docents demonstrating mining technique, Coloma

On January 24, 1848, an event occurred in Coloma that would radically impact the history of California and the Nation. James W. Marshall was building a sawmill for Captain John Sutter, using water from the South Fork of the American River. He noticed several flakes of metal in the tailrace water and recognized them to be gold. Though he tried to keep it a secret, the word spread quickly, and triggered the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Some 80,000 immigrants poured into California during 1849. By the 1850s miners were coming from places all over the world—Britain, Europe, China, Australia, North and South America.

After the gold petered out, many weary miners headed home. But others took a second look at California and liked what they saw. These hearty pioneers found the land unbelievably productive, and ultimately California’s great wealth came not from its mines but from its farms. California, with its diverse population, achieved statehood in 1850, decades earlier than it would have been without the gold.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

In Coloma today you can visit the site of Sutter’s Mill and view an operational replica of the Mill. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park also features a museum, many original and restored buildings, and costumed volunteers. Adults and children alike enjoy panning for gold at several locations in the park.