Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Outlaw Gangs -- Part One

A reader has written wanting to know if the Cochise County Cowboys Gang was really the first and earliest form of organized crime in the United States? She also wanted to know "what's the difference between an outlaw gang and simply a group of outlaws who know each other but might not be in a gang together?" 

Well, what's a criminal gang? As defined in Criminal Law Codes of most states, a "Criminal Gang" is a group or an association of three or more persons whose members meet the following elements:
(1) individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity;
(2) have as one of their primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more underlying crimes, including acts by juveniles that would be underlying crimes if committed by adults; and
(3) have in common an overt or covert organizational or command structure.

A few of the more famous was the Wild Bunch, the Dalton Gang, and the James-Younger Gang. Where most all of the outlaw gangs in the Old West were tight knit bands of thieves, robbers, and killers, the Cochise County Cowboys, also known as the "cow-boys" and the Clanton Gang, really doesn't appear to have been a tight knit band. As far as I can see, the Cochise County Cowboys Gang of southern Arizona during the early 1880s was sort of odd in that instead of being a band, they're considered a "loose association of criminal types."

As for the Cochise County Cowboys Gang being the first and earliest form of organized crime in the United States? I've read in a number of places the following, "Some modern writers consider them [The Cochise County Cowboys Gang] to be one of the first and earliest forms of organized crime syndicates in American history."

While that might the opinion of some writers, I can't see how they can get away with saying that since that wasn't the case at all. In fact, there were a number of organized crime syndicates, aka criminal gangs, operating in America long before the  Civil War. In some cases 30 years or more before the establishment of Cochise County or the Clanton Gang.

It is just a fact that there were already organized crime syndicates in places such as New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and New Orleans, true organized crime syndicates, before the Civil War. Those criminal organizations ran from the Irish gangs and the Jewish gangs of New York City and Boston, to the Mafia which had already taken a foothold in many cities including New Orleans, to the Chinese Tongs who were well organized in San Francisco. Yes, long before the Cochise County Cowboys Gang was ever thought of.

While those organized crime syndicates did not ride horses, and not rob trains and stagecoaches like the small time counterpart Outlaw Gangs in the West, those true organized crime gangs stole huge amounts of money through racketeering, counterfeiting, extortion, conspiracy, robbery, and thefts. Beside that, murder was common for them.

As for out West, there were a lot of Outlaw gangs in what was then considered the undeveloped West. To name a few, there was Billy the Kid's Gang known as the Rustlers, working in Lincoln County, New Mexico, for a few year in the late 1870s. Long before Billy the Kid was ever heard of, the Daly Gang was said to have absolutely terrorized the silver town of Aurora, Nevada for the two years between 1862 and 1864. Before them, the Sidney Ducks ran wild in San Francisco in the early 1850s

The Black Hills Bandits worked at robbing stagecoaches in the Deadwood, South Dakota, area for a year or so in the 1870s. Outlaw Sam Bass was a part of them before he fled the scene and started his own gang in Texas. The Sam Bass Gang robbed trains and banks in Texas mostly from 1877 to 1878. Yes, just a little over a year as well.

It's really not much time at all when you consider that the Archer Gang applied their criminal trade in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, for at least 10 years before being taken down. Consisting of Archer brothers, Tom, Mort, John, and Sam, they actually had about 20 members in their gang. Interestingly enough, it's said the Archer Gang members were all blood kin in one way or another.

The Archer Gang robbed trains, and were highwaymen robbing stagecoaches and lone travelers. But frankly, those ruthless individuals didn't stop with thieving. They were also known for rustling cattle, stealing horses, committing arson for pay, extortion, counterfeiting, burglary, and even murder for hire. Yes indeed, murder for hire.

During their decade long rein of terror, this little known gang of Outlaws were responsible for strangers, peddlers, and even regular citizens going missing. And frankly, it's amazing to think that most all of their victims were never seen again. In most cases, no trace of their bodies were ever found.

