Last week I crossed off a research trip on my to-do list by driving up California Highway 49 to visit Gold Country. I learned so much more about that pivotal event in U.S. history, the California Gold Strike.
I always thought that John Sutter discovered gold at his mill on the American River in Coloma, California.
In actuality, it was Sutter’s partner in the lumber business, James W. Marshall, who spotted shiny flecks in the mill’s watercourse on January 24, 1848.
California was about to officially pass from Mexico to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848. Imagine if the news of gold could have been communicated immediately to all the international powers–would Mexico have tried to keep California? Would European powers have stepped in?
Neither Marshall nor Sutter ended up wealthy from the gold discovery, but another gold mine owner left a legacy of fantastic wealth at the Empire Mine State Historic Park. William Bourn of San Francisco took over the Empire Mine near Grass Valley, California in 1878.
A definite Anglophile, the Cambridge-educated Bourn brought in miners from Cornwall and built an English cottage, a clubhouse, and gardens on the grounds.
Nearby Grass Valley (my favorite of all the towns we visited) still has a Cornish community and shops that sell meat pasties like the ones the miners packed in their lunch tins. Yes, I stopped there for lunch!
Time was short and it was 106 in the shade, so I didn’t see everything. I’ll definitely visit this beautiful area again, especially since I have an idea for a story set there.
Have you visited Gold country? Do you have a favorite small town along the 49? Send me your recommendations!
Images: Marshall portrait, Wikimedia. All others, the author.