James Wilson Marshall, although credited for being the man to first find gold which led to the California gold rush, was pushed from his land and never profited a dime from the history making era. In 1847, James Marshall began working with a man named Sutter to construct a sawmill. Marshall was in charge of overseeing the mill operations. They decided to build the sawmill in Coloma, which is about 40 miles upstream of Sutter’s Fort on the American River. Their crew consisted mainly of veterans from the Mormon Battalion and Native Americans.
In 1848, on January 24th, while examining the excavation that was done to widen the ditch that drained water away from the waterwheel, Marshall noticed a couple of small pieces of gold fleck. He found them to be malleable and although hitting his discovery between rocks, found that they did not break. In writings by Marshall, he states that he then went to speak to Mr. Scott and said, “I have found it.” He was referring to gold, as he had deduced that is what he had found.
Tests were done on the metal and it was indeed found to be gold. Because Marshall was still concentrating heavily on the construction of the mill, he allowed his workers to search for gold during their time off of work. When Marshall informed Sutter of his discovery, Sutter again had the gold tested. He found the gold to be 23 carats. It was then that word began to spread and hordes of people began flocking into the area. Marshall himself was forced off his land and although he made several attempt to pursue prospecting, he had no success. He also tried running a vineyard. He was awarded a small pension which lapsed after several years. James Marshall died penniless despite being the man responsible for the gold rush of 1849.