Tinkham Chapter V

Chapter V.


		The cry of gold,
		Around the world
		It rolled,
		And legions of men
		All young and bold
		Rushed to the Golden State.

The battle of Molino del Rey closed the Mexican war. In the treaty signed at Guadalupe Hildago, February 2, 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States, for $18,000,000, all told, all of the territory then known as California. Bounded on the north by Oregon, the east by the Rocky mountains and the south by Mexico, it was a vast empire; yes, it was greater than several empires combined. It was larger than Italy, Spain, Wales, Scotland and England, and as large as France, England and Germany.

The accession of this vast domain caused great rejoicing throughout the South, for it gave the Southerners a new field for the extension of slavery -- so they believed. The discovery of gold, however, destroyed all of their plans; for in the rush of immigration there came thousands of those opposed to slavery. They organized California as a free state.

The man to ruin the slavery men's cherished hopes was the eccesntric, unlearned immigrant, John W. Marshall (a). He was a volunteer in Fremont's battalion, and at the close of the war he visited Sutter's fort looking for work. Marshall was a good mechanic, and Sutter gave him a job making spinning wheels. Later he sent Marshall into the mountains to find a good location for a sawmill. The employes selected a spot at the place now known as Coloma. Ox teams and men were sent to the place. In January, 1848, the carpenters had partly completed the frame of the mill. A mill race was also dug and January 24th Marshall, accompanied by Wiedmer, while walking along the race noticed something shining in the sand. What it was they did not know, as they had never seen any gold. It was a very scarce metal in that day. After an unsuccessfull attempt to break it they took a piece of the gold to Mrs. Wiedmer and asked her to boil it in salaratus water as a further test. She was making soap, and, throwing the gold into the boiler, the following morning it was fished out brighter than ever. Marshall, still doubtful, concluded to saddle his horse, ride to the fort and ask the Captain's opinion. Sutter was an oracle among the settlers. His wisdom was certainly correct in this case. After testing it with acids and weighing it according to the formula in the encyclopedia, he declared it pure gold, 24 carats fine. Sutter was not surprised at the discovery, as gold in considerable quantities he knew had been found in other parts of the territory (b).

Marshall, now greatly excited, hastily returned to the mill in a heavy rain, although Sutter tried to persuade him to remain over night. Marshall on arrival found that Wiedmer's two little boys had found about four ounces of gold. He was very angry. He wanted to keep the discovery a secret. The laborers on the mill, mostly Mormons, soon learned the secret and began digging for gold. Marshall ordered them from the land, claiming that he owned it. Traveling down the river some 15 miles, they found plenty of gold. In less than six months over 300 Mormons, with roughtly constructed cradles, tin pans and Indian baskets, were averaging each man 8 ounces, $128, per day. The place took the name of Mormon Island.

Mrs. John Wolfskill says: "Sam Brannan came riding breathless into our place in Benicia, and asked my husband for a fresh horse. He said that gold had been discovered and he was going up there to locate all the land he could and then go to Monterey and file on it." Sutter, however, was ahead of him. The Captain then sent two couriers with specimens of gold to Monterey, with a request to give him (Sutter) a pre-emption claim on the land. The couriers showed Governor Mason the specimens, and Sherman declared it looked like Georgia gold. Mason refused the favor, saying he had no authority to dispose of Mexican lands.

The news reached San Francisco some time in February. Parties at that time offerd gold in payment for goods. The jewelers, testing it, pronounced it pure gold. The merchants refused to accept it, believing it worthless. Finally they took the metal at a 50 percent discount, and they added another 50 per cent to their selling price for good measure. The citizens also were skeptical. They declared the reported discovery was one of old Sutter's schemes to populate the wilderness. Day after day, however, the gold rolled into Yerba Buena. At last they were forced to admit the truthfulness of the discovery. Then the merchants hurried to the mines. Seeing gold by the ton, they hurriedly returned to San Francisco, nailed up the doors and windows of their business houses and started for Coloma. For several weeks launches were seen loaded with merchandise and household goods, oft times the family sitting on top of the truck, sailing up the San Joaquin or Sacramento rivers. Some of the merchants intended opening stores, others to dig for gold.

The two newspapers of Yerba Buena, the Californian and the Star, changed their opinion in less than 60 days regarding the discovery. In a two line article March 5th, the Californian said: "Gold dust is an article of traffic at New Helvetia, Sutter's fort." Then it declared the discovery a humbug. Two months later, however, the proprietor published a small extra, saying "the editors, the printers, even the devil himself has gone to the mines. The whole country from San Francisco to Los Angeles resounds to the cry of gold, gold, gold!" In September the same paper said: "Explorations have been made sufficient to prove that gold was to be found on both sides of the Sierras from latitude 41 as far south as the waters of the San Joaquin, a distance of 400 miles in length and 100 miles in width."

The men from the fort on their way to Monterey stopped overnight at Tuleberg, now Stockton. This was the half-way point between the fort and the pueblo of San Jose. Sutter instructed the men to keep secret their mission, but they informed the settlers of the discovery and showed them specimens of the gold. The trappers, much excited, under Captain Charles M. Weber's direction, organized the Stockton Mining Company. It was the first corporation in the territory. Procuring picks, shovels and food supplies from Weber's general merchandise store, they traveled to Coloma, and locating on Weber's creek, began mining and trading with the Indians. They obtained "banks of gold." Wm. H. Carson declared "they daily sent out to the settlements mules loaded with gold." Hall, the San Jose historian, further declares that in December, 1849, Daniel Murphy, one of the partners, had as his profits for one year $2,000,000 in gold.

