Men Who Returned to California for Work-Employed By Captain Sutter to Build Mills-Discovery of Gold in the Mill Race By Mr. Marshall-Other Discoveries-Effects of the Gold Fever.-
Nothing of note transpired among those who started back on the 7th or 8th of September, 1847, to find labor for the fall and winter, until they reached Sutter’s Fort, on or about the 14th of September, 1847.
The next day, a stipulation for all who wished labor was entered into, as follows, to wit: Captain John A. Sutter being desirous of building a flouring mill, some six miles from the fort and a saw-mill about forty-five miles away, proposed to hire all the men, about forty in number, either by the job or month, at their option, to dig the races. Twelve and a half cents per yard, and provisions found, was finally agreed upon, the men to do their own cooking. Their animals were also to be herded with the Captain’s, free of charge.
Captain Sutter advanced one-half of the prospective cost in gentle work oxen. A portion of the men obtained plows, picks, spades, shovels and scrapers and moved up to the designated point for the saw-mill, while the balance went to dig the race for the grist-mill. The former commenced labor about the 17th, clearing $1.50 each the first day. They subsequently earned more. The frame of the flouring mill, a short distance from the subsequent site of Sacramento City, was raised the latter part of December, 1847, and the saw-mill probably a little later. To the credit of “Mormon” labor, be it remembered, is California indebted for the erection of these mills. Much credit is due Captain Sutter and his partner, Mr. Marshall, for starting these enterprises and their gentlemanly bearing towards the discharged soldiers. But aside from these discharged “Mormons,” there were no laboring men worth naming in the State, and but for them the mill enterprise and the consequent discovery of gold in that region might have been long delayed.
The following have been handed in as the names of those who dug the head and tail race of the saw-mill, some of whom also worked on the frame under the superintendence of Mr. Marshall, who did some of the mill-wright work, to wit: Alexander Stephens, James S. Brown, James Barger, William Johnston, Azariah Smith, Henry W. Bigler, of the Battalion, and Peter Wimmer, William Scott, and Charles Bennett, not members of the Battalion nor of the Church of the Saints, but honorable “outsiders,” who, from the days of Nauvoo, have been more or less with the Church.
On or about the 24th of January, 1848, the water was turned into the race above the saw-mill. The race was found good, but the water, in leaving the flume and reaching the head of the tail race, having considerable fall, washed a hole near the base of the building. Being turned off, Superintendant Marshall went below to ascertain what effect the wash was likely to have. While thus examining, his eyes caught sight of yellow shining metal, which he picked up, not knowing what it was, but believed it to be gold. A subsequent assay proved his conjecture to be correct. The nuggets were in value from twenty-five cents to five dollars each.
It is detracting nothing from Captain Sutter or his partner, Mr. Marshall, to say that although the latter was the “lucky man” in making the first discovery of gold, the uncovering of the precious metal was the result of the labor of a portion of the members of the Mormon Battalion, hence it may very properly be said that “Mormon” labor opened up and developed one of the greatest resources of our nation’s wealth. The “Mormon” discharged soldiers “shook the bush,” and friend Marshall, unexpectedly, “caught the bird.” Like most great and useful discoveries, this was unexpected and probably unthought of, and, from a mere human standpoint, was purely accidental. To the author, however, the hand of an all-wise providence is plainly visible in it.
The intelligence of the discovery of gold was shortly after confidentially conveyed to Wilford Hudson, Sidney S. Willis and Ephraim Green, who subsequently came to the mill and learned the foregoing facts.
They examined the rock at the bottom of the wash and found a few additional specimens. After stopping and resting a few days, they returned to the flouring mill, thence to an island in the Sacramento river, subsequently known as “Mormon Island.”
On that island, or sand-bar, was found gold in paying quantities, but, strange to say, only a little company of nine persons out of about forty could be persuaded that it was a reality, although the dust was exhibited and the fact stated that men were digging and washing from twenty to thirty dollars of pure gold nuggets and dust per day. This order of things, however, lasted only a few weeks, until its opposite was realized. The secret was made public and such fabulous reports were circulated that “In the settlements along the coast and on the rivers, lawyers closed their offices, doctors forsook their patients, schools were dismissed, farmers allowed their grain to fall to the ground uncared for, and almost everybody of every description came in every conceivable way and manner, in one grand, wild rush to the `gold diggings’; on horses, mules, with wheelbarrows, with packs on their own backs, and some with nothing but the dirty rags they stood up in, and in a few weeks, the mountain wilderness was turned into busy mining camps, and the whole face of the country seemed to change as if by magic.”
It may also be very properly stated here that the excitement of the late war with Mexico now subsided and the malcontent Californians, who had sought a favorable opportunity to re-take the country, relinquished all idea of another conquest, and, true to the Spanish instinct, turned their attention to mining, thus closing and healing the bloody chasm. While Texas opened the gory conflict, with the Mexicans, to the patriotism and unflinching industry of the Mormon Battalion is due the honor of closing the Mexican war in California.