Plaque memorializing Francisco Lopez as the discoverer of gold in Placerita Canyon, March 9, 1842.
The plaque was placed 88 years later, March 9, 1930, amid some sycamore trees at discovery site.
It was then stolen. The plaque, not the trees.
In fact it was one of two plaques placed that day — this one, and another one that was bolted to the Oak of the Golden Dream, which first entered the public consciousness
that day. Both plaques were stolen. This one was recovered.
The other one wasn't.
(See Perkins here, photo caption and fn. 37).
This photograph would seem to predate the theft, considering that the plaque appears ready to be pried from the rock behind it, and hasn't
yet been cemented in place.
Note the Placerita fancy rock (Placerita formation) at bottom.
The identity of the Oak of the Golden Dream in Placerita Canyon State Park as "the" tree where Francisco Lopez napped and dreamed of finding gold (which he did)
in 1842 was not set in stone — literally or figuratively — until nearly a century later, in 1930, by Frances Lopez de Belderrain, a Lopez descendant.
Belderrain (alternately Francisca Lopez de Balderain) had learned the story from Catalina Lopez, who was in her 80s when she shared the information with
family members from memory.
According to Adolfo G. Rivera, who presided at the 1930 dedication of the tree, Catalina would have been 12 years old when she attended an
1843 ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the Lopez discovery, whereupon she learned learned the relevant locations.
In a promotional brochure published by 1930s Placerita landowner Frank Walker, Rivera writes in part:
"The first anniversary [in 1843] of this gold discovery was celebrated by the erection of a chapel on the site of the discovery and the chanting of a
solemn high mass by three priests, two from San Fernando and one from Los Angeles, six altar boys, the entire Mission choir, consisting of
twenty neophytes and eight musicians. Many prominent families of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Buena Ventura and the surrounding country
and the Commissioners sent by Mexico to investigate the truth or falsity of the discovery, were present, — a date in the history of our
State was solemnized, which was to be forever after forgotten.
"Catarina [sic] Lopez, wife of Geronimo Lopez, was eleven years old when gold was discovered here and was present at the celebration of the mass in 1843.
Before her death she took several members of her family to Placeritos Canyon and pointed out to them the exact spot where the chapel had been erected and
gold discovered by her ancestor. In this party were the Señoras Frances Lopez de Belderrain, and Graciosa Lopez de Wilson of San Fernando and these
kind ladies have in turn shown the writer the self-same spot of FIRST GOLD DISCOVERY IN CALIFORNIA."
Read Rivera's entire story and see the Walker brochure here.
Whatever the truth of the dream legend or the accuracy of the tree's identification, Lopez and his partners did extract gold from Placerita Canyon in 1842
and did file a claim with the Mexican governor of Alta California — and that piece of parchment, with the governor's seal of approval, is what makes the
Lopez discovery the first documented discovery of gold in California.
Earlier discoveries in the Castaic and Piru region appear in 19th-century literature, but in each case, the documentary evidence is lacking.
In a joint effort of fraternal organizations — Ramona Parlor No. 109 of the Native Sons of the Golden West, the La Mesa Club and the Kiwanis Club
of Newhall-Saugus — a plaque was placed on March 9, 1930, the 88th anniversary of the Lopez discovery, at the site of the tree that is now
recognized by the state of California as the Oak of the Golden Dream.