Thursday, August 6, 2009

Gold Mine

It was Jan. 24 1848. One worker wrote in his diary, "This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail race that looks like goald, first discovered by James Martial, the boss of the mill."

I don't know about you, but I have a weakness for the days before spelling standardization. Mettle and goald add a glimmer of richness to the story. Even Marshall's name wasn't a matter for standard spelling. And why should it be? I've never understood why my 8th grade teachers objected to me spelling my name Psiouxsan. They soon found it wasn't a battle worth fighting. Unlike the miners. They kept digging and panning and hoping, though few struck it rich.

The museum at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park makes much of the horrible conditions endured by the miners who flocked to the American River. Scorching heat...frigid water....

which is exactly why we come here. The scorching heat, 100F last weekend, makes the frigid water feel pleasant...

...as we paddle the South Fork of the American River.

The kids have their own ideas about why we go.

High on their list are the blackberries. We eddy out and gorge on them many times during the 4.5 miles of class II whitewater. But there is also the one lane bridge that connects the campground to the heart of Marshall Gold Discovery Park.

The kids cram their pockets with a few dollars and cross the bridge to another time. They pan for gold, lick $1 ice cream, suck 5 cent candies, watch sparks fly at the hot as heck Blacksmith's Shop, and pretend to grind corn on a rock bluff overlooking bark dwellings.
(Go ahead, click on it!)

Stray kittens at the campsite added to the excitement. We can't have them at home (achoo!) so the girls thought it was heaven to put out dishes of milk for the scrawny beasts.

We arrived home late Sunday night and turned around the next morning to drive to Monterey. We usually go there to see the aquarium and this time was no different.

I love these barnacles attached to a glass buoy.

But because we are on a history bender we caught the 10:30am tour of historic Monterey.

Where we learned that when James Marshall spotted that nugget of goald California was not yet a state.

It had been less than two years since Commodore John Drake Sloat ran the American flag up this pole in Monterey claiming a territory 3 times the size of present day California for the United States.
The flag was a 28-star version.

28 Star Flag

When the United States staked its claim to California there were a few thousand non-native people here and half a million head of cattle.

For a time before the U.S. claimed California every single item imported to California passed through the Custom House in Monterey.
The lentils and beans and desks and tea kettles and soap came in...

...and the cow hides went out. See them stacked in the back there?
And what do you suppose they were used for?
Shoes?
Saddles?
Belts?
Well, yes, but not the kind that held up the pants of rancheros.

Big strapping belts like this...

...that turned the wheels of Europe's Industrial Revolution.
Of course, Monterey was not untouched by James Marshall's eureka moment. When word spread American soldiers, the sailors in the ports, the rancheros, basically everybody of sound body, ran for them thar hills with gold in 'em.
One Monterey resident griped that there wasn't a bowl left in Monterey to wash your hands in. They all headed northeast as gold pans.

Monterey's abandoned homes were bought or leased by whalers...
A kettle for melting whale blubber....

The bricks give you an idea of its size.
Whale bones lie about all around in Monterey. This sidewalk is even made of them...
..made of whale vertebrae cut into diamonds.

One of the things I like best about learning history is how it brings place names to life. I always wondered what was up with Placer County and Placerville. What is up with it is placer mining.
And I never stopped to wonder why we have a Portola valley.
But I feel so happy to know. It makes me feel connected to the past. It makes my everyday life richer to think about the people who were here before.

Sigh. History is such a gold mine.


8 comments:

Kat said...

Wow very cool. My Dad always said if you can't come up with more than one way to spell a word you weren't very creative. ;) Loved your latest history tour.

patricia said...

We are down on the Monterey Peninsula on a regular basis, and I've never been on the historic Mentyery tour. I didn't even know it existed. I learn something new every time I drop by!

We've also never been to Marshall State Park, but that ones been on my to-go list. H was so into the gold rush when he was little; it's time to revisit that wild and wacky era.

Thanks for the inspiration, Psiouxsan!

patricia said...

Did I really spell Monterey like that the second time? You'd think that if I could pull off Psiouxsan, I could manage Monterey...

Susan said...

Kat, thanks! I tell my kids that spelling is mere convention and its good to be unconventional. Just choose your time and place...like maybe not on a resume, say.

Tricia, I just figured my post had transported you back to the Wild West when pioneers could spell Monterey any durn way they wanted to.

Marshall Gold Discovery is a gem, and it is a doable day trip. Beware that the blacksmith is closed on Sunday.

The Stone Age Techie said...

This trip sounds like Old Sturbridge Village and the New Bedford Whaling Museum rolled into one, if they were situated in a mountainous state park with excellent white water - what a wonderful place!

Thank you for this post -
:-)
Karen

Susan said...

Karen, it was your trip to the whaling museum that inspired me to see the historical side of Monterey. The two places we visited, Marshall Gold in the Sierra Foothills, and Monterey on the coast are actually a 4-hour drive apart--I did make them sound like an impossible paradise--a whaling town in the mountains. :)

Farmhouse Kitchen said...

Hi Susan,I really enjoy your blog..I love all the history...wonderful....

Great Photos too......
I'll be checking back soon...
Oh, I love Alice Waters too...but I have never cooked anything from Mark Bittman..but I see him on the Today show....when I (very rarely) have the t.v. on :-)

Thanks for stopping by my spot.
I'll check back with you later.
Have a great weekend.
Kary

Kristin said...

We've been to Marshall... State Park three or four times. It's a great place to explore.

I really enjoyed how you began your post with historical information and then explained how it related to your trip.

Did you notice that the gift shop there carries a great selection of historical fiction for youth related to early CA history?

Have you made a written copy of your blog? I really think you should just in case you loose the content on-line, (which happened to Patrice at Making Peace).

All your adventures are so well documented and your children will be able to recall so much more about what they did if they have the reference (once they are adults); they'll look back in awe at all you and your husband did with them, like I do now.