It is said that in-fighting was what ended their gang. No, not a hail of bullets in some gigantic shootout. Fact is, their downfall is said to have came about when Sam Archer's wife informed the law of what her brothers-in-law were doing. With that, Tom, Mort, and John Archer were arrested for murdering a well-known local man who went missing. 

The three were jailed at the town of Shoals, Indiana. But before ever making it to trial, a group of citizens formed. Those vigilantes took them from the courthouse and lynched all three from trees. Sam Archer didn't escape the rope as his wife had hoped. He was later arrested, tried, and legally hanged four months after the lynchings of his brother. Since there were no Archer brothers left, the Archer Gang was finished for good.

All proves out that old saying, "You live like an outlaw, you die like an outlaw." And while most are shot to death, a large number ended up dangling from some tree after citizens have had enough.

Tom Correa

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail linked the eastern United States with the undeveloped West. As for you who might not know too much about the Santa Fe Trail, basically it was America's first trading route. Or, as some like to say, it was America's first "commercial highway" going West.

We should understand that long before the opening of the Santa Fe Trail, there was trade taking place between the Great Plains Indians and early settlers along the route. Yes, especially those settlers of the Texas panhandle. In reality the Spanish had trade routes that extended along the Rio Grande reaching into the Spanish colonies of Texas and New Mexico long before the United States separated from Great Britain. For years, Spain stopped their people from moving eastward with trade by declaring trade with Native Americans and later with the Americans as illegal. There were heavy fines and even imprisonment if one was found trading with either.

Among the constants throughout mankind's history is the desire to create wealth for one's self and family. Private enterprise, free enterprise, private ownership, are what has been the great motivator when it comes to promoting innovation and our desire for freedom. Capitalism has pulled more out of poverty than any tyrannical system of government controls. Whether it was the ancient Romans or the Mexicans and Americans of the 1800s, people have always known that commercial trade, that Capitalism, means freedom.

So while the Spanish attempted to halt trade, as Spain banned trade for Mexico with anyone but Spain, a number of American explorers and adventurers attempted to travel West to conduct trade even though they knew it was illegal to do so. The Spanish actually detained many Americans at the time. Some were inevitability deported back to the United States. Yes, sent home in most cases by military escort. Others were never seen again.

Around 1810, some say sooner and some say later by 1812, Spanish subjects were tired of the over-regulation and high taxation. The people were fed up with the Spanish government's iron-fisted approach of governing the people. As with any form of dictatorship, Spanish rule was draconian.

Fact is Spanish laws were excessively harsh and violating them resulted in terribly severe consequences for the people. Ruling the people as subjects and peasants instead of as citizens is a recipe for failure. History tells us that people want freedom. For the Mexicans, it was about then in 1812 that the Mexican people had finally had enough of living under a Spanish boot and attempted to gain their independence. Sadly that first attempt failed. But as with people wanting to be free and get out from under an oppressive government, the Mexicans fought for their independence. After a successful revolution, the people there gained their freedom in 1821.

Among other things, their fight for freedom opened the door for those wanting to trade with Mexico. Connecting Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Sante Fe Trail covered over 900 miles of the Great Plains. Who created this, traders did. Not the government, but people wanting to prosper. And with their efforts, the Santa Fe Trail served as a sort of highway for countless American merchants, settlers and pioneers, and of course our military which included engineers, surveyors, and adventurers. All who would play a critical role in America’s westward expansion.

One Missouri trader, a man who was also a veteran of our War of 1812, was William Becknell. He is said to have wasted no time heading for Santa Fe. In September of 1821, Becknell and a small group of men with a caravan of cargo carrying all sorts of goods left Franklin, Missouri.

William Becknell did't know if he would return safely. But along the way, a group of Mexican soldiers are said to have told him of their independence and desire for needed goods made him a welcomed sight. Becknell and his party arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on November 16th of that year. They were welcomed with open arms by Mexican citizens and government officials there actually encouraged him to return soon with more goods to trade.

