Touring the Mother Road

Travel Destinations in the Golden West

Visiting Santa Barbara

California's Golden History

Highway 49 crossing the Tuolumne River from Calaveras County

Fall in the Yuba River Canyon

Donner Lake near Lake Tahoe

Half Dome at Yosemite Nal't Park


Gold Country Destinations

Equipment Yard at the Empire Mine State Historic Park



The Legendary California 1849 GOLD RUSH & STATE HIGHWAY 49
The Rainbow Seekers Though you’ve may have never traveled California’s scenic Gold Country highways, there’s a likely prospect having heard of the world famous event of 1849, called the California Gold Rush! The sensation of the 1849 California Gold Rush crossed the country and spread the news of “gold fever” out West, hysterically spurring the largest mass migration in recorded history. Monday, January 24, 1848, one early morning near Sacramento unfolded into the single greatest unexpected “Eureka Moments” of all time. It began as a 38-year old migrant carpenter from New Jersey, James Wilson Marshall, caught a sparkle in his eye of shimmering morning light glistening on the river’s edge. The water’s swift ow was channeled under John Sutter’s sawmill on the South Fork of the American River, and it turned the mill’s waterwheel setting in motion the powerful blade high on the platform above a bend on the riverbank. After the stream
owed downstream, out through the mill’s tailrace, Marshall needed to clean it out reaching out towards glimmering light in the water where two pennyweight nuggets with gold akes were nestled in a pile of black sand. The observation was memorialized by a terse, notable quote. “My eye was caught with the glimpse of something shining in the ditch.” Then, like the force of a sudden irreversible rip
current, there was no looking back from the unpredictable destiny precluding all future years of John Sutter’s and James W. Marshall’s lives. They became the founders of a most remarkable event etched permanently into the annals of American history. The sheer quantity and capacity of the Mother Lode during the 1849 California Gold Rush had triggered stampedes into California. Sensational news spread like wild re throughout the streets of San Francisco and to the world beyond. The excitement brought seekers to an unknown land of virgin forests, churning rivers and streams, and mysterious native inhabinents; with an overall total equalling 250,000 migrant prospectors.

Seasonal snowmelt is carried by the rivers, lakes and streams to the sea and served the Gold Rush communities comprising an area nearly one- fth of the Golden State’s entire geography. Hardwood forests beneath a canopy of tall
pine, cedar, and r, helped establish California’s nascent logging and tent camps, following today’s trail on State Highway 49’s invisible Mother Lode well beneath the miner’s footsteps.
Just a year after 1849, as gold discovery simultaneously summoned “would-be” thousands in larger and larger numbers, fast action turbulent times of fame, fortune and destitution lled the earliest years. Gold seekers traveled over land in wagons, arrived at San Francisco’s harbor on tall ships, and blazed paths following the riverbeds seeking placer prospects along a 300-mile trek. Myriads of mining camps made a Golden Chain along State Hwy 49, and the Gold Country’s ood of spontaneous arrivals had settled nearly 500 mining towns in the rst years with a urry of camps extending into the most scenic countryside of California. Returning from the remote gold elds, they left classic stone and brick buildings with reproof iron doors, intricate Victorian homes, farmsteads, and historical lodges.
“Go West, Young Man” grew into the challenge claiming one’s own destiny, and a resolute cry rose above the forests and the rivers echoing throughout the 1850’s. Prospectors traveled through desiccated deserts, treacherous canyons, and snowbound passes and faced the unfathomable demands of endurance and self-reliance. It became “make it or bust” seeking Sierra gold at the end of the rainbow. Mining towns were known from description, or a formal event, so “Angels Camp”, “Amador”, “Rough & Ready”, “Dry Creek Diggins”, “Malakoff Diggins”, “You Bet”; all very spontaneous including the ominous “Old Hangtown”, although later renamed formally to Placerville. As the world rushed in through the 1850s, the lore would lure even more gold seekers and “Going to see the Elephant” described this curiosity. PT Barnum’s circus patter became symbolic with gold fever’s magnetic pull. More often than not, a fortune hunters’ fate became a series of mistaken dreams and dashed hopes, never seeing rainbow’s end!
Steely-eyed men made good fortunes and built impressive storybook villages of redwood Victorian homes, marking the successes of the richest mine owners, yet many more miners struck uncertain failures, or utter destitution. Then, as the rivers were thoroughly panned out and lucrative strikes dried up, there started more elaborate extraction processes producing even larger and larger yields of gold bringing even more prospectors

