More Searching for Gold

Bidwell kept on wondering if there might be gold in the California hills. In 1845, while acting as Sutter’s manager, he went looking again. Years later he related the following:

“In July, 1845 I went into the Sierra Nevadas ostensibly for the purpose of giving directions to men sawing lumber for Sutter, but for the real purpose of examining the region for gold. . .  Starting early in the morning I reached the place about forty miles from Sutter’s Fort, at one P.M. In the afternoon while the men were at work in another direction I stole away unbeknown to them toward a deep valley traversed by a small stream to the south. When halfway there or more, the intense heat and the probability of finding no water in the stream, and possibly my impression of gold mining as gained near San Fernando, had the effect to make me change my purpose.  . . .

This same point I visited in the spring of 1849 after I had worked a year at gold mining on the Feather River. Miners were at work in nearly all the gulches in that region.  . .  One man whom I knew – Thomas Fallon of San Jose – told me that had I pulled up a bunch of grass on the margin of the stream and shaken the earth into a pan and washed it, I would have in all probability gotten the color.”

IF he had “shaken the earth in to a pan and washed it,” but he didn’t have a pan, or a batea, that mysterious Mexican implement. Or if it hadn’t been such a hot day, or if there had been water in the creek, or if he hadn’t already gained the impression at San Fernando that gold was too scarce to bother with the California. So many Ifs.

The fact is that although Bidwell was in the right place at the right time, he wasn’t really the right man. He wasn’t obsessed with gold, and so he didn’t try all that hard to find it. In the end it was James Marshall who got the credit for the gold discovery, not by means of obsession or had work, but sheer good luck.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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