Coloma, California. January 24, 1848
James Marshall was working at Sutter's Mill. Due to an error in construction the channel that flows water away from the sawblades is too small for the volume of water required. Overnight he was using the nearby river's force to expand the channel through erosion. When morning rolled around and the water flow was slowed, he was examining the channel to make sure everything was in good shape when he spotted a few chunks of shiny yellow metal. He reached down and picked up a couple pieces, looking them over closely. With the mineral knowledge he had he knew of two metals in particular that resembled the ore he had spotted. Iron sulphur and gold. When he hit it with a rock, it bent rather than shattered - a sure indicator that it was not, in fact, iron sulphur.
He gathered up more of the metal and walked up to another carpenter, a Mr. Scott. "I have found it," Marshall said.
"What is it?" inquired Scott.
He intoned, "Gold."
"Oh! no," replied Scott, "That can't be."
"I know it to be nothing else," Marshall said, somewhat shocked at the discovery.
As he traveled to verify the metal as gold, California was ceded to the United States when the war with Mexico came to an end. Within days, most of the millworkers departed in search of riches on and in the ground. Within weeks, the news traveled across the country, and within months across the world. California is rich with gold.
At the time they didn't call it the Gold Rush, rather, California had come rich with gold, and those who sought it became sick with Gold Fever. By 1849 the sickness had spread immensely, people were pouring in. The nickname "49er" became common.
Over the next 7 years California was changed forever. The city of San Francisco became a center of commerce and travel. Towns and cities sprang up and decayed based on the flow of gold throughout the state.
Boom or Bust, Fortune's favor, and all kinds of other terminology became fairly standard. Rarely did folks pan out, but it happened. There was conflict between 49ers and latecomers, and of course between the natives of california.
Article by Brian