Becknell's original wagons laden with goods is said to have netted him a 1500% profit. Friends, that's the same as buying a load of guns for $100 and then selling them all and making $15,000. So yes, it was a win-win relationship born out of desire for goods and opportunity to make life better on both ends of the trail. Both ends of the Santa Fe Trail. Remember, he also returned to Missouri with goods from Santa Fe. Those goods quickly became in high demand there. Money was made and everyone benefited. Such is how our system works.

Becknell’s initial path to Santa Fe became known as the Mountain Route because it followed the Arkansas River to the Colorado Plains to the Purgatoire River and across what is know as the very treacherous Raton Mountain Pass and down into Santa Fe. The next time he returned to Santa Fe, that route became known as the Cimarron Route. The Cimarron Route followed the Arkansas River to Cimarron, Kansas, near what would later become Dodge City. From there, it lead through "southwest Kansas and the western panhandle of Oklahoma before venturing into Round Mound and Point of Rocks, New Mexico and San Miguel. After navigating the Glorieta Mountain Pass, it ended in Santa Fe."

This route is said to have been the most popular track on the Santa Fe Trail. Becknell found it when he was looking for a faster route than that of the Mountain Route and it seemed to workout better than the other. While the Cimarron Route was about 100 miles shorter than the Mountain Route, and is said to have been a lot less dangerous as far as terrain goes, water was scarce and Indian raids were very common.

Because of the Indian raiding parties, the Bent, St. Vrain and Trading Company built what became known as Bent’s Fort, also known as Fort William after William Bent, on the north bank of the Arkansas River in 1833. While some think it was built by the U.S. government, that's not the case. Bent's Fort was actually built by the company owned by brothers William and Charles Bent, and their partner Ceran St. Vrain. William Bent, like his brother, was born in St. Louis, Missouri.

There was actually eleven Bent children in that family. Brothers William and Charles were in their teens when they left St. Louis to try their luck at fur trapping in the West. Joining in on the beaver trade where pelts and furs were in great demand because of the latest fashions taking place in the East, especially the beaver used to make men’s hats, was something that many young Americans only dreamed of doing.

While the Bent brothers lived the adventure, they traveled the Santa Fe Trail and traded with Whites, Mexicans, and Indians, and Mexicans. When beaver hats went out of fashion in the East, they started trading buffalo hides used for factories in the big cities of the East. While their fort started out as a trading hub for fur-traders, mountain men, and Plains Indians, it later evolved into a rest stop for settlers and traders traveling the Santa Fe Trail. And for the record, Bent's Fort was considered the biggest building between Missouri and the Pacific Ocean at the time. Imagine that!

The Bent brothers made friends with the Cheyenne, and in fact worked hard to keep the peace between them and the white settlers. William's first wife was the daughter of a Cheyenne chief. Her name was Owl Woman. They had four children together. One would later turn renegade. After Owl Woman died, William Bent remarried three times. Of them, two were Cheyenne women.

In 1845, the United States voted to annex Texas from Mexico. Of course at the time, the area known as Texas also included parts of what is today New Mexico. Needless to say that the annexation of Texas cause tensions which resulted in the United States declaring war on Mexico in 1846. As for the Santa Fe Trail, U.S. Army General Stephen Watts Kearney along with 1,600 of his troops used the  Santa Fe Trail to go to New Mexico and occupy it.

General Kearney is said to have taken to the Mountain Route specifically hoping that its hazardous terrain would give his troops an edge against Mexican troops. Though the Raton Pass was hard going for Kearney's troops and equipment, they took Santa Fe without resistance. While that may have been the case, instead of conquest, the United States actually purchased Mexico’s southern territories including New Mexico, California and Arizona, from the Mexican government when the Mexican-American War ended. I guess it was cheaper to just buy them. Especially considering the problems the Mexican government was having maintaining people in position while governing those lands.

Bent's Old Fort was rebuilt as a National Historic Site
While some say it was the fear of small pox that made William Bent burn down Fort Bent in 1849. Others say it was burned to the ground as a casualty of the war with Mexico. Either way, a few years later in 1853, William built a new fort thirty miles to the East of the first site. The new trading post was called Bent’s New Fort and it was built on a bluff further downriver at Big Timbers. The New Fort was also a trading post, but it became more when it was used as a place for Indian tribes and government officials to meet.

