Menu
Blog
Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

The Discovery of Gold in California

by James Nottage, Eiteljorg chief curatorial officer | Mar 22, 2015
My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another.

 —John W. Marshall on the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, January 24, 1848

The first discovery of gold in Mexican California, which took place near Los Angeles in 1842, was a minor finding that attracted little attention. At that time the attitude of “Manifest Destiny,” which promoted the idea that the young nation must expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was embraced by many Americans. This belief became the justification for a controversial war with Mexico beginning in 1846. Texas was annexed that year, battles were waged through the fall of 1847, and on February 2, 1848, the United States took control of much of the Southwest, including California. At almost exactly the same time, gold was discovered in Northern California.

James Marshall was building a sawmill to cut lumber for construction on John Sutter’s buildings in the Sacramento valley. Sutter had a land grant from the Mexican government, and he employed many local Natives and veterans of the Mormon Battalion as laborers on the site. About January 24, 1848, bits of gold were first found in the millrace. At first the discovery was a distraction from other work. Soon it dominated hurried conversations and reports in area newspapers. By March, the rush was on.
John Sutter portrait
General John A. Sutter, 1851
Stephen William Shaw
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; BANC PIC 19xx.017—FR

 Gillespie drawings

 The Discoverer of California Gold, [John Marshall] Coloma, Dec 20th 1851
Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, Dec. 1849
Charles Gillespie
Pencil on paper
Loan courtesy of Richard M. Rogers

Bottom:
Gold Mining in California, 1871
Currier & Ives
Hand-colored lithograph
Loan courtesy of Greg and Petra Martin

   

Comment

  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
       
    Toolbar's wrapper 
     
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
      
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.
       
© Eiteljorg Museum. All rights reserved.