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Date of the First Discovery of Gold in California.



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Webmaster's note.

[2014] - It is generally accepted that Francisco Lopez found gold in more than one place in the Santa Clarita Valley in the early 1840s: in Placerita Canyon, and somewhere between modern-day Castaic and Piru. Early chroniclers (Bancroft, et al.) refer to "San Feliciano Canyon." This seems to be the latter location. We don't know what Placerita Canyon was called prior to being named for the "placer" mining that took place there after gold was discovered. Some historians treat the two names as if they're the same location — including the historian who is the subject here, J.M. Guinn of the Historical Society of Southern California.

In his original essay published in a San Francisco newspaper in 1895, which we've reproduced below, Guinn cites sources (e.g., John Warner) who refer to an 1841 discovery site 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. He also cites sources who refer to an 1842 discovery site 30 miles north of Los Angeles. Although one might be inclined to think the former is the Castaic-Piru area and the latter is Placerita, Guinn does not. Instead he asserts in his essay that Warner and 1841 must be wrong, and that the original discovery was made in 1842 (and that it was at Placerita). He even calls Bancroft "contradictory" for using both dates (1841 and 1842), without considering that Bancroft might be referring to two different events. He dismisses other historians, even those he considers "usually ... reliable," when they present dates that don't fit with his predelictions. Bizarrely, he suggests one must have confused the discovery of gold with the discovery of a type of fool's gold.

Next, a Mr. Isaac L. Given reads Guinn's essay in the newspaper and is so upset by it that he writes Guinn a letter saying 1842 is wrong and Warner was right. How does he know? Because he (Given) insists he saw the gold in 1841.

But what gold? Rather than changing his mind and assuming Given's letter "shows conclusively" that gold was first discovered a Placerita in 1841, perhaps Guinn should be asking whether Lopez discovered gold in the Castaic-Piru area (San Feliciano) one year before discovering gold at Placerita. (Some accounts say San Feliciano was 1843, but Guinn doesn't acknowledge a second location in any year.)

Ironically, Guinn's treatise on "dates" bears a bad date. The historian says his original essay was published in the newspaper in October 1895 and that Given replied to it in September 1895, which would be impossible. In fact, Guinn's essay appeared Sept. 8, 1895, and Given penned his response the same day.

When push comes to shove, we don't know when gold was discovered in Placerita Canyon (or at San Feliciano). We weren't there. But we know when Lopez and his partners Manuel Cota and Domingo Bermudez SAID they found it. On April 4, 1842, they filed a petition seeking permission to mine the gold they found one league to the SOUTH of the Del Valle home (so it's not Castaic-Piru), "on the ninth day of March last." "Ultimo" (last) connotes the one having just occurred, i.e., March 1842. The mining claim, incidentally, makes the Placerita discovery California's first "documented" gold find.

One more thing about Isaac Given's letter. He claims Abel Stearns told him in 1841 that paying quantities of gold weren't to be found at the discovery site. If Stearns was talking about Placerita, it would be a brush-off; paying quantities were found until the end of the decade. But if Stearns was talking about San Feliciano (Castaic-Piru), then Stearns' assertion makes sense; paying quantities aren't known to have been found there.

Following Guinn's original letter, we reproduce Mr. Given's obituary for biographical purposes. It was published in the San Francisco Call two years later, when he succumbed to injuries sustained in a collision involving a carriage and an electric car.


Date of the First Discovery of Gold in California

In an article published in the San Francisco Call of October 8, 1895, entitled, "The First Discovery of Gold in California," I stated that the date of discovery was still a subject of controversy. Col. J.J. Warner, who visited the pacers shortly after their discovery, always maintained that the discovery was made in June 1841. Don Abel Stearns, in a letter to the California Pioneer Society, gave the date, March 1842. The date given by Stearns has been accepted by Bancroft and other historical writers. The following letter, called forth by the publication of my article, shows conclusively that Don Abel Stearns was mistaken, and that the year 1841 is the correct date of the discovery of gold in the San Feliciano placers, near Newhall, Los Angeles county. This was the first discovery of gold in California of which we have an authentic account.

J.M. Guinn,
Secretary Historical Society of Southern California.


Oakland, Cal., Sept. 8, 1895.

J.M. Guinn, Secretary Historical Society of Southern California—

Dear Sir: I read in today's San Francisco Call a communication from your pen concerning the first discovery of gold in California in which you quote from the account on that subject written by Col. J.J. Warner, for whose accuracy in historical fact you vouch, and very properly, as I think. This account gives the date of the discovery of gold in June 1841. And you also quote Don Abel Stearns as giving the date of the discovery in March 1842. Now it is about the latter date that has influenced me to send you these lines.