News did not then, as now, flash over the land in a second, and the discovery was not known along the South California coast until the middle of May. In Monterey the news greatly escited the population. Merchandise, horses and wagons immediately advanced 500 per cent in price. They were quickly purchased, however, and the buyers hurried to the mines. When the teams were all sold, the citizens started for the mines on foot, their blankets on their backs. They also hastened, fearing that the gold would all be dug before their arrival. The town was depopulated and, said Walter Colton (d) in his diary, June 20th, "I have only a community of women left and a gang of prisoners." The old San Jose settlers laughed at the report. They declared it foolish, the rumor of so much gold being found. When they saw their fellow citizens returning week after week, actually loaded with gold, they also caught the fever and hastened to the gold fields. San Jose was soon depopulated, and it was feared that the Mexicans would organize and destroy the pueblo.

Governor Mason as a United States officer believed it his duty to visit Coloma and report to Washington the extent and value of the wonderful discovery. Accompanied by Lieutenant, later General, Wm. T. Sherman and four soldiers, June 7th he left Monterey and rode horseback to San Francisco. Crossing the bay to Sausalito, swimming their horses, they traveled to the mines. All along the road the Governor found the mills idle, the houses unoccupied, the grain fields overrun with stock and the gardens in ruins. At Coloma he saw 4,000 men, all digging for gold, and taking, per month, from the river bed from $50,000 to $100,000. Their only tools were butcher knives, shovels and shallow pans. Two miners finding a "pocket" of gold in Weber creek cleared up $17,000 in one week. the Indians working for John Sinclair brought in $19,000 in ten days (e).

Satisfied regarding the richness of the gold mines, Governor Mason sent Lieutenant Loser with dispatches to President Polk. He took with him an oyster can filled with gold nuggets. The Lieutenant was instructed to reach the capital before the assembling of the thirtieth congress, so that the President could announce the discovery in his annual message. He failed to reach Washington in time, because of many delays (f), but on arrival at New Orleans he telegraphed the President. The following day, November 24th, the news of the gold discovery was published in the New Orleans Commercial Times.

The gold from the mines of California revolutionized the finances of the world. At that time the gold production was exceedingly limited and financiers were seeking for some means of commercial exchange. The gold output has been so enormous it is impossible to give its value. From 1847 up to and including 1901 the custom house reported an exportation of $1,345,512,689. This is a part only, for there is no record of the millions of dollars carried from the state by miners in trunks, tin cans, boxes and in gold belts (g). The largest known amount taken from the mines in one year was that of 1854, $69,433,512. From that time on the amount gradually decreased until from fifteen to thirty millions a year was the limit. The average annual amount, however, for the first 53 years was $25,387,032. Of late years dredger mining has kept the average yearly product at $20,000,000.

  1. John W. Marshall was born in New Jersey in 1819. He learned the wheelwright trade. Immigrating to the west in 1845, he crossed the plains with his wife and children. Locating at Sonoma, he began raising horses and cattle. When the war broke out he joined Fremont's battalion. In the gold rush he was entirely forgotten. He made no money by his discovery of gold, and later several legislatures voted him monthly pensions. Finally he was left alone. Idolizing the spot where he found gold, he built a little cabin and lived there until his death, May 10, 1885. Several years after his death, at a cost of $9,000, the state erected at coloma a life-sized bronze statue of Marshall.

  2. It had been known for many years that gold existed in California. General Vallejo said that in 1824 he saw a Russian digging gold in Kern county. A priest informed Wm. Davis, author of "Sixty Years in California," that Indians found gold in Sacramento valley in 1840. Mexican vaqueros in 1841 accidentally found gold on San Francisquito creek, near Los Angeles. The place was worked and over $6,000 worth of gold taken from the creek. It was gold dust, however, and sent east in payment for goods. The Philadelphia mint declared it pure gold.

  3. The Indians with whom Sutter made his treaty were known as the Culloch tribe, hence the name Coloma. By the terms of the treaty Sutter agreed to give them food, clothes, ornaments and beads yearly to the value of $200. They in turn promised not to kill the stock or game nor burn the grass within the limits prescribed, 12 square miles.

  4. Walter Colton as alcalde was the first official in California to empanel a jury. He was also the first architect, he planning and building Colton hall.

  5. The Indians at first had not the slightest idea of the value of gold. They willingly worked and dug gold for food, clothes, flimsy trinkets and beads, which they prized highly. John Swain of Monterey relates that, taking from his store a quantity of beads, he traded them to the Indians for gold nuggets. The beads were worth 25c, the gold $100. Joaquin Miller, later the California poet, says that on one occasion an Indian gave $25,000 worth of gold for some glass beads worth 50 cents.

  6. At this time there was no direct communication with the east. Hence Lieutenant Loser was compelled to sail from Monterey to Payta, Peru; from Payta he took an English steamer to Panama; crossing the isthmus, he sailed to Kingston, Jamaica, and from there by vessel to New Orleans.

  7. These gold belts were made for the purpose or carrying gold dust. The material was buckskin, and they were usually fastened around the naked body just above the hips. In this way the gold dust was hidden, and a large, strong man could easily carry $3,000 worth of gold without inconvenience. there were no gold notes in those days, nor paper money of any denomination.

Return to California Men and Events Table of Contents
Return to California AHGP