DISCOVERY

Introduction | Discovery | The Journey | In the Diggings and Towns | Those Who Came
Those Who Stayed Behind | Gold Rush Women | Families | Framed Art

Col. R. B. Mason, Governor of California
Proclamation to the People of Upper California.
Monterey: August 7, 1848.

Col. Mason was the military governor of California during the United States' occupation of Upper (Alta) California, which began in early 1846. This proclamation announces the ratification of the peace treaty with Mexico, known as the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The proclamation was also issued in Spanish, the language of the majority of non-Native American residents of California.

Forest & Borden
View of Coloma, Where the First Gold was Discovered.
[Sacramento?]: n.d.

Coloma, El Dorado County, was founded at the site of Sutter's mill, where gold was discovered by James Marshall on January 24, 1848. On November 8, 1849 the establishment of a post office assured the community continued use of the name.

John Sutter
Letter from Nuevo Helvetia (Sutter's Fort), to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.
February 10, 1848.

This fascinating letter from John Sutter to his friend Mariano Vallejo provides one of the earliest written confirmations of the discovery of gold at Sutter's saw mill on the American River.

James Marshall's Whiskey Flask and Autograph Card.

This flask was donated to the Bancroft Library by Sophia Levy whose grandparents ran the general store at Coloma at the time of gold discovery. Marshall was a frequent visitor to the store and often ate with the family. The autograph card was signed by Marshall. Note the date of January 19, 1848. Although there is general agreement that the discovery took place on January 24, 1848, James Marshall claimed the January 19th date.

View of Sutter's Fort, Sacramento, 1847
Hand-colored lithograph, n.d.

The adobe fort was completed in 1844 at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers. With walls three feet thick and fifteen feet high, protected by cannon Sutter had purchased from the Russian settlement at Ft. Ross, it was to be the stronghold, headquarters, and trading post for all of Nueva Helvetia, and a place of refuge as well for parties arriving overland via the Sierra and from Oregon. Following the discovery of gold, Sutter's workmen and soldiers abandoned the fort. By 1852 he was bankrupt, his rancho ruined, and squatters occupying and despoiling his properties.

Thomas Oliver Larkin
Map of the Valley of the Sacramento, Including the Gold Region.
Boston: T. Wiley, Jr., 1848.

The original of this map was done by John Bidwell in 1844 to show the existing land grants in the Sacramento Valley. The exact sequence of events which led to the publishing of this map in Boston are unknown. Carl I. Wheat calls it one of the rarest of the early gold region maps.

Philip Thomas Tyson
Report of the Secretary of War, Communicating Information in Relation to the Geology and Topography of California.
Washington, D. C.: Senate Executive Document No. 47, 31st Congress, 1st Session. 1850.

Philip Tyson conducted a geological survey in California during the last half of 1849. The extensive maps illustrate the conditions to be found in California and represent an early scientific work on the gold region. The exhibited map shows a geological section taken from the Cosumnes River to the Calaveras River.

Joseph W. Revere
A Tour of Duty in California ....
New York, C.S. Francis & co.; Boston, J.H. Francis, 1849.

Navy Lieutenant Joseph Revere had served in California during the War with Mexico. He published this book in response to the growing demand for information on California. In Chapter XIX he republishes several documents that were important to the verification of the gold deposits. One of these is Col. Mason's letter to President Polk informing the President of the discovery and transmitting several samples of gold from the diggings. The numbers on the right hand page correspond to the numbers on Mason's map shown below.

R. B. Mason
Positions of the Upper and Lower Gold Mines on the South Fork of the American River, California.
July 20, 1848.

This map was published in United States, Executive Document No. I, 30th Congress, Second Session, Washington, 1848 to accompany Col. Mason's report to President Polk. When Mason transmitted his report to the President he also sent samples of gold from various locations in the gold region. The numbers on the map correspond to the numbers placed on the samples.

W. W. Allen and R. B. Avery
California Gold Book: First Nugget, Its Discovery and Discoverers.
San Francisco: Donohue & Henneberry, 1893.

This book was published for the purpose of documenting the authenticity of the "Wimmer Nugget" as the first piece of gold discovered at Sutter's Mill.

Affidavit of Elizabeth Jane Wimmer.
March 23, 1885.

In this affidavit, Mrs. Wimmer attests to the fact that this nugget is the one sent to her by James Marshall via her son.

Edward Hammond Hargraves
Australia and its Gold Fields...with a Particular Account of the Recent Gold Discoveries...
London: H. Ingram and Co., Milford House, Strand. 1855.

The California gold rush was only the beginning of a frenzied sixty year period of gold fever, ending with the Yukon rush in 1898. Many of the miners in California headed for the gold fields of Australia when the "easy" gold played out. Hargraves is considered the discoverer of gold in Australia. He had successfully mined in California before he returned to Australia.

Capt. Sutter's Account of the First Discovery of the Gold.
Lithograph, San Francisco: Britton & Rey, 1854.

This letter sheet provides John Sutter's account of the discovery, along with a portrait of James Marshall and a view of Sutter's Mill at Coloma.

The Wimmer Nugget

The "Wimmer nugget," is believed to be the piece of gold that started the California Gold Rush. Peter Wimmer was head of the construction crew erecting a saw mill for John Sutter on the American River near the present town of Coloma. His wife, Elizabeth, cooked for the workmen.
On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, Sutter's general foreman and contractor for the project, found the nugget in the tailrace of the mill during a routine inspection with Wimmer. He sent it back to the cookhouse where Mrs. Wimmer boiled it in a pot of lye soap (a folk method of testing gold). When she reported that it appeared genuine, Marshall gathered some other flakes and nuggets and took them back to Sutter's Fort where he and Sutter tested them chemically, using information gained from an encyclopedia.
Two months later, on March 15, the first notice of the discovery appeared in The Californian of San Francisco:

GOLD MINE FOUND. - In
the newly made raceway of the Saw Mill recently erected by Captain Sutter, gold has been found in considerable quantities. One person brought thirty dollars worth to New Helvetia, gathered there in a short time. California, no doubt, is rich in mineral wealth; great chances here for scientific capitalists. Gold has been found in almost every part of the country.

Affidavits by both Elizabeth and Peter Wimmer accompany the nugget and attest to its being, indeed, the first gold found by Marshall. Although Marshall, a decade after the discovery, stated that he thought Mrs. Wimmer had used the nugget to purchase some merchandise late in 1848, a re-examination by Professor Erwin Gudde in 1965 indicates that this nugget is, in all probability, the original "first discovery."
Introduction | Discovery | The Journey | In the Diggings and Towns | Those Who Came
Those Who Stayed Behind | Gold Rush Women | Families | Framed Art


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