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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

RIP, James Marshall

James Wilson Marshall, the celebrated discoverer of California gold, never personally profited from his find though it made other men rich. For a time Marshall retained a one-third interest in the sawmill he had built for John Sutter, until a series of altercations with miners, and lawsuits filed by his new sawmill partners, forced him to sell it and his other real estate holdings to pay creditors. From there, his fortunes steadily declined as each new venture ultimately proved unprofitable: a vineyard, a speaking tour, and an apple orchard. For years, he intermittently prospected without making a big strike. In 1872 he moved into the Union Hotel in Kelsey, a few miles east of Coloma, using the small pension the state legislature had awarded him to invest in a local quartz mine (which never paid off) and open a blacksmith shop. He died in Kelsey in 1885, aged 75, without a will and no relatives in California. Auctions of his few personal assets barely covered his funeral expenses. Among the items advertised for sale by the public administrator of his estate were three writing desks, household and kitchen furniture, 15 bushels of coal, boots, compasses, a pair of gold scales, a six shooter, 70 books, and various mining and blacksmithing tools. He was buried on a hilltop overlooking the Coloma gold discovery site, as some of his friends claimed he had requested. In 1890 a handsome monument—the first such monument in California—was erected to mark the location of his grave. The granite monument stands 31 feet tall, and supports a 10’6” bronze statue of James Marshall looking toward the spot where he found gold at the bottom of a lumber mill’s tailrace.

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