The California Gold Rush is, forgive the pun, the gold standard of gold rushes in the United States. Indeed, California is known as the “Golden State” both because of its beautiful natural scenery, but also because of this gold rush that absolutely changed the face of American history in a short period of time. A great way to explain the changes is to compare California before the gold rush — a sparsely populated area inhabited mostly by Indians and Mexicans — to a state important enough that the first Republican Presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, hailed from the state.
It all began on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall, a sawmill entrepreneur, and carpenter, discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California in the northern central portion of the state. California was still technically a part of Mexico at this time, as the Mexican-American War was still underway, but it had been claimed by the United States since the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. When all was said and done, 300,000 people had poured into the region and the population demographics of the territory — a state by 1850 — were changed forever. Tens of billions of dollars were extracted from the mines in the state, which helped the United States on its road to becoming an economic powerhouse.
Who Was James W. Marshall?
As is often the case with a gold rush, the California Gold Rush had very inauspicious beginnings. James Wilson Marshall didn’t own the land where he discovered the gold and thus joins the long list of people who came close to grabbing the golden ring but were unable to do so due to circumstances outside of their control.
The land itself was owned by John Sutter, born Johann August Sutter, an immigrant from one of the many small states that made up the Holy Roman Empire. Marshall was examining a channel on the land when he noticed the shiny flecks that often meant there were large deposits of gold. For his part, Sutter was far more concerned with the completion of his sawmill than he was with panning for gold, so he simply allowed the workmen to hunt for gold on his land in their spare time.california gold rush
Ironically, the discovery of gold on his land led to Sutter’s economic ruination. Though he attempted to keep the find quiet, the discovery of land was exposed to a mass audience by newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan. When news of the gold spread throughout his crew, they all left the steady work of building a sawmill to hunt for gold. Eventually, the hordes of prospectors drove Sutter off of his own land. His son, John Augustus Sutter Jr., had no small success rebuilding the land, but the prospectors destroyed virtually everything of value that lay on the land. The elder Sutter eventually received a $250 monthly pension as reimbursement for his land.
Marshall, too, was economically ruined by the army of squatters who destroyed crops and cattle as they went. However, he returned to business in Coloma in 1857, running a vineyard that saw some success in the 1860s before being ruined by higher taxes and increased competition. He then returned to prospecting, which was largely unsuccessful. He died broke in a cabin on August 10, 1885. A monument was eventually erected to him and visitors can still go see the cabin where he spent his final days.
Going to California
It bears repeating that going from a “western” American city of the time, such as St. Louis, to California, was not anywhere near as easy as it is today. Indeed, there was not even rail transportation out to California at this time. And it was the California Gold Rush that changed all of that.
Most of the 49’ers, in fact, didn’t even travel over the land. They got to California by sea. Remember that this was prior to the construction of the Panama Canal. The journey went all the way around Tierra del Fuego and took between four and five months. That was a total of 18,000 nautical miles (21,000 land miles or 33,000 kilometers). The other option was to go to the thinnest part of Panama, cross the jungle, and pick up another boat on the other side. Companies such as the U.S. Mail Steamship Company, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (which enjoyed federal subsidies), and the Accessory Transit Company allowed for men who weren’t prospecting to make their fortunes off of the California Gold Rush.
Of course, some adventure and treasure seekers did use an overland route, with most utilizing the California Trail, a 3,000-mile trail that ran from the Missouri River to California. It was one of a series of so-called “pioneer trails” that were built by enterprising settlers on their way out west during the 19th Century.
Supplies were likewise needed in California, but it was difficult to keep crews because men generally deserted to go hunt for gold in the fields. Some abandoned ships were converted into warehouses, taverns, hotels, and other structures, including at least one jail. But when all was said and done, it was the merchants who made out like bandits during the California Gold Rush, not the miners.
Continue reading The California Gold Rush at KellycoDetectors.com.
John Wasson has passed. I attended his lectures several times at UCLA. The lectures will continue including this Sunday on Zoom.
After reading many sad recollections of White's Electronics and the lamenting of the state of metal detector companies I was wondering what things were like back in the beginning. I happened to see and subsequently acquire the Annual Treasure Edition of Frontier Times Magazine issued in September, 1964. Although you need to go back to the 19th Century to find the real beginning, this is about the time that metal detectors became both portable and affordable (thanks to the recent development of low cost solid state electronic components -- transistors and diodes).
In addition to five full length articles, here's a summary of the ads (full page all the way down to 2 line classifieds) in this issue relevant to the general topic of treasure hunting:
Published materials -- 25.
Build-your-own instructions -- 1,
Panning, sluicing, etc. -- 3,
Multiline dealers -- 3,
Clubs -- 2,
Scams -- 5.
Besides those, here's a listing of metal detector manufacturer ads with state of location. See how many you recognize -- order is as found paging front to back:
Raytron (CA), Relco (TX), Fisher (CA), White's (OR), Metrotech (CA), Art Howe & Co (KS), D-Tex (TX), Gardiner (AZ), IGWTT (NM), Goldak (CA). (Carl probably has at least one from each company. )
The only one of these with an ad of any size (second largest was D-Tex's 1/4 page) is Relco's two page spread shown here:
Noteworthy in its absence is Garrett. According to Charles's 2015 obituary, the company was formed in 1964 so they were likely still a year or two away from their first ad.
Adendum: I've added a scan of the White's ad later in this thread. The very small Fisher ad showed (in tiny drawings) part of a modern style detector and a 2-box, but hardly any detail.