I was one of the party, in which Roland and Workman were perhaps the best known members, who came from Santa Fe to California in 1841, arriving in Los Angeles in the fall of 1841. Shortly after our arrival, Dr. Lyman, a member of that party, and myself, were invited to dine with Don Abel, as all the natives called him, and while in his house he showed us a quart bottle of gold dust containing about 80 ounces obtained about where Colonel Warner describes the placers located. Now how could Mr. Stearns place that date a year later?

We suggested the propriety of visiting that camp and engaging in mining but Don Abel thought the gold could not be found in paying quantities.

I should like to have written you more fully, but am within a few days of 82 years old and dislike to write much.

Very respectfully yours,

I.L. Given


The First Discovery of Gold in California.

San Francisco Call
Sunday, September 8, 1895

Said to Have Occurred Long Before the Find at Sutter's Mill.

If asked to locate the place where gold was first discovered in California probably nine out of every ten of the intelligent residents of the State of the more recent arrivals would name Sutter's millrace at Coloma as the spot. Even among the Argonauts of '49 — those searchers after the golden fleece of Phryxus' ram — who are popularly supported to know all about

The days of old,

The days of gold,

probably no larger percentage could give a correct answer. If the anxious searcher for historical truth were to consult the ordinary run of histories of California he would find in them repeated and re-repeated with slight variations the old, old story of Sutter's millrace and Marshall's wonderful find therein.

Yet, with all due respect to the historians, good, bad and indifferent, with al deference to the opinions of the Argonauts, and with patriotic regard for the wisdom of the conscript fathers of the State, who reared a statue to the memory of Marshall, the so-called first discoverer of gold, I here enter a protest against the iteration and reiteration of the story that Coloma was the place where gold was first discovered in California or that Marshall was the first discoverer and 1848 the year of the discovery.

Outside of Bancroft's voluminous history and the published reminiscences of pioneers who lived in the country previous to 1848, it is very rare indeed to find in any compilation dignified by the name of history any mention of the fact that gold had been found and extensively mined in California previous to 1848.

The fullest and most reliable account of the first discovery of gold in California is that written by Colonel J.J. Warner, a pioneer of 1831, and published in "A Historical Sketch of Los Angeles County" (a work not out of print). I quote from this sketch:

"While statements respecting the existence of gold in the earth of California and its procurement therefrom have been made and published as historical facts, carrying back the date of the knowledge of of the auriferous character of the State as far as the time of the visit of Sir Francis Drake to the coast, there is no evidence to be found in the written or oral history of the missions, the acts and correspondence of the civil or military officers, or in the unwritten and traditional history of Upper California that the existence of gold, either with ores or in its virgin state, was ever suspected by any inhabitant of California previous to 1841, and furthermore, there is conclusive testimony that the first known grain of native gold dust was found upon or near the San Francisco ranch, about forty miles northwesterly from Los Angeles City, in the month of June 1841. This discovery consisted of grain gold fields, known as placer mines, and the auriferous fields discovered in that year embraced the greater part of the county drained by the Santa Clara River from a point some fifteen or twenty miles from its mouth to its source, and easterly beyond them to Mount San Bernardino."

The story of discovery as told by Warner and Don Abel Stearns are similar in the main facts, differing, however, materially in the date. Stearns says gold was first discovered by Francisco Lopez, a native of California, in the month of March 1842, at a place called San Francisquito, about thirty miles northwest from this city (Los Angeles). The circumstances of the discovery as related by Lopez himself are as follows: "Lopez, with a companion, was out in search of some stray horses, and about midday they stopped under some trees and tied their horses out to feed, they resting under the shade, when Lopez with his sheath knife dug up some wild onions and in the dust discovered a piece of gold, and, searching further, found some more. He brought these to town and showed them to his friends, who at once declared there must be a placer of gold. This news being circulated numbers of the citizens went to the place and commenced prospecting in the neighborhood, and found it to be a fact that there was a placer of gold."

Colonel Warner says: "The news of this discovery soon spread among the inhabitants from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, and in a few weeks hundreds of people were engaged in washing and winnowing the sands and earth of these gold fields." Warner visited the mines a few weeks after their discovery. He says: "From these mines was obtained the first parcel of California gold dust received at the United States Mint in Philadelphia, and which was sent with Alfred Robinson and went in a merchant sailing-ship around Cape Horn. This shipment of gold was 18.34 ounces before and 18.1 ounces after smelting; fineness, .926; value, $344.75 — over $19 to the ounce, a very superior quality of gold dust."

