Room One

Discovery

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. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, Sutter's general foreman and contractor for the project, found the nugget in the tailrace of the mill. Affidavits by both Peter Wimmer and his wife Elizabeth 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."

Wimmer Nugget
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Wimmer nugget
BANC PIC 19xx.031:066--OBJ

Two months after the finding on the "Wimmer nugget," the first notice of the discovery appeared in The Californian of San Francisco on March 15th.

The Californian article
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The Californian, March 15, 1848
BANC MSS C-Y 69

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.

Letter from Nuevo Helvetia
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Letter from Nuevo Helvetia to Vallejo
BANC MSS C-B 12:332

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.

Sutter's account of the first discovery of the gold
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Capt[ain] Sutter's account of the first discovery of the gold
BANC PIC 1963.002:0007--A
Calisphere Image Source

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.

View of Sutter's Fort
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View of Sutter's Fort, Sacramento, 1847
BANC PIC 1905.02211--PIC

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.

California gold book
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California gold book
x F865. A43
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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.

View of Coloma, Where the First Gold was Discovered
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View of Coloma, Where the First Gold was Discovered
BANC PIC 1963.002:0158--B
Calisphere Image Source

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.

A tour of duty in California; including a description of the gold region
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A tour of duty in California; including a description of the gold region
x F865 .R4
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