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THE DISCOVERY OF GOLD.
SITUATION OF SUTTER-HIS NEED OF LUMBER-SEARCH FOR A MILL SITE IN
JOHN A. SUTTER was the potentate of the Sacramento, as we have seen. He had houses and lands, flocks and herds, mills and machinery; he counted his skilled artisans by the score, and his savage retainers by the hundred. He was, moreover, a man of progress. Although he had come from cultured Europe, and had established himself in an American wilderness, he had no thought of drifting into savagism.
Among his more pressing wants at this moment was a saw-mill. A larger supply of lumber was needed for a multitude of purposes. Fencing was wanted. The flour-mills, then in course of construction at Brighton, would take a large quantity; the neighbors would buy some, and boards might profitably be sent to San Francisco, instead of bringing them from that direction.1 There were no good forest trees, with
1Since 1845 Sutter had obtained lumber from the mountains, got out by whip-saws. Bidwell's Cal. 1841-8, MS., 226. The author of this most valuable manuscript informs me further that Sutter had for years contemplated building a saw-mill in order to avoid the labor and cost of sawing lumber by hand in the redwoods on the coast, and bringing it round by the bay in his vessel. With this object he at various times sent exploring parties into the
CULUMA, BEAUTIFUL VALE.
the requisite water-power, nearer than the foothills of the mountains to the east. Just what point along this base line would prove most suitable, search would determine; and for some time past this search had been going on, until it was interrupted by the war of conquest. The war being over, explorations were renewed.
Twoscore miles above Sutter's Fort, a short distance up the south branch of American River, the rocky gateway opens, and the mountains recede to the south, leaving in their wake softly rounded hills covered with pine, balsam, and oak, while on the north are somewhat abrupt and rocky slopes, patched with grease-wood and chemisal, and streaked with the deepening shades of narrow gulches. Between these bounds is a valley four miles in circumference, with red soil now covered by a thin verdure, shaded here and there by low bushes and stately groves. Culuma, 'beautiful vale," the place was called. At times sunk in isolation, at times it was stirred by the presence of a tribe of savages bearing its name, whose several generations here cradled, after weary roaming, sought repose upon the banks of a useful, happy, and sometimes frolicsome stream. Within the half-year civilization had penetrated these precincts, to break the periodic solitude with the sound of axe and rifle; for here the saw-mill men had come, marking their course by a tree-blazed route, presently to show the way to the place where was now to be played the first scene of a drama which had for its audience the world.
Among the retainers of the Swiss hacendado at this time was a native of New Jersey, James Wilson Marshall, a man of thirty-three years, who after drifting in the western states as carpenter and farmer,3
mountains. Bidwell himself, in company with Semple, was on one of these unsuccessful expeditions in 1846. Mrs Wimmer states that in June 1847 she made ready her household effects to go to Battle Creek, where a saw-mill was to be erected, but the men changed their plans and went to Coloma.
We of to-day write Coloma, and apply the name to the town risen there. 3 Born in 1812 in Hope township, Hunterdon county, New Jersey, where
came hither by way of Oregon to California. In July 1845 he entered the service of Sutter, and was duly valued as a good mechanic. By and by he secured a grant of land on Butte Creek, on which he placed. some live-stock, and went to work. During his absence in the war southward, this was lost or stolen; and somewhat discouraged, he turned again to Sutter, and readily entered into his views for building a sawmill.5
The old difficulty of finding a site still remained, and several exploring excursions were now made by Marshall, sometimes accompanied by Sutter, and by others in Sutter's service. On the 16th of May, 1847, Marshall set out on one of these journeys, accompanied by an Indian guide and two white men, Treador and Graves. On the 20th they were joined by one Gingery, who had been exploring with the same object on the Cosumnes. They travelled up the stream now called Weber Creek to its head, pushed on to the American River, discovered Culuma, and settled upon this place as the best they had found, uniting as it did the requisite water-power and timber, with a
his father had initiated him into his trade as wagon-builder. Shortly after his twenty-first birthday the prevailing westward current of migration carried him through Indiana and Illinois to Missouri. Here he took up a homestead land claim, and bid fair to prosper, when fever and ague brought him low, whereupon, in 1844, he sought the Pacific Coast. Parsons' Life of Marshall, 6-8. He started in May 1844, and crossed by way of Fort Hall to Oregon, where he wintered. He then joined the McMahon-Clyman party for California. See Hist. Cal., iv. 731, this series.
4 Bought, says Parsons, from S. J. Hensley.
5 Marshall claims to have first proposed the scheme to Sutter. Hutchings' Mag., ii. 199. This is doubtful, as shown elsewhere, and is in any event immaterial.