Because the U.S. Army was sending troops out West to attend to troubles between American settlers and the Plains Indians, the U.S. Army ended up leasing Bent's New Fort. The Army renamed it Fort Fauntleroy, it was later renamed Fort Wise, and then later it was designated Fort Lyon.

At first, it was considered a good turn of events when William Bent went to work for the government as an Indian agent. He was well like by the tribes, the settlers, and the Army. And while it's said that William Bent tried hard to keep the peace between the Indians and the settlers, especially those pouring in the area during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859, he resigned out of frustration with all parties. Fact is, it appeared no wanted peace and war seemed to be the only answer for those there. That included some of the Indians, the settlers, and some in the U.S. Army who looked at Native Americans as a nuisance that needed to be eradicated.

Things came to a head in 1864. Yes, while the Civil War raged on in the East, a slaughter of American Indians was being planned in the West. The man to carry out the massacre was U.S. Army Col. John Chivington. He is known to have said, "Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians. I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice." And believe it or not, this man is described as being a Methodist preacher and a Freemason who was an ardent opponent of black slavery in the South. Imagine that. 

From Fort Lyon, Col. Chivington took over 700 troops of the First Colorado Cavalry, Third Colorado Cavalry, and a company of First New Mexico Volunteers to Chief Black Kettle's campsite at Sand Creek which was about 40 miles from the fort. Black Kettle was told that their people would be regarded as friendly. In fact, Black Kettle was given an American flag which he flew over his lodge. He was told that by our Army officers that our flag would show everyone that he was friendly. He was told that our flag over his camp would prevent an attack by American soldiers.

On the day of the attack, most of the warriors were off hunting buffalo. This meant that only old men and women and children were in the village. Most of the men were said to be either too old or too young to hunt, nevertheless fight against American troops. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers who were not interested in surrendering to our military refused to be there. Instead, those Indians actually responsible for the raids on miners and settlers were not part of those at the camp at Sand Creek.

On the morning of November 29th of 1864, American troops were ordered to give no quarter!

The order of "no quarter" means that they were instructed to show no mercy, have no pity, demonstrate no compassion, and to use their overwhelming power to slaughter those there. This is the equivalent to the orders "take no prisoners." Today, this would certainly be considered a war crime.

It is important to note that two officers in his command refused to carry out what would be a massacre. It's true. Captain Silas Soule commanding Companies D, and Lieutenant Joseph Cramer commanding Companies K, refused to follow Chivington's order and told their men, those of the First Colorado Cavalry, to hold their fire. Though that was the case, other soldiers in Col. Chivington's command are said to have immediately attacked the village.

Disregarding Black Kettle's American flag, or the white flag that was run up shortly after the soldiers commenced firing, Chivington's troops slaughtered the village wholesale. Those who did follow Chivington's orders massacred the camp's inhabitants without compunction. Some of the Indians cut horses from the camp's herd and fled up Big Sand Creek. Others fled upstream and actually dug holes in the sand beneath the banks of the stream to hide in. They were pursued by the troops and fired on, but many survived. One witness said that most of the Indian dead were killed by cannon fire. That is especially true regarding those troops firing from the south bank of the river, as they are said to have cut down the Indians retreating up the creek.

In his testimony before a Congressional committee investigating the massacre, Col. Chivington bragged that as many as 500 to 600 Indian warriors were killed. I read where historian Alan Brinkley wrote that 133 Indians were killed, 105 of whom were women and children. An American eye-witness, John S. Smith, reported that 70 to 80 Indians were killed. That included 20 to 30 warriors. His account agrees with Brinkley's figure as to the number of men killed.

After the initial attack, Chivington's troops killed many of the wounded. It is also said that they scalped a number of those dead and wounded regardless of whether they were women or children. As for claims that Chivington's men plundered the tipis for anything that may have been of value or that the troops also took their horses, I could not find anything to support those claims.

