Sunday, November 27, 2016

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

The site of Marshall's discovery of gold is on the South Fork
of the American River, in Coloma, California.
Go stand where it all started.

After the Old Town Sacramento Gold Rush Days, I figured that the best place to start exploring the California Gold Rush was to travel to where it all started. Most people call the place “Sutter’s Mill” but since it is the site where James Marshall discovered gold, it is now the location of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

John Sutter, a Swedish immigrant, came to California in 1839. His eventual aim was to create an agricultural empire he called “New Helvetia.” The settlement he built would for the most part become Sacramento. More about his story in another post. By 1847, one of Sutter’s planned ventures was to build a saw mill up in the foothills, where the trees are. Fortunately, a carpenter and craftsman, James W. Marshall, had recently arrived in California and agreed to work
for Sutter in building such a mill. They chose a site on the south fork of the American River about 45 miles east of Sacramento.

Replica of Sutter's Mill at Marshall Gold
Discovery State Historic Park.
Marshall’s work force consisted of native Americans and former members of the U.S. Army’s Mormon Battalion that were lingering in California on their way home after the Mexican War. The mill was to be water driven, so the crew had dug a small canal that diverted water from the river to power the mill. The tailrace is the part of the canal that takes the water back to the river. During the day, the workers would dig in the canal. Each night water was allowed through to wash away that days digging. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was inspecting the tailrace when he noticed shiny flecks and pebbles on the ground. He scooped them up and over the next several days had run some tests and traveled to Sutter’s Fort to share the samples with John Sutter. Sutter ran some tests as well and the two men were convinced they had discovered gold. They initially tried to keep the news a secret, but soon the word got out and the news spread around the world.

Today the site is a California State Park in Coloma, California, a little less than nine miles north of Placerville along Highway 49, “The Gold Rush Trail.” If you get there early, stop off at the Sierra Rizing Coffeehouse and Bakery. Good coffee and
This is believed to be the actual tailrace dug in 1847.
friendly people. Besides, you won’t find Starbucks or any other chain restaurants. You’ll probably only spend a half day at Marshall Gold Discovery park. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch. Or you can head down Highway 49 to one of the Gold Rush towns for lunch or dinner. The state park doesn’t charge any fees. There is a small museum that is very good if you are unfamiliar with the Gold Rush. However, the best part of the visit is outdoors. There is a replica of the mill to look over. There are also some period buildings and outdoor exhibits with wayside markers. My favorite part of the visit was the monument that noted the location of the actual discovery. I stood on the edge of the American river and tried to imagine, as I often do, what it was like in 1848, before the crowds and development that came with California being such a populated state. It’s easier to do here than at most Gold Rush towns, except for the voices of a few other visitors, we had the beautiful river to ourselves.
A large stone marker approximates the spot where Marshall
made his find that started the Gold Rush.

P.S. I just finished a pretty good book for reference on the California Gold Rush. Enough information, in an entertaining voice, and not so much detail to become boring for the casual reader. Try "The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853" by Edward Dolnick.



There is a small, modern, museum at the park as well. Nice
little museum bookstore and gift shop too.