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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

California Gold Narrative

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Now to give a clear conception of that most notable event, we must go back to the time when the project of building the mill was first conceived by Messrs. Sutter and Marshall, which was on or near the 1st of June, 1847. But, for want of skilled labor, the matter was delayed for a time, as the class of white men that was to be hired could not be trusted so as to justify a man in the undertaking of an enterprise of such importance as building a gristmill, which he already had under contemplation, and a sawmill forty miles away, in an Indian country; and again, the unsettled condition of the country as it was, so soon after the war, and considering the scarcity of money, caused Mr. Sutter to hesitate until a detachment of 150 men of the Mormon Battalion came up, August 26, and camped on the American Fork River about two miles from Sutter's Fort.

After they had a short consultation it was decided that about one hundred of the party would remain over till the next year, and seek employment as best they could. Accordingly, a committee was appointed to wait upon Mr. Sutter, to learn from him what the prospect for employment was. The committee informed Mr. Sutter that we had carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, millwrights, farmers and common laborers, and that we should want horses, cattle, and a general outfit for crossing the plains early the next summer, and if we could not get all money, we could and would take a part of our pay in the above mentioned stock and supplies. This proposition seemed to meet with favor from the Captain, as he had an abundance of the above mentioned property, and, if my memory is not at fault, he told the committee to call again, or for the men to come in two or three days, and he would speak further with them.

I understood then that in two or three days he decided to construct the two mills above mentioned, for the greatest obstacle that confronted him had been removed by the propositions that our committee had made to him. I have not heard the foregoing statement denied, therefore it is confirmed in my mind that had it not been for this opportunity the sawmill at least would not have been built, nor the discovery of gold been made at that time. The State of California would have waited indefinitely to have been developed and to be christened the ''Golden State,'' and the entrance to San Francisco Bay might never have received the title of the ''Golden Gate.''

Quite a number, say from forty to sixty of us, called on Mr. Sutter between August 29th and September 5th. Some were employed to work on the gristmill, others took contracts on the mill race of that mill, the race was seven or eight miles long and was also designed for irrigation.

the work commenced in earnest; the cabin was pushed, and a second room put on in true frontier style. Some finished up the cabin, others worked at getting out timbers and preparing for the erection of the mill. The site chosen for the mill was at a point where the river made considerable of a bend, and just in the bank of what appeared to be the old bed of the river, which was lowered to carry the water from the mill.

Sometime between the 15th and 20th of January the mill was started up, and it was found that it had been set too low and the race would not carry off the water, but that it would drown or kill the flutter wheel. To avoid this difficulty several new pieces of timber had to be got out, and as there was found suitable timber within ten or fifteen rods from where the tail race entered the river, all hands were set to work getting out the timber at that place.

It had been customary to hoist the gates of the force bay when we quit work in the evening, letting the water through the race to wash away the loosened sand and gravel, then close them down early in the morning, and a gang of Digger Indians had been employed to dig and cast out the cable rock, such as was not moved by the water.

I, having picked up sufficient of the Indian dialect to direct the Indians in that labor, was set to look after that work, and as all hands were getting out timber so near the race, I had stepped away from them and was with the white men when Mr. Marshall came down to look after the work in general. Having talked a few moments, he stepped away to where the race entered the river. He discovered a bed of rock that had been exposed to view by the water the night before; the rock that was in sight was in the bottom of the race and was from three to six feet wide and fifteen to twenty feet long. It appeared to be granite, but so soft that it might be scaled up with a pick, yet too solid to be carried away by the water.

I, being an all-around worker, sometimes called from one thing to another, and the Indians did not require my whole attention, Mr. Marshall called me to come to him. I went, and found him examining the bed rock. He said, ''This is a curious rock, I am afraid that it will give us trouble,'' and as he probed it a little further, he said, ''I believe that it contains minerals of some kind, and I believe that there is gold in these hills.'' Said I to him, ''What makes you think so?'' He said he had seen the blossom of gold, and I asked what that was, and he told me that it was the white quartz scattered over the hills. I, being no better informed, asked what quartz was. He answered that it was the white flint-like rock that was so plentiful on the hills. I told him that it was flint rock, but he said no, that it was called quartz in some book that he had read, and that it was an indication of gold. He then sent me to the cabin to bring a pan so that we could wash some of the sand and gravel to see what we could find.

