Joined: 27 Nov 2007
Location: Monterey County, California
|Posted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:16 pm Post subject: "Gold! Gold! Gold!"
|THREE weeks and a day before the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, awarding the vast empire of California to the United States, John Marshall stumbled upon the flakes of gold on the north fork of the American River that within a year was to set the world afire.
Once the news spread over California that gold was to be picked up almost in the raw in the vicinity of the Sacramento River, every able-bodied man and boy in the department packed his kit-bag and set off for the mines.
A thrilling adventure, with riches at the end. And it was true, true! Had not ocular proofs come out of the rivers and hills?
It was hard on the towns and worse on the ranchos. Monterey was almost deserted. The only men remaining were the aged and ill—even some of the old and the ill, strong of will, went, too, to try their luck. Gold is persuasive. And man has ever loved adventure.
Alcalde Colton's experience was typical. He was in the midst of building the town hall to bear his name, when the news hit Monterey, Carpenters laid down their tools, not stopping long enough to pack them in their tool-boxes, in their haste to join parties starting out. If it had not been for prisoners picked up around town for gambling, imbibing unwisely of aguardiente, and for other minor infractions, the building would probably not have been completed in time for the Constitutional Convention called by the Military Governor, General Bennet Riley, in September of '49.
Colonel Richard B. Mason, then in command of the department, eager for the truth about the discovery that was decimating his troops at Monterey and elsewhere, decided upon a personal investigation. With his adjutant-general, Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman, and Lieutenant Loeser, the governor started out on army mounts for the mines, by way of San Francisco.
They proceeded to the scenes of greatest activities, took notes of what they saw, and rode rapidly back to Monterey, to get the official news off to Washington, in time for President Polk's message, if possible.
A small can was filled with nuggets picked up at the "digging" sufficient to supply evidence at Washington. Such excitement!
Lieutenant Loeser was entrusted with the precious message and the indubitable evidence by Governor Mason, who thus officially was presenting his findings to President Polk.
Taking passage from Monterey, the lieutenant sailed for Peru on the first ship to leave port. Thence back to Panama by boat, then across the Isthmus muleback.
At Colon, he embarked for New Orleans in the first ship to sail.
New Orleans had the honor of being the immediate distributor of the maddening news, for here Governor Mason's messenger found a telegraph office. (The telegraph was then only in its infancy.) The story was sent to Washington by operators who could scarcely hold themselves to the keys to complete the message. President Polk received the story at the other end. It was too late, however, for his message to Congress, but not too late for its inclusion in an appendix.
Thus the news spread throughout the nation; thence to Europe and to all the world. What had hitherto been rumor was now broadcast by presidential authority. The world-wide exodus to California began.
Thus from Monterey, Old Capital of El Dorado, went the official news that startled the world.
Within a year, Monterey was to see herself stripped of her former prestige. Now, Yerba Buena—soon to be included in San Francisco, with Mission Dolores and the Presidio—was to become a port of call, with a branch Customs House of her own on the Plaza. No longer was Monterey the chief port of call. No longer was "La Aduana" the only Customs House in the territory. Her honors and emoluments were slipping.