Last week, Kyle went to conferences in Las Vegas and I dragged Marcia on a road trip to the gold country. It was for research on a project I’m working on. Suddenly, I found I needed to check out historical gold-rush sites, so we piled in the car and got some road-trip food:
We got beef jerky because that seemed like something pioneers would eat. The cheetos, well… I don’t know what it is about road trips that makes me want to eat cheetos.
The first stop was in Sacramento at Sutter’s Fort. Built in 1839 by Swiss pioneer John Sutter, it was the first non-Native American building in the Central Valley. It was a common stopping place for pioneers once they got to California. In fact, the fort was where the Donner Party ended up after they were rescued.
(Part of Sutter’s Fort)
Sutter also owned the sawmill where his foreman James Marshall discovered gold. I was surprised to learn that Sutter was swindled out of this discovery. Somehow, despite owning the land where gold was discovered, Sutter didn’t just not make any money on the gold rush, he lost his entire fortune in the process. Marshall, likewise, never earned a dime from the gold rush and died alone in a cabin a bitter, sad man.
At the fort, we saw a covered wagon and I learned that most pioneers walked the 3,000 miles. I had always thought they road in their wagons, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. They hooked a team of oxen to the wagon and walked alongside. Sounds hard! I am glad I have a car and cheetos for road trips.
(Man teaches people how to use a gun at Sutter’s fort)
After Sutter’s, Marcia and I drove to Coloma, which is the town where Marshall discovered the gold. Here is a replica of the sawmill where they found the gold:
Honestly, as important as this site should be, if you’re interested in history, you can skip it. The museum doesn’t have much in the way of information, unless you want to see statues of Native Americans surrounded by taxidermy. The town was hot and unpleasant, you can’t go into any of the buildings, and it’s boring there. You don’t get anything from walking around Coloma that you wouldn’t get by driving by it. Skip it and go onto Columbia, which I will talk about tomorrow.
After that, Marcia and I drove through gold country, looking at little towns and the scenery:
She also indulged me and let me look at some of the abandoned Gold Rush buildings that have been left on the side of the road to rot. For example, this place, which a sign informed us was once called Butte Store:
And we also saw whatever this was:
In both cases, the ruins were by themselves in a field, a weird testament to the fact that at one point, there was a town there. How strange.
Tomorrow: Murphy’s, Columbia, stagecoaches, and scary caves! Stay tuned!
Joy Lanzendorfer » Gold Rush Trip Part 2
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