On my return we washed some of the sand and gravel and also some of the bed rock that we scaled up with a pick. As we had no idea of the appearance of gold in its natural state, our search was unsuccessful. Then he said, ''Well, we will hoist the gates and turn in all the water that we can tonight, and tomorrow morning we will shut it off and come down here, and I believe we will find gold or some kind of mineral here.''

We in the cabin, at a very unusually early hour, heard a pounding at the mill, and someone said, ''Who is that pounding so early?'' Some one of the party looked out and said it was Marshall shutting the gates of the fore bay down. This brought to my mind what he had said the evening before about finding gold, and I said, ''Oh, he is going to find a gold mine, this morning.''

Nothing but a smile of derision stole over the faces of the parties present. We ate our breakfast and went to work. James Berger and myself went to the whipsaw, and the rest of the men some eight or ten rods off from the mill. I was close to the mill and saw pit, but was also close to the tail race where I could direct the Indians that were there. This was January 24, 1848.

Just when we had got partly to work, here came Mr. Marshall with his old wool hat in hand, and stopped within six or eight yards of the saw pit, and exclaimed, ''Boys, I have got her now.'' I, being the nearest to him, and having more curiosity than the rest of the men, jumped from the pit and stepped to him, and on looking in his hat discovered say ten or twelve pieces of small scales of what proved to be gold. I picked up the largest piece, worth about fifty cents, and tested it with my teeth, and as it did not give, I held it aloft and exclaimed, ''gold, boys, gold!'' At that they all dropped their tools and gathered around Mr. Marshall. Now, having made the first test and proclamation of that very important fact, I stepped to the workbench and put it to the second with the hammer. While doing that it occurred to me that while in the Mormon Battalion in Mexico, we came to some timber called manzanita. Our guides and interpreters said that wood was what the Mexicans smelted their gold and silver ores with. It is a hard wood and makes a very hot fire and also lasts a long time. Remembering that we had left a very hot bed of these coals in the fireplace of the cabin, I hurried off and made the third test by placing it upon the point of an old shovel blade, and then inserted it in among the coals, and blew the coals until I was blind for the moment, in trying to burn or melt the particles; and although it was plated almost as thin as a sheet of note paper, the heat did not change its appearance in the least. I remembered hearing that gold could not be burned up, so I arose from this third test confident that it was gold. Then running out to the party who were grouped together, made the second proclamation, saying, ''gold! gold!''

At this juncture all was excitement, and all repaired to the lower end of the tail race, where we found from three to six inches of water flowing over the bed of rock, in which there were crevices and little pockets, over which the water rippled in the glare of the sunlight as it shone over the mountain peaks. James Berger was the first man to spy a scale of the metal. He stooped to pick it up, but found some difficulty in getting hold of it as his fingers would blur the water, though he finally succeeded. The next man to find a piece was H. W. Bigler; he used his jackknife, getting it on the point of the blade, then, getting his forefinger over it, placed it in his left hand. And as we soon learned how to look for it, as it glittered under the water and in the rays of the sun, we were all rewarded with a few scales. Each put his mite into a small vial that was provided by Marshall, and we made him the custodian. We repeated our visits for three or four mornings to the tail race, each time collecting some more of the precious metal, until we had gathered somewhere between three and four ounces.

The next move was to step and stake off two quarter sections beginning at the mill, one running down the river and the other up. Then we cut and hauled logs and laid the foundation of a cabin on each of them; one was for Sutter, the other for Marshall. Now, this matter being finished, Mr. Marshall was prepared to dictate terms to us, for every tool and all the provisions in that part of the country belonged to Capt. Sutter and Mr. Marshall, and they had full control, and we were depending on the completion of the mill for our pay. He said if we would stay by him until the mill was completed and well stocked with logs, he would supply us with provisions and tools and the first right to work on their gold claims.

So we all agreed to his proposition, and also that we would not disclose our secret of the gold discovery until we learned more About it and had made good our claims. Not having the remotest idea of its extent, we pushed the mill as rapidly as possible, for as yet we had not received one dollar's pay for our four months' labor.


With the Names of Those Interested in the Discovery

Published by the Author


Just forty-six (46) years ago to-day the great and memorable discovery of the California gold was made at Capt. John A. Sutter and James W. Marshall's sawmill, on American Fork River, California.

Reference : America: A Narrative History, 6th Edition, Chapter 24; Inventing America, Chapter 22; Give Me Liberty, Chapter 18

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