In 1887 the State of California purchased the site for a monument to commemorate James Marshall, who in 1848 discovered gold near Coloma. Marshall's discovery started the gold rush, the westward trek of Argonauts that marked a turning point in California history. The figure of Marshall atop the monument is pointing to the place of discovery on the South Fork of the American River.
In the late 1840s, Marshall entered into a partnership with Johan Sutter in a sawmill enterprise. In May 1847, he hired an Indian to aid him in finding a suitable place for the mill. The Indian led him to a Nisenan (southern Maidu) village known as "Kolo-ma." 45 miles east along a river near abundant timber sources, Marshall decided this would be the site of the mill. With the aid of several Mormons and Indians, the mill began to be constructed.
On January 24, 1848, Marshall discovered gold in the trail-race of the mill while he was inspecting the progress of work being done to deepen the trail-race. Upon discovery of the gold, he rode to New Helvetia (present-day Sacramento) to Sutter's Fort to analyze his findings. After testing his sample several times, he knew it was in fact gold. Back at the mill, he tried to contain the discovery, and limited his worker's prospecting to Sundays so the mill construction could be completed.
Soon thereafter, Sutter entered into an agreement with the Indians to lease the land. News of the gold discovery was already leaving the confines of the mill by his employees, but Sutter himself further spread the news when he sought validation of his samples and his lease with the Indians when he wrote to the military governor at Monterey, Richard B. Mason, and sent him a six ounce sample of gold.
Reports of the gold discovery made two newspapers with little fanfare. The gold rush did not begin in earnest until Mormon elder Samuel Brannan realized the importance of the discovery when people began to offer gold dust as payment at his store in Sutter's Fort in March of 1848. Brennan began to accumulate supplies that he thought prospectors would need, and finally, on May 12, he traveled to San Francisco and loudly began proclaiming the discovery: "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" With Brennan's proclamation, the gold rush began in earnest.
Once news of the gold discovery got out, people came to Sutter's Mill in droves. To Marshall's dismay, the mill was never completed, and Marshall was forced from his land by stronger, more aggressive miners. Ironically,. neither Marshall nor Sutter ever profited from gold mining during the gold rush.
Marshall died in Kelsey, California, on August 10, 1885. In 1886, the Native Sons of the Golden West Placerville Parlor #9 decided to build a monument for the man whose discovery altered the course of California's history. The bronze statue was erected in 1890, and on October 8, 2010, the statue was re-dedicated in honor of Marshall's 200th birthday by the Georgetown Parlor #91 of the Native Sons of the Golden West.
The gold rush forever changed the history of California. Thousands of people from all over the world flocked to the Sierra Nevada's in search of gold. The state's population rapidly grew: in 1848, the population of California (excluding Indians) was less than 15,000. By 1852, just four years later, that number had ballooned to 223,856 people. In 1848 alone, $10 million in gold was produced by 6000. The peak year of the gold rush, 1852, 100,00 miners had produced nearly $80 million in gold.
The statue is located at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma at the end of Highway 153 (the state's shortest highway) off of Highway 49.
El Dorado County
Stretching from oak-studded foothills and the shores of Folsom Lake 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. The first inhabitants of El Dorado County were the Maidu and Miwok Indians, followed by miners attracted to the area by the Gold Rush.
El Dorado County was one of the original counties in California. The Pony Express Trail ran through the county approximately where Highway 50 is today, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. The first county seat was Coloma, and it was superseded by Placerville for this position in 1857. El Dorado means “the gilded one” in Spanish; a fitting name considering the mines in El Dorado County produced millions of dollars of gold.