Margaret Hecox Discovers Gold

Margaret Hecox came to California overland with her husband Adna and four children in 1846. It was a long and arduous journey, but at least they did not take the Hastings Cut-Off (as did the Donner Party). They met Lansford Hastings and he suggested it, but they had a guide, Old Caleb Greenwood, who advised against it.

Margaret M. Hecox, Discoverer of Gold

As they came down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Mrs. Hecox discovered gold:

In a little valley by the Yuba River we went into camp for a day or two. How pretty it was at this place and, although we were all tired out, we enjoyed everything, feeling happy that we were now so near our journey’s end.

It was on the Yuba River that Mrs. Aram and I discovered what we afterwards knew to be gold. We were busy at our washing down near the stream, when something brightly gleaming in the water attracted our attention. It looked like sands of gold. I gathered my apron full of the shining specks and carried it to Mr. Hecox, saying I thought it was gold.

He laughed at me and seemed to consider it a good joke. This made me angry and I threw it away. I have always been sorry that I did not keep it and wait until I could have it tested. I am sure now that it was gold. It was just like the dust they brought from the mines two years later.

Let that be a lesson to the men out there to listen to their wives.

The same day Mrs. Aram called to me in an excited manner, “Mrs. Hecox, do come here quick; I do believe I have found gold!” And so it proved to be the pure metal. It was thoroughly tested at the time. The men marked the spot, some of them declaring that they would return some day and search for more of it; but they never did.

The piece that Mrs. Aram found was about the size of a silver dime. The specimen I believe is still in the possession of Mrs. Aram’s daughter.

Mrs. Aram’s little nugget was given more credence than Margaret Hecox’s specks of gold dust. But they were both gold and if those emigrants had staked a claim there and then, they might be hailed as the discoverers of gold in California, rather than James Marshall.

This account comes from the book California Caravan: the 1846 Overland Trail Memoir of Margaret M. Hecox, edited and with an introduction by Richard Dillon, published by the Harlan-Young Press in San Jose in 1966.

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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2 Responses to Margaret Hecox Discovers Gold

  1. Tom Holcomb says:

    Mrs Hecox and her family were travelling with my 3rd and 4th great-uncles (both named Charles Imus) when their party was led over the Sierras and down the Yuba River by Chief Truckee. The Hecox and Imus families were neighbors back in Illinois. They all ended up at Santa Cruz where a second wave of both families (including my 2nd great grandparents) arrived in the spring of 1850.

  2. Marian Ware says:

    Nancy ,
    I so enjoy reading all of your entries.
    Well, I don’t read them all, but each time I do, I ask myself why I don’t !
    Thank you.

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