One of the more horrible reports says that Chivington himself joined his men and dressed their weapons, hats and gear with scalps and other body parts. Supposedly, the scalps were also publicly displayed as so-called "war trophies" in places like Denver's Apollo Theater as well as in saloons.
After the horrible massacre on Sand Creek, a massacre where Col. John Chivington had 163 men, women, and children killed, William Bent left Colorado for good.

Then there was the Plum Buttes Massacre. On September 9th, 1867, Frank Huning was on his way home with a small group of seven wagons and a carriage when his party was attacked by renegade Indians.

Frank Huning was said to be a merchant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was supposedly experienced when it came to knowing the dangers along the Santa Fe Trail. As I've said before, merchants like Huning found it extremely profitable to trade along the Santa Fe Trail while actually helping to open the West. Besides the other teamsters in his party, Huning had his mother-in-law and 16-year-old brother-in-law with him on that trip. They were making their way on the Santa Fe Trail returning home from a business trip to Ohio.

While in Junction City, Kansas, the Huning party was warned to hold up for a few days. There were raiding parties on the warpath and they would be safe if they stayed there. At the same time, there were other freight wagons there. They were all planning to travel in a larger group for protection.

Huning did not heed the warnings and set out alone. His party made their way south along the Santa Fe Trail, then southwest. After traveling about 45 miles, they arrived at the Little Arkansas River Crossing. At the crossing, Huning is said to have met with Captain Edward Byrne of the U.S. Army Tenth Cavalry. Bryne's Buffalo Soldiers were known as fierce fighters and seeing them gave Huning a newfound sense of security.

It was there that Huning requested a military escort, but Captain Bryne refused. Believe it or not, Byrne refused because his famed Buffalo Soldiers were "out on a picnic." And by the way, keep in mind that those troops were specifically stationed there for the purpose of escorting civilians if requested. Angered at the refusal over such a thing, an impatient Huning decided to again set out alone.

Frank Huning is said to have grown worried and decided to saddle a mule to ride ahead of his freight train. While scouting ahead of the wagons, he heard a call come from a teamster in the last wagons. The cries of "Indians! Indians!" went out and then screams were heard.

Kiowa, Arapaho and Cheyenne warriors sneaked up on Huning's wagon train from behind. The warriors pulled the last four wagons and the carriage away from the train. The teamsters of first three wagons responded by circling their wagons and wait for an attack. But no attack came. Instead, the warriors focused on the wagons they had in their possession.

Most say the warriors were actually a small rogue renegade band. They are said to have moved the wagons away from the others by a couple of hundred yards. From their position, Huning is said to have just about ran out of ammunition firing his rifle at the Indians. He and the remaining teamsters later reported that because of being low on ammunition and being outnumbered, they had to sit there helplessly and listen to the screams coming from the wagons as the Indians tortured Huning's mother-in-law and the others in the distance.

At one point, Huning and the others heard pistol shots in slow succession being fired from the direction of the captured wagons. At the same time, Huning's mother-in-law's torturous screams went silent.

It was at that point that Frank Huning re-mounted his mule and left for help from the nearest Army fort. That fort was about 20 miles from the Plum Buttes. When he arrived at the fort, he only found civilian scouts, a man named Charles Christy and another man only known as Roma. Because the soldiers were no where to be found, the three armed themselves for bear and returned to the Plum Buttes.

Upon arriving, the warriors were gone. They rejoined the remaining teamsters and then set out to search the wreckage of the wagons. There they found the scalped and mutilated bodies of the teamsters, his mother-in-law and his young brother in-law. The wagons were pillaged and most were burned. The mules were killed.

The men loaded the dead into a wagon and returned to the fort. Huning went on to take his family member on to Albuquerque where they were buried. Huning himself would live to be a successful merchant. And yes, if you are wondering, Frank Huning may be the first person in the West to complain, "Where's the cavalry when you need them?"

