January 24 1848 is a day that will live forever as one that changed American history.
John Sutter had hired a millwright named James Marshall to construct a sawmill along the south fork of the American River. The water was not flowing in the right vicinity so they cut a fresh millrace. The timber from the mill was supposed to feed the growing need of the settlers who were trickling into the area. This followed the Mexican American war and California was the new property of the victorious Americans.
After cutting the millrace to redirect the water, Marshall noticed a glimmering sparkle of light in the freshly moved dirt.
Looking more closely, he discovered that the sparkle was gold flakes. He rushed off to tell Sutter who had a local assayer confirm that it was indeed gold. Sutter quietly tried to harvest as much as he could in secret. But like all secrets, the word soon got out. Within months the largest gold rush the world had ever seen began. The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) changed the face of the west coast and the large population shift had consequences far beyond the imaginations of even the most ardent expansionists.
Ironically, Sutter lost everything he had from the sudden inrush of gold seekers.
He had a large farm, cattle herds, and a small community which were all wiped out by the hoards of prospectors who came to seek gold. He never recovered from the tragedy. His story is not so unfamiliar though.
Of the 300,000 who rushed to the area, many worked for years and went home with little more than what they arrived with.
But the City of San Francisco went from a small sleepy town of about 200 to more than 36,000 almost over night and the real gold was made selling provisions and clothes to the incoming miners. Agriculture and ranching grew as less and less gold was found. The real riches that came from the ground were from the increase in the food available for not only California, but across the nation after the railroads were forged across the continent. America profited in many ways from the events that started on this day in 1848. The Golden State has been a significant part of our success and power as a nation.
What if we discovered gold today?
Well, we would have a lot of company in a very short time.
First of all, the entire area would be declared a government protected area. The Army Corps of Engineers would have to conduct an environmental impact study lasting at the least ten years. The EPA would request a planning document that cover air, water, and ground pollution prevention plans (add another ten years). Congress of course would have to meet in emergency session to decide how the gold would be spent and every lobbyist in town would be lining up for the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations to stop the digging. The World Council of Churches would insist that any gold collected be divided up among the poorest countries in the world and offer to administer the redistribution for a small fee. Of course the United Nations would create another World Heritage site to preserve the wealth.The list goes on and on…
The President would be hounded by the left and the right and ultimately cave to whichever was his base.
For instance, if his base was the environmental groups, he would place a hundred year moratorium preventing mining of any kind.
(There would be a private party afterwards with all of Hollywood’s elite to celebrate the environmental triumph. I heard that Lady Ga Ga will sing.)
In the meantime, the Chinese would arrange to take the land and using their ownership of the major ports in California, ship the gold and add it to the gold America used to have, then just annex California.