The Rush Is On

On December 8 and 9, 1848 (168 years ago), news of the gold discovery in California was first reported in the New York Daily Tribune. The first report was a letter written on August 17th from Monterey by Col. Richard B. Mason who surveyed the gold regions with Lieut. William Tecumseh Sherman. You may read the entire story here:

image_681x648_from_9391247_to_26322859He relates how James Marshall found the gold in the tail race of the mill he was building for Sutter:

He then went to the fort, told Captain Sutter of his discovery, and they agreed to keep it secret until a certain grist-mill of Sutter’s was finished. It, however, got out and spread like magic. Remarkable success attended the labours of the first explorers, and, in a few weeks, hundreds of men were drawn thither. At the time of my visit, but little more than three months after its first discovery, it was estimated that upwards of four thousand people were employed.

He goes on to describe how gold fever overtook all the inhabitants of California:

The discovery of these vast deposits of gold has entirely changed the character of Upper California. Its people, before engaged in cultivating their small patches of ground, and guarding their herds of cattle and horses, have all gone to the mines, or are on their way thither. Labourers of every trade have left their work-benches, and tradesmen their shops; sailors desert their ships as fast as they arrive on the coast; and several vessels have gone to sea with hardly enough hands to spread a sail. Two or three are now at anchor in San Francisco, with no crew on board. Many desertions, too, have taken place from the garrisons within the influence of these mines; twenty-six soldiers have deserted from the post of Sonoma, twenty-four from that of San Francisco, and twenty-four from Monterey.

This was followed the next day by two letters from Thomas O. Larkin to the Secretary of State. Larkin had been the American consul in Monterey when California had been part of Mexico. His letters were actually written earlier than Mason’s; they are dated June 1 and June 28.


Sir: I have to report to the State Department one of the most astonishing excitements and state of affairs now existing in this country, that, perhaps, has ever been brought to the notice of the Government. On the American fork of the Sacramento and Feather River, another branch of the same, and the adjoining lands, there has been within the present year discovered a placer, a vast tract of land containing gold, in small particles.

Larkin makes a point of noting that “this placer, or gold region, is situated on public land.” That meant it was free for the taking. Imagine the excitement!

And so every man started figuring out how to make the journey, and worrying that all the gold would be picked up before he could get there. The Rush was on!

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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