Discovery of Gold in California

(Taken from Burroughs' Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889)

mining for gold

It was on the 19th day of January, 1848, that James W. Marshall, while engaged in digging a race for a saw-mill at Coloma, about thirty-five miles eastward from Sutter's Fort, found some pieces of yellow metal, which he and the half-dozen men working with him at the mill supposed to be gold. He felt confident that he had made a discovery of great importance, but he knew nothing of either chemistry or gold-mining, so he could not prove the nature of the metal nor tell how to obtain it in paying quantities. Every morning he went down to the race to look for the bits of metal; but the other men at the mill thought Marshall was very wild in his ideas, and they continued their labors in building the mill, and in sowing wheat and planting vegetables. The swift current of the mill-race washed away a considerable body of earthy matter, leaving the coarse particles of gold behind; so Marshall's collection of specimens continued to accumulate, and his associates began to think there might be something in his gold mines after all. About the middle of February, a Mr. Bennett, one of the party employed at the mill, went to San Francisco for the purpose of learning whether this metal was precious, and there he was introduced to Isaac Humphrey, who had washed for gold in Georgia. The experienced miner saw at a glance that he had the true stuff before him, and, after a few inquiries, he was satisfied that the diggings must be rich. He made immediate preparation to visit the mill, and tried to persuade some of his friends to go with him; but they thought it would be only a waste of time and money, so he went with Bennett for his sole companion.

He arrived at Coloma on the 7th of March, and found the work at the mill going on as if no gold existed in the neighborhood. The next day he took a pan and spade, and washed some of the dirt in the bottom of the mill-race in places where Marshall had found his specimens, and, in a few hours, Humphrey declared that these mines were far richer than any in Georgia. He now made a rocker and went to work washing gold industriously, and every day yielded to him an ounce or two of metal. The men at the mill made rockers for themselves, and all were soon busy in search of the yellow metal. Everything else was abandoned; the rumor of the discovery spread slowly. In the middle of March Pearson B. Reading, the owner of a large ranch at the head of the Sacramento valley, happened to visit Sutter's Fort, and hearing of the mining at Coloma, he went thither to see it. He said that if similarity of formation could be taken as a proof, there must be gold mines near his ranch; so, after observing the method of washing, he posted off, and in a few weeks he was at work on the bars of Clear Creek, nearly two hundred miles northwestward from Coloma. A few days after Reading had left, John Bidwell, now representative of the northern district of the State in the lower House of Congress, came to Coloma, and the result of his visit was that, in less than a month, he had a party of Indians from his ranch washing gold on the bars of Feather River, twenty-five miles northwestward from Coloma. Thus the mines were opened at far distant points.

The first printed notice of the discovery of gold was given in the California newspaper published in San Francisco on the 10th of March. On the 29th of May the same paper, announcing that its publication would be suspended, says: "The whole country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the seashore to the base of the Sierra Nevada, resound the sordid cry of gold! gold! gold! while the field is left half planted, the house half built and everything neglected but the manufacture of pick and shovels, and the means of transportation to the spot where one man obtained one hundred and twenty-eight dollars' worth of the real stuff in one day's washing; and the average for all concerned, is twenty dollars per diem. The first to commence quartz mining in California were Capt. Win. Jackson and Mr. Eliason, both Virginians, and the first machine used was a Chilean mill.

The Reid Mine, in North Carolina, was the first gold mine discovered and worked in the United States, and the only one in North America from which, up to 1825, gold was sent to the Mint.



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