Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Finding Gold in California

California once belonged to Mexico. Then there was a war between this country and Mexico. This is what we call the Mexican War. During that war the United States took California away from Mexico. It is now one of the richest and most beautiful States in the Union. In the old days, when California belonged to Mexico, it was a quiet country. Nearly all the white people spoke Spanish, which is the language of Mexico. They lived mostly by raising cattle. In those days people did not know that there was gold in California. A little gold had been found in the southern part of the State, but nobody expected to find valuable gold mines. A few people from the United States had settled in the country. They also raised cattle.

Some time after the United States had taken California, peace was made with Mexico. California then became a part of our country. About the time that this peace was made, something happened which made a great excitement all over the country. It changed the history of our country, and changed the business of the whole world. Here is the story of it:—

A man named Sutter had moved from Missouri to California. He built a house which was called Sutter's Fort. It was where the city of Sacramento now stands. Sutter had many horses and oxen, and he owned thousands of acres of land. He traded with the Indians, and carried on other kinds of business.

But everything was done in the slow Mexican way. When he wanted boards, he sent men to saw them out by hand. It took two men a whole day to saw up a log so as to make a dozen boards. There was no sawmill in all California.

When Sutter wanted to grind flour or meal, this also was done in the Mexican way. A large stone roller was run over a flat stone. But at last Sutter thought he would have a grinding mill of the American sort. To build this, he needed boards. He thought he would first build a sawmill. Then he could get boards quickly for his grinding mill, and have lumber to use for other things.

Sutter sent a man named Marshall to build his sawmill. It was to be built forty miles away from Sutter's Fort. The mill had to be where there were trees to saw.

Marshall was a very good carpenter, who could build almost anything. He had some men working with him. After some months they got the mill done. This mill was built to run by water.

But when he started it, the mill did not run well. Marshall saw that he must dig a ditch below the great water wheel, to carry off the water. He hired wild Indians to dig the ditch.

When the Indians had partly dug this ditch, Marshall went out one January morning to look at it. The clear water was running through the ditch. It had washed away the sand, leaving the pebbles bare. At the bottom of the water Marshall saw something yellow. It looked like brass. He put his hand down into the water and took up this bright, yellow thing. It was about the size and shape of a small pea. Then he looked, and found another pretty little yellow bead at the bottom of the ditch.

Marshall trembled all over. It might be gold. But he remembered that there is another yellow substance that looks like gold. It is called "fool's gold." He was afraid he had only found fool's gold.

Marshall knew that if it was gold it would not break easily. He laid one of the pieces on a stone; then he took another stone and hammered it. It was soft, and did not break. If it had broken to pieces, Marshall would have known that it was not gold.

In a few days the men had dug up about three ounces of the yellow stuff. They had no means of making sure it was gold.

Then Marshall got on a horse and set out for Sutter's Fort, carrying the yellow metal with him. He traveled as fast as the rough road would let him. He rode up to Sutler's in the evening, all spattered with mud.

He told Captain Sutter that he wished to see him alone. Marshall's eyes looked wild, and Sutter was afraid that he was crazy. But he went to a room with him. Then Marshall wanted the door locked. Sutter could not think what was the matter with the man.

Sutter's Gold


When he was sure that nobody else would come in, Marshall poured out in a heap on the table the little yellow beads that he had brought.

Sutter thought it was gold, but the men did not know how to tell whether it was pure or not. At last they hunted up a book that told how heavy gold is. Then they got a pair of scales and weighed the gold, putting silver dollars in the other end of the scales for weights. Then they held one end of the scales under water and weighed the gold. By finding how much lighter it was in the water than out of the water, they found that it was pure gold.

All the men at the mill promised to keep the secret. They were all digging up gold when not working in the mill. As soon as the mill should be done, they were going to wash gold.

But the secret could not be kept. A teamster who came to the mill was told about it. He got a few grains of the precious gold.

When the teamster got back to Sutter's Fort, he went to a store to buy a bottle of whisky, but he had no money. The storekeeper would not sell to him without money. The teamster then took out some grains of gold. The storekeeper was surprised. He let the man have what he wanted. The teamster would not tell where he got the gold. But after he had taken two or three drinks of the whisky, he was not able to keep his secret. He soon told all he knew about the finding of gold at Sutter's Mill.

The news spread like fire in dry grass. Men rushed to the mill in the mountains to find gold. Gold was also found at other places. Merchants in the towns of California left their stores. Mechanics laid down their tools, and farmers left their fields, to dig gold. Some got rich in a few weeks. Others were not so lucky.

Soon the news went across the continent. It traveled also to other countries. More than one hundred thousand men went to California the first year after gold was found, and still more poured in the next year. Thousands of men went through the Indian country with wagons. Of course, there were no railroads to the west in that day.

Millions and millions of dollars' worth of gold was dug. In a short time California became a rich State. Railroads were built across the country. Ships sailed on the Pacific Ocean to carry on the trade of this great State. Every nation of the earth had gold from California.

And it all started from one little, round, yellow bead of gold, that happened to lie shining at the bottom of a ditch, on a cold morning not so very long ago.