On This Day: Gold Found at Sutter’s Mill

January 24: Gold!

California’s most famous gold rush dates to the morning of January 24, 1848 when James Marshall made his customary inspection of the sawmill he was building for John Sutter. During the previous night, Marshall had diverted water through the mill’s tailrace to wash away loose dirt and gravel and on that fateful day he noticed some shining flecks of metal left behind by the running water.

He picked them up and showed them to his crew and, as he later told the story: “My eye was caught by something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. . . Then I saw another.”

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

James Wilson Marshall, a foreman at John Sutter’s lumber mill near Coloma, California was on the edge of the American River when he spotted something glittering in the sun on January 24, 1848. When he brought the shiny flakes to his boss, Sutter ordered him to be quiet while they secretly tested the material.

As Sutter feared, Marshall had found gold. The two men did not know it yet but California’s fabled Gold Rush was about to explode and California and the United States would change forever.

Sutter was dismayed because he owned nearly 50,000 acres and knew that his dreams of an agricultural empire would be ruined if crazed gold prospectors rushed in and overran his property. Despite all his efforts at secrecy, however, rumors started spreading.

Men began to write letters; by the summer newspapers on the East Coast were announcing the news and in an address to Congress on December 5, 1848, President James Polk—a strong supporter of America’s Manifest Destiny—officially confirmed the discovery of gold in California helping to spur the Gold Rush and ensuring the acceleration of America’s westward expansion.

Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California was still part of Mexico at the time Marshall discovered gold but Polk took care of that by acquiring California with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848. At the end of the year Polk delivered his address to Congress and the California Gold Rush erupted the next year as 90,000 49ers rushed to California in 1849 looking for the gold Polk confirmed was there. California was admitted into the Union the next year as part of the Compromise of 1850.

Between 1848 and 1855 about 300,000 prospectors flooded into California, mostly Americans but tens of thousands also came from as far away as China, Hawaii, Europe, Peru, and Australia. It is estimated they recovered over $7 billion in gold. It all began with that January 24, 1848 discovery by Marshall, a find that touched off an irresistible gold fever that made men abandon what they were doing and head off to California to strike it rich.

Today, a few mines and the remains of several boom towns have been preserved in a variety of state parks. Most of them, including the Marshall Gold Discovery site, the fabulous Empire Mine, the historic town of Columbia, the rich gold deposits at Plumas Eureka, and the controversial hydraulic mining pits at Malakoff Diggins are located in or near the Mother Lode region of the central Sierra Nevada foothills.

Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The riverfront embarcadero and commercial district of the Gold Rush preserved at Old Sacramento teemed with activity as would-be miners disembarked from riverboats and regrouped before setting out for the Mother Lode. Outfitters and other merchants there thrived on the gold trade portrayed in the re-created Huntington & Hopkins Hardware Store. The mining boom that Captain John Sutter himself set in motion nearly destroyed his Nuevo Helvetia agricultural empire headquartered at Sutter’s Fort. A portion of his Mexican land grant became the bustling Gold Rush boomtown of Sacramento.

While gold-seekers were pouring through Sacramento and into the Sierra, deposits of the precious metal were also discovered in the Klamath Mountains of northwest California. Today, ruins of the historic town of Shasta and the Chinese temple at Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park recall the days of the Klamath gold rush.

In combination, the Mother Lode and the Klamath gold fields produced the modern-day equivalent of more than $25 billion in gold before the turn of the century with operations continuing at Empire Mine until as late as 1956.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the 1860s and the turn of the century, prospectors found gold in a number of locations in California. One of the Wests largest authentic ghost towns is Bodie in the eastern Sierra Nevada, now a state historic park that preserves the abandoned buildings of the rough-and-tumble mining town that sprang up in response to a gold strike in 1877.

In Southern California, three historic gold mining areas lie within the state parks. Park headquarters at Red Rock Canyon State Park is on the site of what was once an important community in a region that produced several million dollars in gold primarily in the 1890s -including one 14-ounce nugget.

At Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, visitors can tour the remains of the Stonewall Mine which produced $2 million worth of gold between 1870 and 1892.

At Picacho State Recreation Area on the lower Colorado River, visitors can view Picacho Mill, the last visible remnant of Picacho, a gold mining community that boasted a population of 2,500 in 1904.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out these articles to learn more:

Worth Pondering…

All the gold in California

Is in the bank in the middle of Beverly Hills

In somebody else’s name.

So if you’re dreamin’ about California,

It don’t matter at all where you’ve played before.

