Coloma - Gold Town to
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California in 1857.
"The roads were so wretched that supplies could be got to the mines only
by pack-animals. A dollar per pound was the customary rate to Coloma and
to Hangtown, which were about the same distance from Sacramento.
"Gold dust was the universal currency, and the "blower" and the scales were
a fixture in every place of business. The weights were often home-made,
and of very dubious specific gravity."
David Leeper, 1849
Settled along the banks of the
South Fork River between Sutter's Mill and Mormon Island is Coloma,
California -- the first important mining town of the 1848
days. It was here, on the South Fork River, that
James Marshall first
found the gold that started the great California Gold Rush. News
spread quickly and by the time it reached
began to flood the area.
James Marshall was a construction
foreman for Johann (John) Augustus Sutter, who operated
on the banks of the American River.
Sutter had come to
from his native Switzerland in 1834. By 1839, he had settled in the
heart of the Sacramento
Valley, where he wanted to establish a "great
He began to "build” his colony
when he was granted 50,000 acres of prime land by Governor Alvarado,
the Mexican governor of
California. He then purchased a number of
properties that were moved to the area and began raising a herd of
cattle. Calling his new colony "New Helvetica,” he used Indian labor
to build a "fort,” from which he oversaw his new settlement.
However, he was badly in need of
lumber for his buildings. In 1845, he contracted with
to build a sawmill in the Coloma Valley, about 40 miles east of New
Helvetia and Sutter’s Fort. However, it would be two more years
before construction on the sawmill would begin. In January, 1848, when
the mill was nearing completion, Sutter was inspecting the water flow
when he discovered a pea-sized gold nugget. Gold had been discovered
California! Ironically, neither
Marshall ever profited
from the discovery that should have made them independently wealthy.
As word quickly spread,
sawmill was overrun by gold miners, around which, a gold camp born.
Named for the valley in which it was situated, called Cullumah,
meaning "beautiful” to the native Nisenan
Indians, the new "town” was
summer of 1848, some 80,000 miners had flooded the area, spreading up
and down the length of the
Sacramento Valley, overrunning
domain and trampling his visions of grandeur. Also displaced were the
Indians who had called the Cullumah Valley home for
In the meantime, the new town of
Coloma was booming, already boasting about 300 frame buildings and a large
hotel was under construction. It was the first place fortune-seekers
headed when they arrived in San
Francisco, until gold was discovered in
By 1849, when the California Gold Rush
was in full force, Coloma had several stores, hotels, businesses, and a
number of the ever popular
saloons and gambling houses. But, for those
many new area residents, they would be shocked to see the outrageous
prices. Due to its remote location and the rules of "supply and demand,”
miners could expect to pay as much as $50 for a pick or shovel.
The following year, El Dorado County
was created in February and Coloma became its first county seat. Just
seven months later,
California would become the 31st state in the union.
That same year, a six mile "ditch” was completed to bring water to Coloma
from the snow melt and rain in the mountains so that miners could work
Continued Next Page
today, July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
photo prints & commercial downloads
The Sierra Nevada Hotel was a was a way station for miners and tradesman during Coloma's mining heydays. Today, it
houses an Inn and Restaurant.
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Legends' General Store
Towns (America's Lost World) 2 Disc DVD
Unearth America's Lost World! This 5-Part series ventures into the roots
of our nations high hopes and hard labors to discover the towns that
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First time on DVD! Legends of America's own Kathy Weiser-Alexander and
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