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W a n d e r i n g s . . . . N e a r & F a r

California Gold Country

Along the 80 mile stretch of Route 49 you will discover quaint towns, museums of yesterday, state parks, countless gold mines and perhaps you will get a small glimpse of what life was like in the gold rush days.

Gold, Gold, Gold!

The morning sun gleamed across the California's Sierra Nevada foothills like a bright golden coin. It was January 24,1848 at Sutter's mill. In all the wilderness, there was no sign of life except a trace of smoke from a camp fire and the figure of a man walking along the nearly completed sawmill path that led to the river.

This man was James Marshall and this is when it all started. However, he may have gained the wrong notion when he discovered that first nugget. His gold strike was pretty easy. The gold was gleaming through the rushing river in the morning sunlight. All he had to do was to bend down in total amazement and collect the gold nuggets. James Marshall was never to be that lucky again. Nuggets were hard to find for Marshall and everyone else who had heard about his gold strike.

Thousands of hopeful people were lured to California by the prospect of getting rich. And many did! But, it wasn't easy- before organization and engineering performance made large-scale mining possible, individual hardships had to be endured-miners used a pan and a pick (gold panning),blasted or chipped the gold out of the rock, diverted rivers, dredged through gravel beds in freezing water or blasted away the land with high-pressure hoses, which came much later. These adventurers were called the '49ers (fourty-niners) referring to the first major year of California Gold Rush .

Many of these people came from around the world. They came from Chile, Mexico, Panama, Australia, Ireland, England, Germany, France,Spain, Italy etc...The problem was that they came expecting to find gold nuggets the size of their fist laying on the ground or in the river! These "new" miners quickly came to realize that mining gold was sheer drudgery and hardship. Some of these people arrived by wagon-train with their families. They traveled across America, an immense, unknown country full of adversity-mountains, deserts and, sometimes, hostile Indians. Some made it, some didn't. But the lure of gold was strong and they came, and kept on coming... Gold mining is still in effect in California- not on a large-scale but there are still gold mines that are operating today, not to mention individual miners still searching for the elusive gold of California, and gold, there is!

Along with gold mining, came the building of mining towns which are still accessible today. They are our legacy of the Gold Rush. State Route 49 is about 300 miles long, winding through historic mining towns, state parks and gold mines. It will take you right through the heart of the Gold Country. Some of the old mining camps such as Placerville, Auburn, Grass Valley, have become busy towns and very progressive. Nonetheless, they are still proud of their Gold Rush origins. Others still remain small communities with just a few residents.

The town of Auburn, located on Highway 80 and Route 49, is perched on a bluff above the North Fork of the American River. It is the seat of Placer County. This town is filled with history from the Gold Rush era. Long ago, it outgrew its original site away from Old Town which is the heart of Auburn. In this section, many of the old buildings are left standing and renovated including California's oldest continuously used post-office- a minuscule, single structure with iron doors, built in 1849. Other Old Town attractions are the old buildings across from the 1891 Firehouse (one of the most photographed old structure in California), containing Placer County Bank building, Lawyers Row, Wells Fargo Office and the Masonic Hall, the Joss House, still displaying Chinese characters on its front and a huge statue of Claude Chana, who actually started Auburn's Gold Rush in 1848.

After hearing of James Marshall's gold discovery at Sutter's mill, Claude Chana, a French man, organized a group consisting of a few compatriots and about two dozen Indians. They set out from Sutter's Fort to Coloma. They made their first night 's camp in what is known today as the Auburn Ravine. When the camp was settled, Claude Chana decided to take a few samples of soil, found gold immediately and from that point on, the party forgot about going on to Coloma. Thus began the camp with the names of Wood's Dry Diggin's, Dry Diggin's, North Fork Dry Diggin's and Rich Dry Diggin's.

At the beginning of the camp's existence, it was not unusual for a miner to yield up to $1.000 to $1.500 per day. By the year 1849, the mining camp had grown into a town , which they called Auburn, with a population of approximately 1500 people. Auburn soon became a hub for trading, a supply depot for the numerous surrounding mines and a stagecoach terminal. When the gold mining declined, there was a long struggle in attaining a railroad. It took some time but the Central Pacific eventually came to Auburn.

Each year, Auburn, California recreates the Gold Rush history by presenting the Gold Rush Days. The events include cultural and ethnic presentations:

-Maidu-Miwok Indians- traditional dancing in full costume.
-Sons of the Golden West wagons in action -Wagon trains
-Life of the Pioneers on the prairie
-Wells Fargo coach and the U.S. Marhall, and many, many more
reenactments of the Gold Rush era.

California Gold country is vast and full of historical surprises.
The lure of the Golden past is still here today!

—Maryvonne CM Martin
All rights reserved

Maryvonne Martin
Poetry Sharings Journal

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