It's said that for many years after the Plum Buttes Massacre, travelers passed the burned out wagons and bones of the mules. It's said that Huning's goods such as cookware and dishes, most broken, were found scattered there. There are some who say that William Bent's renegade son Charley Bent led the attack that night. Some say Charley Bent was actually one of the half-breed renegades that made up that group of Dog Soldiers.

These are just a couple of the many stories of what took place on the Santa Fe Trail. While the Santa Fe Trail was a trade route, it saw its share of those headed West during the California Gold Rush and later Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. As for the route that saw tens of thousands come West, the Santa Fe Trail was also used as a stagecoach route and a route for the short-lived Pony Express. But all in all, its days were numbered when the Union Pacific Railroad expanded west.

The first Santa Fe railroad train entered Santa Fe, New Mexico on February 9th, 1880. It came by way of an 18-mile spur track that Santa Fe County voters had funded in an October 1879 bond election. Because of that event, the entire 835-mile Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, from Kansas City to Lamy and then on to Santa Fe, could then be traversed by rail.

So when that first train arrived with considerable fanfare at the Santa Fe, New Mexico, railroad station, it was obvious to all that mule teams and oxen-drawn carts and wagons couldn’t compete with Union Pacific's trains. When it came to hauling freight or getting passengers out West faster and safer, wagons and carts couldn't match what trains were capable of doing. Thus, the railroad ended the need for the Santa Fe Trail. After that day, the Santa Fe Trail either served local needs or simply wasn't used.

Tom Correa

Sunday, April 14, 2019

An Eyewitness To The California Gold Rush 1848

The California Gold Country
Ever wonder what it was like in the first few days after the discovery of gold at the start of the California Gold Rush? I was recently reading an account of what took place in the first few days after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in California on January 24th, 1848. Those events were recounted during the 50th anniversary observance of the event that changed California and the United States. 

Just prior to the 50th anniversary of the California Gold Rush, there was great deal of interest in locating eyewitnesses who may be still alive and able to recount what took place back in the day. The organizers of the observances found that there were actually a number of  Several individuals still around. Of them, many claimed to have been with James Marshall when he first found a few gold nuggets while building a sawmill for John Sutter.

Of course, as with any historical event, the same thing that takes place today actually took place back then, more people claimed to be with James Marshal than really were. You'd be shocked at how many people always seem to show up after the fact but say they were there. This is something that resonates through history and simply something people do. They either say they were there, or say they played a significant role in the event.

It's true. For example, Wyatt Earp claimed that he arrested Texas legend Ben Thompson, claimed that he single-handedly held off a mob of 300 angry townsfolk who wanted to hang gambler Johnny Behind The Deuce, claimed that he was a great fist fighter, claimed that he was the target of the Cowboys at the OK Corral, claimed that he shot Johnny Ringo, and even claimed that he shot and cut Curly Bill in half with a shot gun though in reality the two may have been standing a hundred yards away from each other if we actually belief Earp's tale. Of course, all of Earp's claims have been proven either completely false or questionable at best. Yet, there are those who still accept Earp's yarns at face value because he was Wyatt Earp.

This was the problem that confronted the folks attempting to recount what took place at the start of the California Gold Rush. They found that their may have been almost a hundred people who were standing right beside James Marshall when he bent over to pick up a few nuggets of gold. And as for most of the accounts, many were treated with a great deal of skepticism for good reason.

But, of those located, there was an old man by the name of Adam Wicks. The folks researching what took place found him living in Ventura, California. Among them, it was agreed that he was a credible source. They saw him as reliable because his facts agreed with how gold was first discovered in California at Sutter's Mill. He knew things that proved that he had credibility.

The New York Times published an interview with Adam Wicks on December 27, 1897. Their article was published about a month before the actual 50th anniversary. What Mr. Wicks recalled was fascinating in it's details, I hope you enjoy what he recalled.

