Here in the valley of the Cul-luh-mah (also known as Kolo-ma) Indians, James W. Marshall discovered gold on January 24, 1848 in the trailrace of Sutter's sawmill. This discovery sparked the gold rush and changed the course of history in California.
Marshall carried the news of his gold discovery to Sutter's Fort along the Coloma Road. It was used by thousands of miners during the gold rush. It also became the route of California's first stage line in 1849, established by James E. Birch. Coloma was the seat of El Dorado County until Placerville became the seat in 1857.
The Kolo-ma were part of the Nisenan (Southern Maidu) group on the South Fork of the American River. When John Sutter came to the area in the 1840s, he forced many of the Kolo-ma people to work in his mill. When gold was discovered and the area was flooded with prospective miners, tensions between the native people and the immigrants began to escalate further. When news of a murder of five white men in the area, a group of Oregonian miners decided to exact revenge on the Kolo-ma who worked Sutter's mill. They killed several Kolo-ma workers, despite the fact that none of them could have been involved in the incident. The remaining Kolo-ma workers abandoned the fort and left the area. This event was one of many atrocities inflicted on native California Indians by white miners.
During the later years of the Gold Rush, Coloma had a booming Chinatown which encompassed the whole area west of Highway 49. Chinese miners took over the areas that had been abandoned by white miners. Many residents resented the Chinese miners, and in 1861 a riot occurred over the right to mine under an old hotel. A mob of drunken white miners rampaged through Chinatown, looting and destroying buildings. The Chinese were chased away, many were beaten, and several were killed. Chinatown recovered from the vicious attack but was finally destroyed by fire in 1880. The Man Lee and Wah Hop stores are all that survive. The history of Coloma demonstrates early racial tensions in the Gold Rush and is indicative of how non-white were usually treated in California's early history.
The discovery of gold at Coloma not only changed the way miners interacted with the native population, but also changed California. Thousands of people from all over the world came to California in the hopes of striking it rich, and the existing towns of northern California grew while many new towns sprang up almost overnight.
Coloma is now the site of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park and the James Marshall Monument. The park is 143 acres and highlights this area's distinctive role in early California history. The park offers Living History Days on the second Saturday of each month from 10 am to 3 pm. Tours are also available.
Coloma provides many recreation opportunities, including hiking, rafting, sightseeing, wine tasting, and paragliding. The South Fork American River Trail, the American River Nature Center, the Coloma Country Inn, the Sierra Nevada House Hotel & Restaurant, and Hart 2 Hart Vineyards are all located in Coloma. Additionally, a reconstructed Sutter's Mill stands in Coloma, and several historic buildings including a general store, post office, and James Marshall's cabin are found in Coloma. A historic cemetery is near the center of town, as well as the Man Lee and Wah Hop stores. Other historic buildings in Coloma include the ruins of Bell's Store, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and St. John's Catholic Church.
The Coloma Road marker is located at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, in the Gold Discovery parking area on Highway 49 in Coloma.
El Dorado County
Stretching from oak-studded foothills to the western shore of Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County is probably best known for the 1848 gold discovery at Coloma. “Old Hangtown” sprang up during the Gold Rush and was later renamed Placerville. The county name comes from the mythical land rich in gold sought by Spanish explorers.
El Dorado County was one of the original counties in California. The first county seat was Coloma, and it was superseded by Placerville for this position in 1857.