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HISTORY: Gold Rush

California Gold Discovery
1848 - 1998

The colorful border depicts California golden poppies (the state flower) wild roses, lupines and California Valley Quail (the state bird). There’s still gold in them thar hills which is depicted by the large gold piece behind the quail. This nugget was mined in 1992, and is one of the largest uncovered in California history; it can be seen today at the IRONSTONE Vineyard Museum in Murphys, Calavaras County.

Much has changed from the early days of the gold mania. The season of ‘48 began as a small, localized phenomena compared to the frenzied 1849 gold rush. A few of the buildings that remain are preserved and reflect the varied lifestyles and origins of their builders.

Sutter’s Mill - (right of picture) On the South Fork of the American River, Scotch mill wright James Marshall (left of picture) first found gold in the tail race of Sutter’s Saw Mill on January 24, 1848. Mormon workers, former members of the famed Mormon Battalion, were helping Marshall build the mill.

Mrs. Jenny Wimmer (left of picture) camp cook and laundress and wife of one of the workers, boiled Marshall’s find in a pot with lye soap to prove its worth. When the nugget did not melt or discolor, Mrs. Wimmer declared the "yellow stuff" as gold!

Sutter’s Fort - Back at the fort, Captain John Sutter, (right of picture in cap and blue coat) born in Germany of Swiss parents wanted the news of gold to be kept secret. He wanted everyone to keep working the land given to him by the Mexican government. The adobe fort had workshops and huge wheat fields, vineyards, and orchards surrounding it. He called his settlement New Helvetia or New Switzerland. As Sutter’s settlement grew, it became an important stopping place for explorers and settlers. Boats traveled up the delta from San Francisco to the fort (now Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park) and many pioneers who set out for California in covered wagons as part of the epic land migration found refuge at Sutter’s Fort.

Within six weeks after Marshall’s discovery, workers at New Helvetia had quit their jobs and headed for the hills.

His idle settlement and fields would eventually be taken over by strangers who would realize Sutter’s dream, but without him.

By May, news of gold exerted an hypnotic hold on San Francisco townspeople. Men, women and children headed for the hills. The same effect happened when news spread to Monterey and San Jose. The crews from whaling ships and merchant vessels sitting in the bays abandoned their ships. Great ethnic diversity existed from these ships which included Asians, Polynesians, Hawaiians, Europeans and African Americans. Local Indians were used by many of the above people as mining crews. Soon the American River ravines were crowded with an ethnic diversity of miners working side by side using simple, low level mining technology.

One of Sutter’s partners, Isaac Humphry, an experienced Georgia miner, introduced the cradle, which was soon copied by others.

The site surrounding the historic area is now preserved as Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Tourists can learn of historic mining methods at this park which is located on highway 49 in the town of Coloma, in El Dorado County.

The Northern Mines - From Auburn in the south to Trinity County in the north, the Northern Mines are scattered through spectacular scenery of mountain canyons and free flowing streams.

Auburn - of Placer County proved to hold some of the richest diggings in all of the California gold rush country. The three story red and white striped Hook and Ladder company fire house was established in 1852.

Grass Valley - of Nevada County is home of the beautiful grounds of the Empire Mine State Historic Park, one of the largest hard-rock (quartz) gold mines in the world, with 367 miles of tunnels.

Downieville - of Sierra County appears much as it did during the gold rush days and is among the prettiest towns in California gold rush country, nestled in a forested canyon at the confluence of the Downie river and the North Fork of the Yuba River. Their Methodist church, may be the oldest Protestant church in continuous use in California, since 1852.

Marysville - of Yuba County is the site of an old Chinese Temple, which once looked down on the Yuba River.

The Southern Mines- range south from Auburn to Mariposa County, where the most colorful show of spring flowers in all of the gold rush country can be seen.

Placerville of El Dorado County, once known as Hangtown, is peaceful among apple orchards and vineyards. Large quantities of gold were found in the creek running through town. The town also boasts a large bell tower.

Amador County has many interesting and quaint gold era towns nestled in the Shenandoah valley wine country that reflect much of its ethnic diversity. In nearby Jackson are the Kennedy Mine and its giant Tailing Wheels which dominate the landscape.

Calavaras County is known through out the world because of the famous story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County, written by Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, but told by the Hotel keeper of the Angels Hotel of Angels Camp. Murphys, known as the Queen of the Sierra, retains its original charm.

Tuolumne County is a major locale for western theme movies, including Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Columbia State Historic Park preserves the old town City Hotel , restaurant, shops and old stage coach, in which the Wells, Fargo & Company building dominates the old ‘dry diggin’ town. From Columbia to Knight’s Ferry in Stanislaus County a number of mines operated very successfully. The town of Knight’s Ferry, in Stanislaus County, was an important Stanislaus River crossing on the road from Stockton to Sonora and the southern mines. The general store has been operating since 1852.

The Mariposa County Courthouse - was the site of a number of famous cases arising from disputes in the mines. It is an excellent example of gold rush era architecture and is the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Mississippi river.

Oakhurst of Madera County is where the Fresno Flats Historical Park showcases a double log cabin similar to that of Mrs. Wimmer of Coloma.

The story of California Gold Discovery played an important role in the story of the California Indians. In remote areas, early miners may have seen the traditional culture of the Miwok Indians who lived in the central mountain area and the delta(left border) or the Maidu Indians from the northern mountain area (right border). The Maidu and Miwok were just two of the many Indian cultures that occupied the land of the gold rush.

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