Today California celebrates Gold Discovery Day with living history reenactments at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, El Dorado County, where James W. Marshall spotted gold flakes in the tailrace of John A. Sutter’s sawmill on the American River January 24, 1848.

gold discovery site
Although this discovery created the most publicity, it was not the first gold discovery in California. Gold was found in Placerita Canyon, Los Angeles County, March 9, 1842. In 1841, Juan Baptiste Ruelle found gold 30 miles northeast from Mission San Fernando. Prior to that, native Indians brought gold specimens to the Mission Padres.

Why were gold seekers to California called ‘49ers when the gold was discovered in ’48?

Marshall and Sutter kept their secret about six weeks before an employee leaked word. When news and proof arrived in San Francisco, Sam Brannan published it in his newspaper, The California Star, May 1848.

President James K. Polk announced the California gold discovery to Congress December 5, 1848.

The race for transportation to California began.

It was too late in the year for wagon trains to leave and avoid mountain snows during their six to eight month journey.

Ship passage to the Isthmus required a walk or burro ride to Panama if one survived danger and disease in the jungle.

The California was the first ship to sail around Cape Horn, take on passengers at Panama, and dock in San Francisco February 28, 1849, delivering the first ‘49ers.

James W. Marshall's Cabin

James W. Marshall’s Cabin


About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
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