California Marks 150th Anniversary of Gold Find

Reed Travel Features

COLOMA, Calif. -- "Monday 24th this day some kind of mettle was found in the tail race that looks like goald first discovered by James Martial the Boss of the Mill."

In that ill-spelled and -punctuated statement, Henry Bigler, a member of a building crew headed by James Marshall (not Martial), recorded in his diary an event that would transform California. The date was Monday, Jan. 24, 1848. The "mettle" that Marshall picked out of the bedrock exposed by the rush of water over the sluice was, indeed, "goald." Its discovery, by a man who was sent to the area to build a logging mill for John Sutter, a Swiss entrepreneur with a trading empire in the U.S. West, led to the California gold stampede -- the trail of the 49ers.

The community of Sutter's Creek was named for the Swiss businessman, as was Sutter's Fort State Park.

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Marshall, whose hand first touched the gold that led, ultimately, to statehood for California, never had a town named after him; his name lives on, though, in Marshall State Park.

The gold find is being celebrated throughout the state this year in the form of special events sanctions by the California Gold Discovery to Statehood Sesquicentennial Committee.

The activities officially kicked off last month with the opening of a "Gold in California" exhibit at the Oakland Museum, a series whose three parts are called "Gold Fever," which includes artifacts and documents of the period as well as gold specimens; "Art of the Gold Rush," the watercolors and oil paintings of the era, and "Silver and Gold: Cased Images of the Gold Rush," a display of early photography.

The series will travel to other museums in the course of the next year. For more information, call (510) 238-2200. For information about other sesquicentennial activities, write to the Division of Tourism at Box 1499, Sacramento, Calif., 95182-1499.

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