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.

Is there still gold in those hills?

Yes! The answer is a lot. Geological estimates and reports have done when mining was still a major local industry say you can bet on it. There were significant amounts of gold removed from the beds and banks of regional waterways. The prospectors and miners quickly learned that much of the resources were either high and dry above the current water level. Or, buried deep underground in rich mineralized lodes, as well as ancient placer gravels covered by lava, ash and other debris during California’s volcanic periods. The later Sierra Nevada forming uplift changed the direction water flowed and we have the terrain we see today that exposed these old deposits to the “Forty-Niners” and later prospectors.

There are to this day mining claims and thousands of amateur prospectors. Many of them are supplementing their income or even prospecting as a livelihood. Doing something people have done in the Sierra Nevada Foothills for one hundred and sixty-eight years now. Elsewhere for thousands of years. Digging money right out of the ground. In the United States as a citizen, you are still allowed to locate a valuable mineral on open public ground. Stake a claim to it and develop that resource.

Getting to that point takes a lot of work and knowledge of the laws, geology, history, and you have to be persistent. It is hard work even on a small scale. It can, however, lead you to fabulous finds. Many approach it at a casual level. Join a prospecting club to get on “easy” ground and meet some other people who prospect for gold. That is just fine as well. It is a unique way to enjoy nature learn the history and pass a Saturday afternoon. Almost every hardware and general store in the foothills or any gold producing area carry the basic pans and tools you need to go out and find your first gold.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Park has beginner panning lessons. Sutter Center Market and a few local stores carry pans. On-site panning with nice gold even nuggets and field guide services. Gold prospecting equipment for sale and sluice boxes for sale and rent. As well as info about places to go find gold for those wanting to get into a very interesting and rewarding activity. There is also gold and pay dirt to take home or give as a gift. The gold panned and sold all come from local miners.

So, yes there still is gold in those hills and many people are still getting it out.

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.