It may be regarded as a settled historical fact that the first discovery of gold in Alta California was made on the San Francisco Rancho in the San Feliciano Canyon, in the county of Los Angeles. This canyon is about eight miles northwest of Newhall and forty-two miles northwest of Los Angeles. It is also an established fact that the first discoverer was Francisco Lopez, also known by the name of Cuso, a vaquero, living at that time on the Piru Rancho. Lopez had been for many years previously mayordomo of the San Fernando mission. The time of the discovery is not so satisfactorily settled. Colonel Warner, usually very reliable, gives June 1841 as the date, and quotes Don Ygnacio del Valle, on whose rancho the discovery was made, and who was appointed encargado de justicia to preserve order in the mining district, as one of his authorities for that date. Don Abel Stearns gives us the date March 1842; Bandini, April 1842. [Antonio F.] Coronel, who spent some time in the mines and employed Indians in mining, asserts positively that it was made in 1842.

Bancroft is contradictory in his dates. In the text of his history he gives March 1842, evidently following Stearns' statement. In his Pioneer Register he states: "Antonio del Valle died in 1841, the same year that gold was discovered on his ranch." In his Biography of Pastoral California he refers to a manuscript by Alvarado entitled "Primitivo Descubrimiento," in which is an interesting account of the discovery of gold placers in the San Fernando Valley in 1841.

William Heath Davis, usually one of the most reliable chroniclers of pioneer events, in his book, "Sixty Years in California," gives the date of the discovery 1840, and the discoverers a party of Sonorans traveling to Monterey. He evidently has confounded the discovery of tepusite, a variety of pyrites supposed to indicate the presence of gold, made by the Mexican mineralogist, Don Andres Castellero, with the real discovery of gold by Francisco Lopez a year or two later.

Alfred Robinson, a pioneer of 1828, in his book, "Life in California," published in 1846, two years before Marshall's discovery, mentions a mine at Alisal, near Monterey, from which considerable quantities of silver ore had been taken. "This," he says, "was the first mine discovered in California. At one time," he adds, "the mania for mining was so great that every old woman had her specimen of what she called ore. Finally," he says, "rich mines of placer gold were discovered near the Mission San Fernando." Evidently the gold fever had been epidemic in California long before the days of 1849. Robinson does not fix the date exactly, but from dates of events given in this connection I infer he intends to locate the event in 1842. Cronise, in his "Natural Wealth of California," reputed to be a standard work on the resources of the Golden State, informs his readers that the first gold known to have been found in the State was obtained in 1833 in the valley of Santa Clara, Los Angeles County. Historically and geographically Cronise is years and miles distant from the truth. Powell, in his "Mineral Resources of the Golden State," another standard work, evidently has never heard of the discovery of gold in Southern California. He gives the story of Marshall's find with a few sensational accomplishments not given by others. In the dialogue between Sutter and Marshall, Sutter remarks: "James, you are lying"; and James, with none of the spirit of the old-time Californian, neither shoots the top of Sutter's head off nor offers to bet his pile that Sutter cannot prove him a liar, but coldly pulls his sack of gold dust instead of his revolver, and Sutter goes into ecstasies instead of eternity.

From this mass of contradictory data it is impossible to evolve the correct one. Nor is it probably that the exact date will ever be known. The strongest evidence seems to incline toward March 1842.

It is said that republics are ungrateful. Whether this be true or not, it is true that they are often unjust in the bestowal of their favors. Lopez, the real discoverer of gold in California, lived in obscurity, died in poverty and sleeps his last sleep in a nameless grave. Marshall, the reputed first discoverer, obtained celebrity — world-wide — in his latter years drew a pension of $3,000 a year from the State, and after his death the grateful republic erected a statue of bronze to his memory. Very little merit attaches to the discovery in either case; in both cases it was purely accidental; but whatever does, belongs to Lopez, not to Marshall.

Both Sutter and Marshall, in all probability, had heard of the gold discoveries in the south. The incredulity with which Sutter tells us he received Marshall's story was probably and afterthought to give dramatic effect to his narrative.

He had been in Southern California with Micheltorena in 1845, and was present at the bloodless battle of Cahuenga when the Governor was forced to abdicate. Marshall was a member of Fremont's battalion. He was one of Captain Gillespie's garrison, and claims to have unspiked the cannon with which Gillespie repulsed the assault of the Californians during the siege of Los Angeles by Flores in September 1846. He spoke the Spanish language, and no doubt heard of the discovery of gold in the mountains near San Fernando. From the published reminiscences of pioneers, I should judge that every intelligent resident of California in the early 40s had heard of the discovery.

As to the yield of the San Feliciano diggings, it is impossible to obtain any definite information. Don Abel Steanrs puts it at from $6,000 to $8,000 a year, up to the American occupation in 1847. William Heath Davis gives the amount at $60,000 to $100,000 for the first two years after the discovery. He states that Mellus at one time shipped $5,000 worth of dust to Boston on the ship Alert. Bancroft states that "by December 1843, 2,000 ounces of gold (worth about $38,000) had been taken from the San Fernando mines, the greater portion of which was shipped to the United States." There was a great scarcity of water in the mines. The processes used in extracting the gold from the earth were crude and wasteful. Panning, washing out with bateas, or close-woven Indian baskets, was one of the methods used. To pay over $2 a day with such a process the mines must have been quite rich. In 1854 it was stated that Francisco Garcia took out of the San Feliciano placers in one season $65,000 in gold. One nugget worth $1,900 was found in this gold belt.