Making history had become a large part of life for John A. Sutter. After a tumultous time in Sacramento Valley during the Gold Rush, he retired near penniless.
working in the northern, central and southern foothills. The business buying and selling claims created partnerships and conglomerates, and more ef cient hardrock mining exploration was rst introduced by Cornish miners. Following an exposed quartz ledge, they could nd the elusive golden ore after drilling deeper and deeper the meandering gold and quartz drifts. Gold mining industries harnessed giant dredging operations scraping out river bottoms, creating tunnels, wooden umes, or unleashing devastating high-powered water cannons for sluicing ne grains of
gold right from the landscape. Water wheels, or more advanced Pelton Wheels, were now generating electric power using long distance powerlines, and long distance telephone technologies came in the new era. At rst, the rise of unrelenting steam powered stamp mills were used to crush tonnages, both day and night. Mining engineers would link up to 40 or more stamps together, as was used at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley. It was a life beset day and night by pounding earthquakes and the continuous hum of progress.
The Sierra Nevada’s Mother Lode is populated by thick forests and rolling foothills comprised of rich gold-mining veins beneath the central region running four miles wide a distance of 120-miles northwest to southeast through El Dorado County, then south to Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties. By 1859, drifts of golden ore in the Central Mother Lode had produced about 13,300,000 ounces of gold. Rich placer deposits were found in the Columbia Basin near Jamestown recovering 5,900,000 ounces with the 1853 production total. By 1880, most all mining shifted to lode deposits below bedrock. In Nevada County, the Empire Mine in Grass Valley went over a 2,000-foot depth; and by 1868, the mine boasted a full time 30-stamp mill processing ore. The Nevada City region was the next largest gold mining district in California, producing nearly half of all California’s Gold Rush deposits. In 1859, the district processed 10,400,000 ounces of lode gold, and 2,200,000 ounces of placer gold. Overall by 1860, nearly 40 million pounds of gold had been found in the Gold Country, valued at $12 to $35 an ounce. In comparison, during the year 2007, California’s production total for gold equaled nearly 90,000 ounces of gold, including the largest sources, the Mesquite mine in Imperial County, and the Briggs mine in Inyo County, and reprocessing previously mined ore.
As early as the 1790’s, small populations of Americans were settling in California. Several were isolated mountain men and traders of pelts, or US military soldiers. As early as
the 1820’s, robust American industries had begun migrating west and trading in California using Paci c ports. By 1827, the Monterey Custom House harbor handled international shipping transactions bound for California. Soon, under
US Captain John C. Fremont at Sutter’s Fort, his loyal band of Americans soliders rst carried the ag of the California Republic to Sonoma Square on the 14th day of June, in 1846. Designed by William Todd on a piece of white cloth, it symbolically bore a crude form of a Grizzly Bear, a star in one corner, and a red stripe across the bottom. The Bear Flag was raised to signal California’s independence. Under the rudimentary ag of a silhouetted grizzly bear under a large prominent star, Americans arrested and captured the retired General Mariano Guadalupe
General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Vallejo. Although, sympathetic to the American’s cause, Vallejo was kept under guard and consigned for two months at Sutter’s Fort, in Sacramento. As the momentum of war moved forward and became a single bloody battle between the US
and Mexico, it would last less than two years. From the outset, John D. Sloat, Commodore of the US Naval Paci c Squadron, had kept a careful watch in Monterey and systematically captured San Francisco and surrounding towns, as well as claiming California’s capital port of Monterey. The con ict was settled by The Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, on February 2, 1848, and the agreement ceded 525,000 square miles of western territories, including all of California to the United States; as
P.T. Barnum poster promotion from the 1880s
well as an area representing present-day Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Three years after the Bear Flag Revolt, the 1849 Gold Rush lead the way to achieving California’s historic statehood, in 1850.
Rivers of Gold News of California’s gold discovery rumors were dispersed throughout San Francisco in 1849, as arrivals of men induced by the greatest worldwide inquisition into the Sierra gold elds purchased mining claims measuring 20 x 30 feet on the average. Mining camps and tent towns were haphazardly scattered through the region. That same year, during his
State of the Union Address, President Polk signaled the con rmation of the gold discovery to the citizens, and talked of taking up the challenge and visualizing both fame and fortune. Travel aboard tall sailing frigates “around the horn” of South America would eventually make the trip in 89 days, converging on San Francisco’s shores among the throngs of gold seekers ling gold claims.
Currier & Ives helped romanticized a new era.