California’s a brand-new game.

Tryin’ to be a hero, winding up a zero,

Can scar a man forever right down to your soul.

Living on the spotlight can kill a man outright

‘Cause everything that glitters is not gold.

—written by Larry Gatlin and recorded by Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers Band in 1979 

Focus on Unique Small Towns from Coast to Coast

We’ve explored America by RV and found these 10 cool small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy

America was built upon small towns and fortunately many of them are still thriving today. From coast to coast and north to south, RVers can get a taste of what it’s like to live somewhere completely different or perhaps even startlingly similar to what they’re used to.

During 25 years of living the snowbird lifestyle, we’ve visited 25 states and camped at hundreds of RV parks and campgrounds. To kick-start your search, here are 10 of our favorite small towns in America. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions. The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants—there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Related Article: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Rock of Ages Granite Quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barre, Vermont

About 7 miles southeast of the state capital (Montpelier) is Barre, known as the Granite Center of the World. Its downtown, with several prominent sculptures and granite faced buildings, reflects that heritage. Its famed quarries at the edge of town are sprawling and spectacular with an estimated 4,500-year supply of Barre Gray granite still to be quarried out of the surrounding hills.

Rock of Ages © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite.

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinsville, Louisiana

As one of the oldest surviving towns in Louisiana, St. Martinville retains many buildings and homes reflecting the beautiful architecture of days gone by. St. Martinville has become symbolic of the Acadian legacy, holding sacred the history and legends of the Acadian people who settled in Louisiana. Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Located in the high desert at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, Alamogordo is the perfect location to “set up camp” to enjoy all the incredible attractions the area has to offer. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound. Only 15 minutes from Alamogordo, one of the world’s great natural wonders rises from the desert, White Sands National Park.  The glistening white sands and wave-like dunes of white gypsum cover 275 square miles of the desert. 

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

World’s largest pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not far from town is the world’s largest pistachio! The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes. There are numerous nut farms where you can enjoy samples and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains. 

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka, Alabama

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.

Bibb Graves Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants.

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is named after Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, who opened a trading post here in 1848—a short time before placer gold was discovered. In 1864, Samuel Clemens wrote his first successful short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” based on a tall tale he was told at the Angels Hotel by local, colorful character, Jim Smiley (or so the legend goes).

Related Article: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story launched his career as Mark Twain and put Calaveras on the map. The town has kept the allure of the Gold Rush era alive with many of the 19th century buildings housing eateries and unique shops in the charming historic downtown.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your spring adventure

We’ve all been spending a lot more time daydreaming about all the places we want to visit this spring. Small town, big personality! The season of road trips is almost among us and sometimes the best places to go are the ones that are a little more under the radar. Check out these small towns in America that are just brimming with charm.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

The second-oldest city in Kentucky, Bardstown has other claims to fame: as the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, home My Old Kentucky Home of Stephen Foster fame, and Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains, dating to 1779. 

Bardstown is a popular starting point for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. But booze aside, the town has plenty of allure with its picturesque and quaint courthouse square.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch community can be found in Lancaster which famously acted as the state capital from 1799 to 1812. The local farms mean lots of amazing food and fresh produce which can be found at Lancaster Central Market (the U.S.’s oldest public market). The town is also the starting point for the Lancaster County Art Gallery Trail which travels through several nearby towns and showcases the area’s most interesting (and affordable) art.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions. The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants—there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.

Corning © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Corning is part of the Finger Lakes region of New York. Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone. Spend time at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

With a gorgeous backdrop of red sandstone formations which appear to almost glow in reds and oranges during sunrise and sunset, Sedona is a perfect destination for photographers or outdoorsy people alike. Take in the majestic views from the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a church built on a 1,000 foot red rock cliff. Hike out to Cathedral Rock or check out the Red Rock Scenic Byway. You can always do an off-roading ATV tour at Red Rock Jeep Tours if you are feeling adventurous, or hike out along the West Fork Oak Creek Trail.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is named after Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, who opened a trading post here in 1848—a short time before placer gold was discovered. In 1864, Samuel Clemens wrote his first successful short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” based on a tall tale he was told at the Angels Hotel by local, colorful character, Jim Smiley (or so the legend goes). The story launched his career as Mark Twain and put Calaveras on the map. The town has kept the allure of the Gold Rush era alive with many of the 19th century buildings housing eateries and unique shops in the charming historic downtown.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

National D-Day Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and only 9 miles from the Parkway, Bedford is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Central Virginia. The town is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!