Marshall says that while stocking the ploughs, three men, Gingery, Wimmer, and McLellan, who had heard of his contemplated trip, undertook one themselves, after obtaining what information and directions they could from Marshall. Wimmer found timber and a trail on what is now known as the Diamond Springs road, and the 13th of May he and Gingery began work some thirteen miles west of the place where the Shingle Springs house subsequently stood. Gingery was afterward with Marshall when the latter discovered the site of the Coloma mill.
Marshall implies that this was his first trip. Sutter states definitely, 'He went out several times to look for a site. I was with him twice on these occasions. I was not with him when he determined the site of the mill.' Sutter's Pers. Rem., MS., 160-1.
BUILDING THE MILL.
possible roadway to the fort. Sutter resolved to lose no time in erecting the mill, and invited Marshall to join him as partner. The agreement was signed in the latter part of August," and shortly afterward Marshall set out with his party, carrying tools and supplies on Mexican ox-carts, and driving a flock of sheep for food. A week was occupied by the journey." Shelter being the first thing required on arrival, a double log house was erected, with a passage-way between the two parts, distant a quarter of a mile or more from the mill site.12 Subsequently two other cabins were constructed nearer the site. By NewYear's day the mill frame had risen, and a fortnight
Marshall estimated that even then the lumber would have to be hauled 18 miles, and could be rafted the rest of the way. A mission Indian, the alcalde of the Cosumnes, is said to have been sent to solve some doubts concerning the site. Marshall must indeed have been well disciplined. Not many men of his temperament would have permitted an Indian to verify his doubted word.
"A contract was drawn up by John Bidwell, clerk, in which Sutter agreed to furnish the men and means, while Marshall was to superintend the construction, and conduct work at the mill after its completion. It is difficult to determine what the exact terms of this contract were. Sutter merely remarks that he gave Marshall an interest in the mill. Pers. Rem., MS., 160. Bidwell says nothing more than that he drew up the agreement. Cal. 1841-8, MS., 228. Marshall, in his communication to Hutchings' Magazine, contents himself with saying that after returning from his second trip, the 'copartnership was completed.' Parsons, in his Life of Marshall, 79-80, is more explicit. The terms of this agreement,' he writes, 'were to the effect that Sutter should furnish the capital to build a mill on a site selected by Marshall, who was to be the active partner, and to run the mill, receiving certain compensation for so doing. A verbal agreement was also entered into between the parties, to the effect that if at the close of the Mexican war then pending California should belong to Mexico, Sutter as a citizen of that republic should possess the mill site, Marshall retaining his rights to mill privileges, and to cut timber, etc.; while if the country was ceded to the United States, Marshall as an American citizen should own the property.' In the same work, p. 177, is an affidavit of John Winters, which certifies that he, Winters, and Alden S. Bagley purchased, in Dec. 1848, John A. Sutter's interest in the Coloma mill-which interest was one half-for $6,000, and also a third of the interest of Marshall for $2,000, which implies that Marshall then owned the other half. Mrs Wimmer, in her narrative, says that Sutter and Marshall were equal partners. S. F. Bulletin, Dec. 19, 1874.
10 Marshall says Aug. 27th; Parsons, Aug. 19th; Bidwell, in a letter to the author, Aug. or Sept.
11 Mrs Wimmer makes the time a fortnight.
12 One part of the house was occupied by the men, and the other part by the Wimmers, Mrs Wimmer cooking for the company. About the close of the year, however, a dispute arose, whereupon the men built for themselves a cabin near the half-completed mill, and conducted their own culinary department. Their food was chiefly salt salmon and boiled wheat. Wimmer's young sons assisted with the teaming.
later the brush dam was finished, although not till the fortitude of Marshall and his men had been tried by a flood which threatened to sweep away the whole
Another trouble arose with the tail-race. In order to economize labor, a dry channel had been selected, forty or fifty rods long, which had to be deepened and widened. This involved some blasting at the upper end; but elsewhere it was found necessary merely to loosen the earth in the bed, throwing out the larger
stones, and let the water during the night pass through the sluice-gate to wash away the débris.
It was a busy scene presented at this advance post of civilization, at the foot of the towering Sierra, and it was fitly participated in by eight aboriginal lords of the soil, partly trained at New Helvetia. The halfscore of white men were mostly Mormons of the disbanded battalion, even now about to turn their faces toward the new Zion. A family was represented in the wife and children of Peter L. Wimmer, 13 the as
13 Original form of name appears to have been Weimer, corrupted by Eng.