R. D. Stoney (attributed to), Gold Mining in the Mother Lode, c. 19th century
California Historical Society
On January 24, 1848, James Marshall was inspecting a recently built saw mill at Coloma on the south fork of the American River when he caught a glimpse of something shining at the bottom of a ditch. Picking it up, he recalled, “It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold.”
So began one of the great adventures of the American West. As word spread of Marshall’s discovery, millions of people from all over the world arduously made their way to northern California—by ship, overland trail, and through the jungles of Panama. In two years, the population of California skyrocketed, from about 10,000 to more than 200,000 people.
In the years that followed fortunes were made, lost, or never realized. But California—and the West—would never be the same.
View of San Francisco, Formerly Yerba Buena, in 1846-47
before the Discovery of Gold (detail), 1884
Library of Congress
Yerba Buena Cove, 1849–50
Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, James Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco, 1855
California is not an enchanted land, where gold can be had for the wishing, and where men can grow rich without toil, or while wasting their energies in idleness and vice. To the prudent, industrious, and enterprising, it offers every reasonable facility, not only for obtaining a livelihood, but ultimately a competence. . . . [T]he general condition of society may be expected to assume gradually a higher character, and compare favorably in refinement and cultivation with that of other and older States of our great Republic.
It is these expectations, and more, with which we embrace our state’s future in our own transformative era.
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
- Diane Barclay, The California Gold Rush, History through the Collection Series, Part 1 (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 2001)
- William Deverell and David Igler, eds., A Companion to California History (Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2014)
- “Discovery of Gold,” American Memory, Library of Congress, https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cbhtml/cbgold.html
- Charles Drayton Gibbes, Accompaniment to Gibbes’ New Map of the Gold Region in California (Stockton, CA: J. Drayton Gibbes / New York: Sherman & Smith, 1851)
- Gold Rush Timeline, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/goldrush/timeline/
- J. S. Holliday, Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California (Berkeley: Oakland Museum of California/University of California Press, 1999)
- Kenneth Owens, “Far from Zion: The Frayed Ties between California’s Gold Rush Saints and LDS
- President Brigham Young,” California History 89, no. 4 (2012): 5–23
- Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, James Nisbet, The Annals of San Francisco (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1855), https://archive.org/details/annalsofsanfranc00soul
- Lewis J. Swindle, The History of the Gold Discoveries of the Northern Mines of California’s Mother Lode Gold Belt as Told by the Newspapers and Miners, 1848–1875 (Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Publishing, 2000)
- Charles B. Turrell, “An Early California Photographer: C. E. Watkins,” News Notes of California Libraries 2, no. 1 (Jan. 1918): 29–37.