Monday, January 24, 2011

All That Glitters

Magnet # 444:  Map of California

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Mom

Life looked bright indeed for California on this day in 1849 when gold was discovered there at Sutter's Mill.  News of the find eventually brought in over 300,000 prospectors from all of the world.  Most of them came from the United States, but plenty were from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.  They faced great difficulties in their searches, however - one in every twelve of the Forty Niners, as they came to be known, perished.  A few were able to strike it rich, but most often, the merchants made out better than the miners, many of whom saw modest returns for their troubles.  As time passed, the miners' profits dwindled substantially and those who made it there toward the end of the rush often ended up losing most of their funds.  Those who made it home usually had little more than they had left with.  But the boom was huge for California.  At the beginning, the area was mostly undeveloped wilderness but the population surge helped San Francisco increase its size 300 times over, improve travel conditions to the West Coast, and gain California statehood.

It was James W. Marshall who noticed the first specks of gold.  Born in New Jersey, he had made his way further and further West until he finally moved from Missouri to California.  There, he met John Sutter, the founder of Sutter's Fort, an agricultural settlement.  He employed Marshall for a time before the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846 and Marshall left to join the fight.  After the action came to an end, the two formed a partnership to construct a sawmill.  Marshall oversaw the project and when it was determined that the tailrace was not powerful enough to carry the water away from the water wheel, he decided to begin a project to increase the size of the tailrace.  One morning, he was having a look at the results and realized that there were a few shiny spots among the runoff.  He picked them up to have a closer look and when he tested them by flattening them with rocks, but was unable to break them apart, he realized they might be gold.  He shared his findings with his workers and they tested the material to prove it was indeed gold.  At that point, his main concern was operating the sawmill, but he allowed the men to look for gold on their own time.  He also brought some samples to show Sutter, who was able to identify them as very high quality gold, at least 23 carats.  For a time, no one believed that the discovery was real, even though San Francisco newspapers were reporting on it.  But when a shopkeeper from Sutter's Creek began showing off his findings in the town, people changed their minds.  Soon, eager fortune hunters were flooding into the area.  The gold rush proved to be disastrous for both Marshall and Sutter.  Their workers abandoned them to prospect and their land was overrun in the search.  They were unable to run the mill in the chaos the gold rush created.  In an effort to keep his land, Sutter deeded his land to his son, but he was unwilling to go along with his father's plans for it.  He eventually received a small pension from the government for the land and moved with his remaining family to Pennsylvania.  He passed away in Washington D.C. 1880 with very little to his name.  For a time, Marshall fared better, opening a vineyard but increased competition and taxes drove that enterprise under.  He also developed a dependence on alcohol and after a gold mine he had invested in failed, the state awarded him a pension for his role in developing it.  But when they stopped giving him funds, he ended up living in poverty, living in a tiny cabin and planting a garden just to survive.  He passed away in 1885 and five years later, a monument of Marshall himself was placed over his grave site.  It features him pointing to where he made the fateful discovery all those years ago.  It's funny, many might think that finding gold on your land would be great, but in this case, they'd be wrong.

Perhaps no party benefited more from the gold discovery than California itself, which is known as the Golden State.  To this day, it has maintained a reputation of being a place where one can strike it rich and reinvent their life.  Its motto is "Eureka," or "I have found it," and its seal features images from the Gold Rush.  Best of all, the experts believe there is still plenty more of the precious metal to be found in California and there are a good deal of sites where modern day treasure hunters can try their luck.  So go west if you're in the mood to hit the jackpot and give it a try.  The heydays of the California Gold Rush may be behind us, but the possibility to come upon the mother lode still exists out there.

1 comment:

  1. It makes sense that California is called the Golden State because of the early discovery of gold there. I always thought it was because most of the state gets little rain and therefore optimists call it golden instead of brown.