Los Angeles is not classed among the mineral counties of the State, yet the yield of her placers has amounted to a considerable sum.

The San Gabriel placers were very rich. As late as 1876 two companies were working them. One company reported a yield of $1,365 for a run of twenty-six days, working five men, an average of $10.50 to the man. In all the mountain creeks tributary to the Santa Clara and San Gabriel rivers prospects can be found. In 1854 the Santa Anita diggings paid $5 a day to the man. The great drawback to successful mining in Los Angeles County is the scarcity of water. Ben Truman, in his "Semi-Tropic California, a book written in 1874, says:

"During the past eighteen years Messrs, Ducommon & Jones, merchants of Los Angeles, have purchased in one way and other over $2,000,000 worth of gold dust, taken from placer claims of the San Gabriel River, while it is fiar to presume that among other merchants and to parties in San Francisco has been distributed at least a like amount. The statistics of the San Francisco Mint show that in one year nearly $40,000 worth of gold was sent from Los Angeles County for coinage purposes."

There are a few specimens of gold taken from the San Feliciano placers in 1842 still preserved (in jewelry and ornaments) by some of the native Californians of Los Angeles. The State should procure a specimen to put with the famous Marshall nugget in the State Mineralogical Museum.


San Francisco Call
Oakland Office, 908 Broadway
August 18, 1897

Taken Off In Life's Evening
Death of Major Given, Who Left Missouri Fifty-Four Years Ago.
A Pioneer of California Before the Gold-Hunters Thought of Coming.
After Eighty-Four Years of Activity, His Death Came by an Accident.

Major Isaac L. Given, one of Calfornia's oldest and best known pioneers, has succumbed to his injuries received by being run over a week ago. As he was 80 years of age it was never expected that he would recover and the prophecy of his physicians proved true.

Major Given was a prominent member of a party of Argonauts who left the Missouri River on May 6, 1841. They divided into two companies and Given went with the one of which took the southern route by way of Santa Fe. His companions included Albert G. Toomes, John Roland, William Knight, Wade Hampton, Dr. Meade, Hiram Taylor and Colonel McClure. The starting of this brave band across the then unexplored wilds for the Western land created great excitement, and hundreds assembled at St. Joseph's Mission to see them off. When Colonel Given started out the only well-defined points on this side of the continent were Great Salt Lake and mystical St. Marys, now (known) as the Humboldt River.

Both companies arrived in California at about the same time. Describing the journey many years later Mr. Toomes said: "We had, literally, to smell our way every day of that long, hard journey of 176 days. But both companies arrived with unbroken ranks, with toughened sinews and bronzed faces — the vanguard of the mighty army of gold seekers which followed on our trail seven or eight years later."

On his arrival here Major Given was 28 years of age, and for fifty-six years he has done a citizen's share in building up this State.

The deceased leaves a widow but no children. Mrs. Given was the sister of Albert G. Toomes, who came out in the St. Joseph's expedition.

A.W. Bishop, an ex-postmaster of this city and a pioneer, in speaking of his departed friend said to-night:

"Among the noble pioneers of California Major Isaac Given stands in the front rank, and it is one of the inexplicable decrees of fate that at this time, after passing through the varied vicissitudes of four-score years, facing dangers of an overland pilgrimage nearly sixty years ago, together with the troublous times of '46 and '47 in throwing off the Mexican yoke and saving California as a future State of the Union, he should at this time and at his age meet with an accident that has closed his eventful life."

The accident was at Twelfth and Broadway and was due to the passing of a private carriage owned by Mr. Kales and an electric car. Mr. Kales procured the best of medical attendance and nursing, but the major's iron constitution could not stand the shock of a severe accident at the age of 84.

GOLD CATEGORIES:
• California Gold
• Lopez Discovery
• Placerita Post-Lopez
• San Francisquito
• Oak/Dream Dedication 1930
• Oak/Dream

OAK OF THE GOLDEN DREAM DEDICATION
Placerita Canyon 1930

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Belderrain Affidavit 2-23-1930

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Walker Affidavit 3-1-1930

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Event Program 3-9-1930

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Rivera's Speech 3-9-1930

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Sen. Del Valle's Speech 3-9-1930

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Perkins' Speech 3-9-1930

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Dedication 3-9-1930

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Dedication 3-9-1930

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Tree Plaque 1930

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Lopez Plaque 1930 x2

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Van Nuys News 4-25-1930

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Correspondence 1934

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