by acids. I took a piece in my teeth, and the metallic lustre was perfect. I then called to the clerk, Baden, to bring an axe and hatchet from the backyard. When these were brought I took the largest piece and beat it out flat, and beyond doubt it was metal, and a pure metal. Still, we attached little importance to the fact, for gold was known to exist at San Fernando, at the south, and yet was not considered of much value.
Colonel Mason then handed me a letter from Captain Sutter, addressed to him, stating that he (Sutter) was engaged in erecting a saw-mill at Coloma, about forty miles up the American Fork, above his fort at New Helvetia, for the general benefit of the settlers in that vicinity; that he had incurred considerable expense, and wanted a “preëmption” to the quarter-section of land on which the mill was located, embracing the tail-race in which this particular gold had been found. Mason instructed me to prepare a letter, in answer, for his signature. I wrote off a letter, reciting that California was yet a Mexican province, simply held by us as a conquest; that no laws of the United States yet applied to it, much less the land laws or preëmption laws, which could only apply after a public survey. Therefore it was impossible for the Governor to promise him (Sutter) a title to the land; yet, as there were no settlements within forty miles, he was not likely to be disturbed by trespassers. Colonel Mason signed the letter, handed it to one of the gentlemen who had brought the sample of gold, and they departed.
That gold was the first discovered in the Sierra Nevada, which soon revolutionized the whole country, and actually moved the whole civilized world.
Col. Richard Barnes Mason
San Francisco’s Fort Mason and Mason St. are named for him. Col. Mason, and Lt. Sherman, had offices at Monterey, the capital of Alta California. Sherman then described his adventures near San José and the quicksilver mines of New Almaden. Then, he wrote:
Gold, Greed & Genocide
Over 150,000 Native Americans lived sustainably in California prior to the gold rush. They had existed for many centuries, supporting themselves mostly by hunting, gathering and fishing. This life changed drastically in 1848 when James Marshall discovered the yellow metal in the American River at Coloma, in Northern California.
By 1870, there was an estimated native population of only 31,000 Californian Indians left. Over 60 percent of these indigenous people died from disease introduced by hundreds of thousands of so-called 49ers. However, local tribes were also systematically chased off their lands, marched to missions and reservations, enslaved and brutally massacred.
In 1851, the California State government paid $1 million for scalping missions. You could still get $5 for a severed Indian head in Shasta in 1855, and twenty five cents for a scalp in Honey Lake in 1863.
Over 4,000 Native American children were sold - prices ranged from $60 for a boy to $200 for a girl.
The gold miners dug up 12 billion tons of earth - excavating river beds and blasting apart hillsides in their greed. In addition, they used mercury to extract gold from the ore, losing 7,600 tons of the toxic chemical into local rivers and lakes. The amount of mercury required to violate federal health standards today would be equivalent to one gram in a small lake.
Although this gold rush ended in the late 19th century, a new gold rush began in the 1960s. In California, Nevada and around the globe, multinational companies have begun to use giant earth movers and new technology using deadly cyanide to extract gold from indigenous lands.
About the artist: Denise Davis, whose family is from the Maidu tribe of the Sierra foothills, lives in Chico, California. The design that frames this painting is a traditional Maidu basket pattern. It was Maidu land on which gold was originally discovered at the place we now know as Sutter's Mill.
The painting was commissioned by Project Underground in 1999 based on the book Gold, Greed & Genocide. Copies of this book and information about the impact of gold mining on Native American lands may be obtained from: