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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


CHAPTER II
ARRIVAL OF GOLD SEEKERS AND ESTABLISHMENT OF COUNTY

On February 2, 1848, the treaty signed at Guadaloupe Hidalgo, in Mexico, added California to the American Republic, a successful conclusion of the war against Mexican rule in California, in which Commodore Robert F. Stockton and Colonel John C. Fremont played the leading parts in the conquest.

Having been under Spanish and Mexican domination for centuries, considerable apprehension was felt throughout the Nation as to whether the new addition would fuse into the common mass and become American in thought and action, or remain adverse.

These fears proved groundless, for, within a few months, Providence provided an ample reason whereby thousands and thousands of American citizens, as well as large numbers of foreigners, quickly flocked into California, thus placing the original inhabitants in the minority. It is estimated that by the end of 1850, one hundred thousand people arrived in California.

The California gold rush was on. The original cause of the great California gold fever, the first fever germ, was a little flattened piece of gold, about the size of a gold dollar, found by Marshall, in 1848, while digging a mill-race and sent to the Smithsonian Institute.

Scarcely had the new territory passed under the American flag, when the discovery of gold, in the course of a few months, drew within its limits a population large enough for a State, thus crowding out the usual preliminary territorial conditions, by which new States are prepared to enter the Union. For such a population, no preparation had been made; not even the skeleton of a legal organization met the new immigrants. California became a State, September 9, 1850.

Mariposa County was established February 18, 1850, under the territorial government, and is one of the original twenty-seven counties of the State. Aqua Fria was named its seat of Justice. The area of the County was approximately one-fifth of the entire State and originally comprised what are now the Counties of Madera, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Kern, and Merced, and a portion of Mono and Inyo Counties; hence Mariposa County has been called “Mother of Counties”.

The first officers of the County were: County Judge, James M. Bondurant; Sheriff, James Burney; County Clerk, Samuel A. Merritt (afterwards Chief Justice of Utah); Recorder, J. C. Bland; Treasurer, Edward Beasley; District Attorney, Orrin A. Munn; Assessor, Thomas K. Munk; Coroner, B. S. Scriven. In the early days, officials were hard to keep, the ever-festive nuggets alluring them from their political aspirations and honors.

The name Mariposa (Spanish for butterfly) was first applied to a creek of that name, by a party of Spanish hunters, in 1806, El Arroyo de las Mariposas; next, to a large grant of land bordering on the creek, and finally to the county itself.

Beginning in the early part of 1849, goldseekers flocked to what is now Mariposa County, California. They came from nearly every State in the Union. They were mostly young men, eighteen to thirty years of age. The majority represented the best element of the communities from which they came. There were, also, many tough characters, whose actions caused many an excitement and made the times more colorful, but their importance has been greatly exaggerated by later-day writers. There soon were representatives of nearly every country of the civilized world, including Englishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Chinese, Chilians, Peruvians, etc. All wanted gold and came here to get it, yet very few knew anything about mining for gold. All were adventurers playing a part in a drama such as the world had never seen before.

Prosperous mining camps sprang up along the creeks and rivers. Gold in the beds of the streams, placer gold, was the easy gold to get, and this was the only kind of mining of which most of the prospectors had any knowledge. The settlement of Aqua Fria (meaning cold water) was officially designated as the first County Seat and it was located on the creek of that name. Evidently the miners had difficulty in making their “q’s”, so that the common spelling of Aqua Fria soon became Agua Fria.

Agua Fria Creek, where the County seat was located for the first two years; Burn’s Creek, with its settlements of Quartzburgh and Hornitos; Maxwell’s Creek, where Banderita, afterwards called Coulterville, was started; Merced River, with its settlements of Horse-shoe Bend and Ridley’s Ferry (now Bagby), all were soon alive with miners. By far, the largest settlement was on Mariposa Creek, about one mile from the present town of Mariposa.

Gold raised the curtain on Mariposa and sitting on the stage was the God of Hope, holding a nugget of gold. To this shrine, there came John C. Fremont, James D. Savage, L. H. Bunnell, John S. Diltz, Galen Clark, D. Ghirardelli, and thousands of others, all seeking favors, in answer to the call of gold. Later due to the discovery of Yosemite Valley, there came J. M. Hutchings and John Muir.



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