Monday, January 24, 2011

Rough Going Over The Sierra - James Wilson Marshall, Discovery of Gold

Rough Going Over The Sierras
The Steep and rugged ascent of Carson Pass was the most dreaded section of the entire California Trail.  Many emigrants had to unload and dismantle their wagons, hoist them up the cliff, and reassemble them on top.

El Dorado Country
Where Gold was discovered in California on January 24, 1848 by James Wilson Marshall
Marshal Gold Discovery State Historical Park

postmarked in 2010 with a 28 cent stamp

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James Wilson Marshall (October 8, 1810 - August 10, 1885) was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush.

On the morning of January 24, Marshall was examining the channel below the mill when he noticed some shiny flecks in the channel bed. As later recounted by Marshall:
"I picked up one or two pieces and examined them attentively; and having some general knowledge of minerals, I could not call to mind more than two which in any way resembled this, very bright and brittle; and gold, bright, yet malleable. I then tried it between two rocks, and found that it could be beaten into a different shape, but not broken. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (Owner of the mill who was working at the carpenters bench making the mill wheel) with the pieces in my hand and said, "I have found it."
"What is it?" inquired Scott.
"Gold," I answered.
"Oh! no," replied Scott, "That can't be."
I said,--"I know it to be nothing else."

News of the discovery soon reached around the world. The immediate impact for Marshall was negative. His sawmill failed when the all able-bodied men in the area abandoned everything to search for gold. Before long, arriving hordes of prospectors forced him off his land. Marshall soon left the area.

He returned to Coloma in 1857 and found some success in the 1860s with a vineyard he started. That venture ended in failure towards the end of the decade, due mostly to higher taxes and increased competition. He returned to prospecting in the hopes of finding success.
He became a partner in a gold mine near Kelsey, California but the mine yielded nothing and left Marshall practically bankrupt. The California State Legislature awarded him a two-year pension in 1872 in recognition of his role in an important era in California history. It was renewed in 1874 and 1876 but lapsed in 1878. Marshall, penniless, eventually ended up in a small cabin, earning money from a small subsistence garden.

He died in Kelsey on August 10, 1885. His body was brought to Coloma and buried on the property where he had owned his vineyard. In May 1890, a monument was erected over his grave site. A statue of Marshall stands on top of the monument, pointing to the spot where he made his discovery in 1848.

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