Wild rivers glistened with its treasure, bringing promise to each new gold eld as miners survived in tent camps, or crudely made shacks. It became a better bet for local merchants of hitting paydirt by serving prospectors’ needs for food, lodging, camp supplies and mining gear. California’s rst millionaire, Sam Brannon, furnished hardware and miners’ supplies from a central hub in San Francisco, and his other stores at Sutter’s Fort and in Coloma. Henry Wells and William Fargo moved west to open an of ce; and a German- born tailor, Levi Strauss, arrived in San
The Way They Come From California. (Cartoon). Lithograph by N. Currier, 1849
as reminders of an old upside-down miner’s shovel standing on its handle and staked into the ground. The hardiest gold seekers sharpened their survival skills, meeting the demands of mountain life. The currency of the day was a poke of miner’s gold dust, with increased demand on everyday products and in ating costs to miners. “Modern” progress in the form of Central Paci c Railroad’s rst transcontinental trains had come by the summer of 1869, and a major route charted between Nevada and California was completed just 20 years after the Donner Party tragedy.
Today’s mining towns have emerged with elegant housing, comfortable lodging and farm fresh harvests with a wide choice of restaurants appealing to the most relentless appetites of the hungry masses. Gold Country towns from the Golden Era are cloaked in a mysterious sense of a timeless standing still in time. And, to a traveler’s bene t, today’s foothill communities are offering the advantage of modern lodging, all season recreation and sports, comprehensive museums to amble in, picturesque mountain vineyards, craft brewing and brewpubs, mining buildings and scenic covered wooden bridges crossing majestic rivers. The foliage during autumn’s peak colors are displayed vividly each fall. Scores of authentic century-and-a-half old buildings make great sightseeing and photographic opportunities along the entire 300-mile stretch of State Highway 49 and beyond. Traditional Gold Rush mines, museums and equipment may be found throughout every part of the Gold Country region on display. Today’s magni cent State Parks and California foothill towns continue to extend their generous hospitality to visitors, and those who come as strangers will leave as lasting friends.

Francisco in 1850 with plans to open a store selling canvas tarps and wagon coverings to the miners. In Coloma, John Studebaker, began building wheelbarrows and buggy wheels for farmers and miners in 1852. Phillp Armour founded a meatpacking empire in Chicago after making his fortune operating the sluices controlling water owing into
the rivers of the gold elds. By the turn of the 20th century, with his legendary work in Yosemite, John Muir, the great American preservationist had organized the Sierra Club and advocated increasing the country’s National Park system.
The Golden State’s mining history holds many valuable and unique stories of frontier life, of lively communities and personalities along the Golden Chain of State Highway 49. California’s state highway signs are designed to commemorate the Golden State,
A satire aimed at “all walks of life,” readied to join the California Gold Rush by H. R. Robinson.
The Historical Gold Mines of California
California was the most sought after destination in the mid-19th Century, and stoked the curious prospector’s imagination.
Hidden Gold Negotiating California’s State Highway 49 leading travelers through quaint villages, on a unique chain Gold Rush mining towns and seeing wooden homes, stone and brick buildings and centuries old churches, many bearing striking similarities to distant New England towns. Some with high-gabled roofs shedding deep snows, tall spires, wood lapped siding, or neoclassical Victorian homes with open columned porches, work like an eclectic a mix. There are many four season celebrations and events re ecting the rich history of the legendary Gold Rush, aimed for the enjoyment of visitors and residents alike. Mark Twain’s famous story of the Calaveras Jumping Frog is replayed as a local Jubilee Celebration, every May. Other well attended attractions include spring at Daffodil Hill, in Volcano; the Murphys Wine Stomp; Placerville’s Blessing of the Grapes; native Pow-Wows at Chaw’se, near Pioneer; the Tarantula Festival in Coarsegold; Draft Horse Festival and Worldfest, in Grass Valley; each drawing visitors into the small towns. Jaunts to river rafting, trail hiking, or staying at Yosemite National Park by day’s end, are right off Highway 49. One may cruise Bullards Bar’s 16-mile length and 60-miles of shoreline, or 100-miles of shoreline at New Melones Lake in a houseboat rental. Make a visit to Mark Twain’s cabin from 1866; or, a day at Columbia State Historic Park to catch the Wells Fargo Stagecoach with the kids. Take a hand at panning for gold on the Yuba, or American Rivers; hiking wild ower trails, or shing the streams of the Sierra Gold Lakes Basin. Experience picturesque Gold Rush towns, meeting the residents and the businesses, and nd abundant choices of recreation, historical B&Bs, breweries, old vine wineries, and opportunities nding a delicious farm fresh meal.

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