The California Gold Rush

James Wilson Marshall

          As everyone knows, James Wilson Marshall was noted for discovering gold at Sutter's Fort, and beginning, what was later known as, the California Gold Rush.

          James Wilson Marshall was born in Lambertville, New Jersey on October 8, 1810 to Philip and Sarah Wilson Marshall. Marshall was the oldest and only male of four children.
            In 1834, Marshall left home and lived in Indiana and Illinois for a while before moving on to Missouri. In Missouri, he began farming along the Missouri River. Soon after, Marshall became ill with malaria and, with the advice of his doctor, began moving west with a wagon train heading to Willamette Valley, Oregon. After arriving in early 1845, Marshall stayed in Oregon for a short while before, once again, moving on to California.

            Marshall reached Sutter's Fort in July and was hired by John Sutter as a carpenter and sawmill worker. Later, Marshall bought land by Butte Creek and began to farm again.

            In May of 1846, the Mexican-American War began. During this time, Marshall joined the military, serving under Captain John C. Fremont and taking part in the famous Bear Flag Revolt. In 1847, Marshall returned to his ranch by Butte Creek to discover all of his cattle missing, having strayed off or stolen.  

            Marshall began working for Sutter once more and withheld the task of building a new sawmill at any location he pleased. Marshall traveled around the area, looking for the perfect spot to build this sawmill. Eventually, he reached a peaceful section of the Colluma Valley on the South Fork of the American River.
           Marshall began constucting on this sawmil in August 1847 with the help from fellow veterans, from the Mexican-American War, as well as local Native Americans. The sawmill neared completion in the following Winter.  

            On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was inspecting the previous day's work, as usual, when he noticed a sudden glinting in the water. He lowered his hand into the river and picked up glimmering flakes of gold. Marshall returned to the settlement, quick and excited, and announced, "Boys, I believe I have found a gold mine." He, and the other settlement workers, tested the metal by hammering it and seeing if the flakes would bend instead of breaking. After testing, they were absolutely convinced it was, indeed, gold and reported to John Sutter.

            At Sutter's Fort, more tests were done and confirmed, beyond doubt, that the precious metal was authentic gold. Sutter sent Marshall back to the sawmill with stern instructions to keep quiet. Marshall, being overly tempted, spilled the news to few people. News of gold on Sutter's Fort began to spread like wildfire. The California Gold Rush began.

            As people from all over the country, and world, began to rush towards the settlement, Sutter and Marshall were driven off. The hard labor-filled sawmill was eventually torn down so that the riches beneath could be unconcealed.

            Gold began to run out in 1857 and miners abandoned Colluma Valley in search of richer fields. Three years later, Marshall returned to start a vineyard, which failed after several years of work.  

            Afterwards, he returned to prospecting and lived on a pension that the California Legislature had granted him in 1872. His pension expired in 1878 when the legislature failed to renew it. Penniless, Marshall ended up living the rest of his life on meager earn from his garden and temporarily working in local saloons.

            On August 10, 1885, Marshall died in Kelsey at the age of 74. Niether he nor Sutter ever profited from the gold discovered at the fort and sawmill. Marshall was buried two days later in Colluma Valley on a small hill where his unsuccessful vineyard used to be.

             A monument was later put up along his grave. Today, a statue of Marshall points toward the river where, at one point, he made his discovery.