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POLK—THE FINDING OF GOLD
 IN return for the great tract of land ceded to the United States
Mexico received 15 million dollars. But the Mexicans little knew
what a golden land they were parting with, and what a bad bargain
they were making. Nine days before the treaty was signed gold was
found in California. But news travelled slowly in those days, and
the treaty was signed before the Mexicans knew of the great discovery.
Some time before this a Swiss named Sutter had settled in the Sacramento
Valley. He had prospered greatly, and had become a regular little
potentate, ruling the whole district round.
He had thousands of horses and cattle, and hundreds of men worked
for him, both white men and Indians. Now he wanted to build a saw
mill and a man named Marshall, a settler from the East, undertook
to build it for him.
Marshall was a moody, queer tempered man. But he was a good workman.
So about fifty miles from Sutter's fort the saw mill was begun. Now
one day while Marshall was walking beside the mill stream inspecting
the work he saw something yellow and shining among the loose earth
and gravel which was being carried down by the stream. At first
he thought little about it, but as again and again he saw these
shining grains he at length thought that they might be gold and
picked some up.
Next morning he again went to inspect the mill stream and there
he found a piece of the shining stuff bigger than any he had found
the day before. Marshall picked up the
 piece, and when he felt it
heavy in his hand he began to feel a little excited.
Could it really be gold? he asked himself. Marshall did not know
much about gold, but he knew that it was heavy, and that it was
fairly soft. So he bit it and hammered it with stones, and finding
that it was easily beaten out he at last decided that it was indeed
So he mounted his horse and rode off to Sutter to tell him of
his wonderful discovery. It was a pouring wet day in January, and
when Marshall reached the fort he was soaked through. But he took
no thought of that, and marching right into Sutter's office with
something of an air of mystery asked for a private talk.
Sutter wondered what had brought Marshall back from the mill, and
he wondered still more at the mysterious air.
Soon he understood. For Marshall took out a little bag, and emptying
what it held into his hand, held it out to Sutter.
"I believe this is gold," he said.
"It certainly looks like it," said Sutter, in surprise.
Then Marshall told how he had found it in the mill stream, and that
he believed there were tons of it.
Sutter was a very great man in the countryside, and he had things
which no one else dreamed of having. Among these was an Encyclopædia.
So he looked up the article on gold and read it carefully. And then
the two men tried all the tests they had at command, and at last
came to the conclusion that the shining grains which Marshall had
found were certainly gold.
Sutter would have been glad to keep the secret for a little time,
at least until his mill was finished. But such a secret could not
be kept. Soon every one round knew of the great discovery. The
sawmill was left unfinished, the workmen went off to dig for gold,
and everyone else followed their example.
 The towns were deserted, shops and offices were shut up, houses
were left half built, fields were left unploughed, horses and cattle
roamed about uncared for. High and low, rich and poor, lawyers,
doctors, labourers, threw down their tools or their pens, turned
the key in the door, and departed for the gold fields.
Some went by sea, and those who could not get passage in ships hired
any small craft which they could find. They put to sea in the most
rotten or frail little boats, willing to brave any danger if only
they might at length reach the land of gold.
Others went by land, some rode on horseback or drove in a waggon,
others went on foot all the way, carrying with them nothing but a
spade or shovel.
It was a mad rush for wealth. Every one as soon as he heard the
wonderful news was seized with the gold fever. When ships came into
port the sailors heard the news, and they deserted wholesale, and
the ships were left to rock at anchor without a soul on board.
Prisoners broke prison and fled to the gold fields. Warders followed,
not to take them but to remain and dig. Newspapers could not be
issued, because the printers had all run off; every industry was
neglected except the making of spades and picks. And the price of
these rose and rose till they could not be had for less than ten
dollars apiece, and it is said that even fifty dollars was offered
But in some places upon the gold fields picks and shovels were not
needed, for all the men had to do was to pick at the seams with
their pocket knives to get enough gold to make them rich.
At first it was only from California, Oregon and the Western
settlements that men rushed to the gold fields. For although
the telegraph had been discovered a short time before this there
were neither telegraphs nor railroads in the West. But soon, in
a wonderfully short time too, the
 news spread. It spread to the
Eastern States, then to Europe, and from all over the world the
Every ship that would float put to sea. Many instead of going
their usual routes sailed for California, the whale fisheries were
neglected and the whalers took to mining. The fleets of all the
world seemed to make for the shores of America.
Across the Continent, too long trains of lumbering waggons drawn
by oxen slowly wound. They were tented over and were so huge that
whole families lived in them, and they were given the name of prairie
schooners. All day long they crawled along and as dusk fell they
gathered into groups. Fires were lit, tents pitched for the night.
Then early next morning the travellers would be astir again, and so
day after day through lonely uninhabited wildernesses the caravans
In one unending stream great tented waggons, carts, carriages, horsemen
or even walkers moved along, all going in the same direction, to
the golden land of the West.
Many were the dangers these adventurous travellers had to brave.
There were dangers from hostile Indians, and from wild animals,
from lack of food and water, and above all from sickness. Cholera
broke out in these slow-moving trains, and many a man who had set
out gaily found a grave by the wayside, and never reached the land
of his golden hopes.
The road too was strewn with broken down waggons, and the bones
of oxen and horses, and many had to finish their weary journey on
But in spite of all mischances hundreds and thousands reached the
gold fields, and all over the Sacramento Valley, or wherever gold
was found, little towns sprang up.
These were towns of wooden shanties and canvas tents. And whenever
the gold gave out, or news came of some richer mine, the diggers
would forsake the little town, and
 rush off somewhere else. And
no sign of life would be left in the once busy valley save the
weather-worn huts and the upturned earth.
Some men made fortunes
almost in a day, many returned home well off. But by far the
greater number returned poorer than they came, and with their health
shattered by the hardships of the life. Many more never returned
at all, but found a nameless grave among the lonely valleys.
Others made fortunes again and again, and lost them as quickly as
they made them. For though at first the men who went to the gold
fields were for the most part young, and strong, and honest, the
greed of gain soon brought all the riff-raff of the towns. Many
men joined the throng who had no intention of working, and who but
came to lure the gold away from those who had found it.
So gambling saloons, and drinking saloons, sprang up everywhere, and
many a man left them poorer if not wiser. Murders became frequent,
but men thought little about them. Every man went armed, and if he
could not protect himself it was his own fault.
Theft was looked upon as a far worse sin. For everybody lived in
frail wooden huts or open tents. They had no means of locking up
their gold, and thought nothing of leaving it lying about quite
unprotected. But when criminals and lowdown ruffians began to come
things were changed; until at last many were afraid to have it known
that they possessed gold lest they should be murdered for it.
Among the many who did not make fortunes out of the finding of gold
were Marshall and Sutter. Neither of them was lucky as a miner and
both of them died in poverty.