Thursday, January 24, 2013

Much Fine Gold

Today is January 24...

On this day in 1848 James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill in the sleepy backwater of Coloma, California. The Gold Rush was about to begin.

It is estimated that more than 90,000 people, most of them men, made their way to the California Gold Fields as Forty Niners (it took a while for word to get out and the rush to begin). Many came from our own eastern seaboard but many thousands more came from China, Europe and Latin America--and from as far away as Australia.

You can blame that shiny nugget from Coloma for the entry of California into the Union not to mention the push to develop the steamship and the railroad, and San Francisco grew from a tiny town of 800 to a city of 36,000 practically overnight, as ships that brought prospectors there were abandoned by their crews till there were so many ghost ships in the bay that their wood was used to build houses and shops and then for landfill.

By the way, contrary to persistent rumors, Levi Strauss did not start up his business of making blue denim jeans until the 1870's, that is, decades after the California Gold Rush. However, down till today, the official route markers for state roads in California, are shaped like a "Forty Niner" miner's spade.

James Marshall did not profit much from his find, and died penniless in a small wood cabin in Coloma.  You can see it today.  John Sutter did not fare so well, either, with disputes about his land ownership lasting until he died in semi-obscurity in Washington, DC, where Congress had adjourned before hearing his appeal about compensation for his land.  He is buried in his home town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, right next door to East Petersburg, where I grew up. You can still visit the General Sutter Inn on the Square in Lititz, where Sutter lived after the Gold Rush, if you are not ready to make the trek overland or round the Horn, to the Sunshine State.

Sometimes there really is gold right where you are--if you are willing to look for it.  And sometimes, things much more precious than gold...

The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever;
The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Even much fine gold...
(Psalm 19:9-10) 

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