Memories of Marshall

From Memories of Marshall by Bro. J.R. Smith
The Grizzly Bear (1908) Vol. 4, no. 2, p. 4
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While as Native Sons and Daughters we are very proud to respect and revere and ever keep in memory the good deeds of General John A. Sutter, I sometimes feel that we forget one who performed a most prominent part in the history of this great California — and that one was James W. Marshall — when on the 24th day of January, 1848, he picked up a nugget of gold in the millrace at Coloma, El Dorado County, California. This act is one that can never be repeated, for it opened to the world the greatest gold fields ever known … I sometimes think we as Native Sons and Daughters fail to return our gratefulness to him who first discovered gold in California…

Marshall was an eccentric sort of a man and he often drank to excess, and when under the influence of liquor was considerable of a bore, but when sober was a man of few words and one that read a great deal. He was continually chewing tobacco and when he would get a stranger in the corner, he began to so spray him with tobacco juice the fellow would have paid almost any price for an umbrella. He was a great believer in spiritualism and when he got the spirits out of the bottle mixed with the other ones he was a source of amusement for us boys, who all were his friends.

Marshall was never married and usually did his own cooking. I never knew of him preparing a banquet, but some of the dishes he cooked would have puzzled a chemist. He usually had an old butcher knife which he preferred to use at home or abroad and which he carried in a scabbard in his belt. I have known him to boil a salted codfish and take about the same amount of cheese and put into a crock, mix in some onions and cover the whole mess with wine, and after it got to thoroughly working it would make a tannery blush with shame. I have seen him, when drinking, dip his hands into this crock and put a handful of the mixture on some bread, and he seemed to enjoy it as he would a week-cooked meal…

Although Marshall was the first person to pick up gold, he never did but very little, if any mining. At his death he owned some mining property which he claimed the spirits said was very rich, and after his death the parties that purchased it took from it quite an amount of gold. He was a wheelwright by trade and often in his latter years did odd jobs at carpenter work. At his death he was penniless, having a little property, but no money. On one or two occasions the boys gave a benefit dance to keep the old fellow from suffering. The last two or three years of his life he drank very little and I often think that sometimes he suffered for the necessities of life, for he was a man of very proud nature — rather give than receive. He was kind hearted to a fault and believed that right never wronged any one. His word was as good as gold and if any one failed to keep a promise with him that would put an end to his friendship forever.

For a couple of years the State gave him $200 per month; then the next Legislature cut it to $100, and the next discontinued it entirely, the report going abroad that he squandered it all for liquor, which was not true, for he loaned considerable money, some he spent in writing a book of his life, that proved a failure, and some he spent in hiring men to prospect for him. In his later years he applied to the Legislature by petition for a smalt amount, but a representative from his own county fought the measure and it was defeated. When Marshall was told that such was the case, he said: “I have asked for bread and they gave me stone.” After his death the State erected a monument at Coloma costing several thousand dollars, and ever since they have kept a man at a cost of $50 per month to care for it.

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