Adam Wicks recalled arriving in San Francisco by ship in the summer of 1847, at the age of 21:

"I was charmed with the wild new country, and decided to stay, and I’ve never been out of the state from that time. Along in October 1847, I went with several young fellows up the Sacramento River to Sutter’s Fort, at what is now the City of Sacramento. There were about 25 white people at Sutter’s Fort, which was merely a stockade of timbers as a protection from assaults by Indians.

"Sutter was the richest American in central California at the time, but he had no money. It was all in land, timber, horses, and cattle. He was about 45 years old, and was full of schemes for making money by selling his timber to the United States government, which had just come into possession of California. That is why he was having Marshall build the sawmill up in Columale (later known as Coloma).

"I knew James Marshall, the discoverer of gold, very well. He was an ingenious, flighty sort of man, who claimed to be an expert millwright out from New Jersey."

Mr. Wicks remembered hearing about the gold discovery as meaningless cow camp gossip:

"In the latter part of January 1848, I was at work with a gang of vaqueros for Captain Sutter. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday when I first heard of the gold discovery. It was on January 26, 1848, forty-eight hours after the event. We had driven a drove of cattle to a fertile grazing spot on the American River and were on our way back to Columale for more orders.

"A nephew, a lad of 15 years, of Mrs. Wimmer, the cook at the lumber camp, met us on the road. I gave him a lift on my horse, and as we jogged along the boy told me that Jim Marshall had found some pieces of what Marshall and Mrs. Wimmer thought were gold. The boy told this in the most matter-of-fact way, and I did not think of it again until I had put the horses in the corral and Marshall and I sat down for a smoke."

Mr. Wicks stated that he met and asked John Marshall if he heard anything about someone finding gold in the area. He said that John Marshall was annoyed by the question, but then swore Wicks to silence before actually showing Wicks what he were found:

"The largest nugget was the size of a hickory nut; the others were the size of black beans. All had been hammered, and were very bright from boiling and acid tests. Those were the evidences of gold.

"I have wondered a thousand times since how we took the finding of the gold so coolly. Why, it did not seem to us a big thing. It appeared only an easier way of making a living for a few of us. We had never heard of a stampede of gold-crazy men in those days. Besides, we were green backwoodsmen. None of us had ever seen natural gold before."

Believe it or not, some say the initial discovery had very little effect on the day to day life there. Mr. Wicks described life working for Captain Sutter as follows:

"We went to bed at the usual hour that night, and so little excited were we about the discovery that neither of us lost a moment’s sleep over the stupendous wealth that lay all about us. We proposed to go out and hunt at odd times and on Sundays for gold nuggets.

"Two weeks or so later Mrs. Wimmer went to Sacramento. There she showed at Sutter’s Fort some nuggets she had found along the American River. Even Captain Sutter himself had not known of the finds of gold on his land until then."

Of course, once the word of gold got out, a mass migration took place. Mr. Wicks described the scene as follows:

"The earliest rush to the mines was in April. There were 20 men, from San Francisco, in the party. Marshall was so mad at Mrs. Wimmer that he vowed he would never treat her decently again.

"At first it was thought the gold was only to be found within a radius of a few miles of the sawmill at Columale, but the newcomers spread out, and every day brought news of localities along the American River that were richer in gold than where we had been quietly working for a few weeks.

"The very maddest man of all was Captain Sutter when men began to come from San Francisco, San Jose, Monterey and Vallejo by the score to find gold. All of the captain's workmen quit their jobs, his sawmill could not be run, his cattle went wandering away for lack of vaqueros, and his ranch was occupied by a horde of lawless gold-crazy men of all degrees of civilization.

"All the captain’s plans for a great business career were suddenly ruined."

While John Sutter later died broke, as history tells us, the word of gold being found spread like wild fire. To confirm the findings, President Polk mentioned the California gold discovery in his annual (state of the Union) report to Congress in December of 1848. In those days, the State of the Union was a report given to Congress and not an address given to the American people as it is today. President Woodrow Wilson actually started the modern day tradition of the President giving a State of the Union speech to the people.

After President Polk confirmed the discovery of gold, the great California Gold Rush was on. This single event changed California and made the United States wealthier than imaginable.

Tom Correa