The Most Unlucky Guy
James Wilson Marshall bent down to scoop up a handful of
something gleaming in the flow of water rushing by.
He was simply inspecting the sawmill that he had
helped build when he saw the gleam of gold in the millrace
gold nugget that James Marshall held in his hand that day
gave birth to the California Gold Rush.
Marshall, born in 1810, worked for John Sutter as a
carpenter in Coloma,
California, and while his discovery of gold was not the
first, it did change the course of American history.
of the mill where
Marshall’s nugget was found began
in 1847 near the south fork of the American River,
which runs from the crest of the
mountain range and across the
Local Indians and
Mormon veterans of the Mexican War who lived in the area
were hired to help build the sawmill.
Marshall and Sutter shared ownership to the claim, but it
brought no fortune to either of them.
The mill workers
knew about the find and had been told to keep it quiet,
but word soon got out.
It was then that the California Gold Rush began in
the discovery changed the course of American history,
history was not one bit kind to James Marshall.
In fact, dark
clouds settled on him very soon after his discovery and
there they remained throughout his life.
You would think
that such a find would bring fame and fortune along with
it, wouldn’t you? Marshall
had every right to expect that as well, but instead
misfortune became his best friend.
Not only did he never earn a penny from the gold he
discovered, but as soon as the discovery was made known,
hundreds arrived to stake their claims, totally ignoring
and trampling on Marshall’s claim.
This was gold fever at its worst.
Marshall tried to stay
afloat and profit from his discovery, but things got so
bad that he eventually had to sell off his timber and his
rights to the mill he had helped build for money to live
It was about this time that he came up with the idea of
calling himself a mystic.
He said he had superhuman powers to locate the
richest gold deposits in the region.
No one really knows
where his logic for this came from, but gold hungry miners
got angry when he wouldn’t reveal the locations of the
gold, and they turned on him.
He was now a marked
man and had to flee Coloma.
This episode in his life is the beginning of the
bizarre and eccentric behavior that eventually reduced him
to making a living from odd jobs and the sale of his
autograph for fifty cents as a way to earn money.
When those endeavors died away he was dealt the
final blow to his dignity.
James Marshal, at 62 years of age, ended up living
off of a state pension of $200 a month; it was more than
enough to leave him angry and bitter.
It was certainly true that Lady Luck completely abandoned
James Wilson Marshall almost from the start.
It was the same with two different women he had
hoped to marry; they both rejected him as well.
Unlucky in love and in life, he died a lonely
bachelor with barely enough assets to cover the cost of
What an unfair and ironic fate for the man that just
happened to one day spot something gleaming at the bottom
of a millrace… the discovery of a lifetime that led him to
a lifetime of rejection and humiliation.
discovery of a small gold nugget, no bigger than a pea,
led to the transformation of the now great state of
and will forever be remembered.
Years after his fateful find, he said this: "I reached my
hand down and picked [the nugget] up; it made my heart
thump, for I was certain it was gold."
But, according to history, it was Jennie Wimmer,
sole female in the camp and wife of Peter Wimmer, who
actually suggested it must be gold.
But because she was a woman, her opinion was
was shown the same disrespect that James Marshall had been
all, said the men in the camp, “what would a woman know
about such matters?”
The final chapter in his life is one of a miserable and
misunderstood man who developed bizarre behaviors and
descended into alcoholism and self destruction.
To add insult to injury, the gold nugget he found
does not even bear his name.
To this day it is called the “Wimmer” nugget, after
Peter L.Wimmer, Marshall’s assistant in
supervising the workers who helped build the sawmill where Marshall discovered the gold.
The “Wimmer” nugget
is now on display at the Bancroft Library at the
The roads were rough, they couldn’t have been rougher…
because they weren’t roads yet, but only dusty trails.
Before roads were roads, stagecoaches traveled this
country, delivering people and goods from one coast to
matter what the travel conditions, no matter what the
danger and the inconvenience, stagecoach drivers of the
Wild West carried on, forging ahead and westward, blazing
trails into the new land.
Anyone who looked to make a career of stagecoach
driver, had to be of great courage and sinewy character.
Indians and bandits were all along the trails the
Called whips, Charlie’s, jehus, and reinsmen, they
drove with fury through coarse, bumpy and irregular
goal and their mission was to deliver goods and people,
never letting steep inclines, narrow roads, or muddy
passes stop them.
Charley Parkhurst was born in 1812 in
He grew up mostly in an orphanage, from which he
ran away from at 12 years of age.
Charley hit the road to work odd jobs and find a
way to make it in a man’s world.
Though small in size, Charley was sturdy and strong
first job that presented itself was the perfect job for a
young lad of the 1800’s; a stable hand.
The stable owner, one Ebenezer Balch, took Charley
under his wing and taught him the ropes; the boy soon
became comfortable around horses and proficient in their
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