Coloma - Gold Town to
Coloma, 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 James Marshall
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
When Coloma became the county seat, a
man named Captain Shannon, who had built and operated one of Coloma's
first general stores, became the town’s first mayor. A well-liked and
respected man, Shannon was also looked to as the "official” to settle
disputes and punish any transgressions. With no official law or judicial
system, Shannon complied, often sentencing offenders to banishment,
whipping, branding, cutting of one or both ears, and in a few cases –
A man named Jerry Crane was the first
to be hanged in Coloma after murdering one of his students because, as he
claimed, he "loved" her. He was later found to have a wife and family back
The next man hanged was an outlaw by
the name of Mickey Free, who was involved in a cutthroat gang that
specialized in raiding and robbing Chinese camps and murdering lonely
But, like other gold rich boom camps,
Coloma's hectic days were numbered. As the thousands of miners spread out
in the area, richer gold veins were soon found at places such as nearby
Placerville, Georgetown, Diamond Springs
and as many as 30 other gold camps.
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.
As Coloma's population began to fall,
nearby Placerville, some ten miles away,
had become the new "hub” of the Mother Lode and in 1854, the county seat
was moved there, where it remains to this day.
Coloma had but just 200
residents and over the years continued to dwindle.
Today, though considered a
the Coloma area is again called home to about 200 people.
Approximately 70% of the old town site is part of
Gold Discovery State Park that features a number of buildings that have
survived from the gold rush, as well as many other reminders of the gold
rush period. The park also features a museum, a walking tour of the old
town site, costumed volunteers, a replica of the original Sutter’s Mill,
and the old cemetery.
Coloma is approximately ten miles
northwest of Placerville, on Highway 49.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Park
310 Back Street
of America, updated March,
Sutter's Mill in Coloma,
July, 2009, Kathy Weiser.
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The California Gold Rush
James Marshall -
Placerville - Hub of the
John A. Sutter - Boom & Bust in California
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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
boomed fast and went bust even faster. Through original footage,
interviews with experts and archival materials, this fascinating
documentary takes viewers on an amazing journey through our abandoned
history. From the deserts of California and mountains of Colorado to the
forts, trails and battle sites of war, witness the precious remains of the
past that only exist today as shadows of former glories and empty
First time on DVD! Legends of America's own Kathy Weiser-Alexander and
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Communications, exclusively for Mill Creek Entertainment. Total Running
time 5 hours, 34 minutes.