James W. Marshall Chapter #49 of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus was established to preserve the history and heritage of our territory. From the South Fork of the American River in El Dorado County to the Mokelumne River in Amador County. We truly are "The Heart of the Motherlode". With this wealth of Gold Rush history at our feet, we continue the practice of benevolence towards our community just as our chapter founders have done since 1938, giving special attention to the Widders and Orphans.
The preservation and recognition of historical locations is what drives not only our Order but also motivates us to be the active chapter that we are today: erecting plaques to commemorate the places, people and events that shaped the west and contributed to make the Sierra foothils, the motherload and California the great places they are today.
As I pass through life,
May I always be humble;
May I never take myself seriously;
May I always appreciate a little of the ridiculous;
May I always be a two-fisted Clamper
when the bottle passes my way and if I imbibe,
and can't hold it like a man,
then may I always be able to pass it to the next brother;
May I never forget the stout-hearted
men who settled a great western wilderness and the heritage we have today.
May I never fail to appreciate a bit of western lore.
James Wilson Marshall
Born in Lambertsville New Jersey on October 8 of 1810, James Wilson Marshall left home for good at of twenty-four years old. His first stop was Missouri, where he settled along the banks of the Missouri River and took to farming. Several years later he caught one of the malarial fevers that plagued the residents of the low-lying lands. His recovery was slow but when he felt well enough to travel, he decided it was time to head west to seek a healthier climate.
Joining an emigrant train on its way to the Oregon Territory in 1844 Marshall was not content with his destination and upon arriving decided to set out once again, this time for California. He arrived at Sutter’s Fort in 1845, at the age of thirty-four, and was immediately hired as a handyman by Captain Sutter. Anxious to get back to farming, Marshall bought a ranch on Butte Creek as he continued to work for Sutter.
James Marshall fought in the Mexican War, serving as a member of Captain John Frémont’s California Volunteers for one year. When he returned to Sutter’s Fort in 1847, he was dismayed to find that all his livestock had either strayed off or been stolen. He had no choice but to go back to work for Sutter. Sutter’s expanding agricultural empire needed lumber, but there were no stands of timber in the vicinity. As a result, Fremont sent Marshall off on a tree quest, which turned out to be quite successful. Located about forty-five miles away from the fort, the Cullomah Valley was the perfect spot. It was accessible, the South Fork of the American River would provide power for a sawmill, and it was heavily forested with good stands of a variety of trees. John Bidwell, one of Sutter’s clerks, drew up a contract for the two men on or about August 27 of 1847. Marshall would build and supervise the operation of the mill, while Sutter would find provisions, teams, tools, and pay for the workmen’s wages.
Marshall and his men set out for the millsite that September. Their first task was to build a double cabin to house the millworkers and the Wimmers; Peter, Jennie (the camp’s cook), and their children. Another cabin was then built for Marshall. Some forty local Indians were hired to excavate the millrace and to build the diversion dam. The more skilled men set to felling trees and whipsawing them into timbers for the mill. When the day finally arrived to test the mill, Marshall and his men held their breath as the wooden headgate opened and the “clear mountain torrent leaped gurgling and foaming along its new cut channel.” A heavy, collective sigh escaped from the men. The wheel turned, but it moved too slowly. It would never power the saw. Marshall quickly determined the problem: the lower end of the tailrace needed deepening to prevent the water from backing up. Additional boring and blasting solved the problem allowing the water to flow through quickly turning the wheel with greater speed.
Meanwhile, Marshall Discovered The Gold. But what most would consider a fortuitous event proved to be the beginning of bad fortunes for him. The once serene Coloma Valley changed forever as miners overran the millsite, staking, claiming, and taking every piece of land in sight. Marshall tried for a short time to hold onto his land, but was soon pushed off by the ever increasing hordes. Many of the miners believed he possessed some kind of supernatural powers and virtually forced him to find gold for them, threatening him with hanging if he didn’t deliver. He finally left the area in disgust, to wander and prospect about the state, but was never able to locate another rich strike.
In order to pay off old debts, James Marshall was forced to sell his ranch on Butte Creek. He eventually returned to Coloma in 1857 with intentions of settling down. After purchasing some land, he started a vineyard and went on to produce prize-winning wines and brandies in the early 1860’s. However, towards the end of the decade a lessening demand for fruit, high taxes and increased competition combined to end his career as a vintner. Once again, Marshall turned to prospecting. He later became a partner in a mine near Kelsey as its development proved expensive, he hit the lecture tour to raise funds. The mine turned out to be a humbug and left Marshall virtually impoverished.
In 1872 the State Legislature passed a bill which awarded Marshall a pension, good for two years, in honor of his important role in California history. The pension was renewed twice but was allowed to lapse in 1878, to which Marshall himself may be partly to blame. Legend has it that when he visited the 1878 assembly in person, a brandy bottle dropped out of his pocket and rolled along the floor, creating a less than favorable impression.
James Wilson Marshall died in Kelsey in 1885, penniless. Taken back to Coloma, he was buried on an acre of his vineyard land, on a hill overlooking the town and the South Fork of the American River. In 1890 the state erected a monument over his grave, atop of which stands a bronze statue of Marshall, pointing to the spot where he made the discovery that electrified the world.