Gold Country Quotes

All of the quotes in this room are listed below. Where available, we've provided you with additional information about the source of the quote and possible links to download or access the original source material. The quotes are listed in the order in which you might encounter them in the room.

Polk's handwritten Dec. 5, 1848 State of the Union Address

“It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district… The effects produced by the discovery of these rich mineral deposits and the success which has attended the labors of those who have resorted to them have produced a surprising change in the state of affairs in California. Labor commands a most exorbitant price, and all other pursuits but that of searching for the precious metals are abandoned. Nearly the whole of the male population of the country have gone to the gold districts. Ships arriving on the coast are deserted by their crews and their voyages suspended for want of sailors. This abundance of gold and the all-engrossing pursuit of it have already caused in California an unprecedented rise in the price of all the necessaries of life.”

James K. Polk was the 11th President of the United States, pledging from the outset to only serve one term, which lasted from 1845 to 1849. He had received report of the discovery of Gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 and chose to announce this discovery in his final State of the Union address on December 5, 1848.

His handwritten notes for the address can be viewed at the Library of Congress. You can also find a more readable transcription at the University of Virginia's archive of Presidential Speeches.

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Excerpt from Chapter 7 of Scharmann's memoir

“Now the question arises, how much can a man earn by this dirty and exhausting work? When I arrived at the river, everything had been dug up and the best part of the gold was already gone. We scraped until our knuckles were sore, and each person could only make from three to five dollars a day.” – Hermann B. Scharmann

Herman Scharmann left Germany as head of a company of gold-seekers bound for California in 1849. "Scharmann's overland journey to California" (published in 1918) describes his family's journey from New York to their wagon train in Independence, Missouri, and the trip across the Plains via Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie. When his wife and daughter die shortly after reaching California, Scharmann and two sons push ahead to the gold fields at Feather River and Middle Fork, and the American River and Negro Bar. He offers a brutal picture of the exploitation of emigrant parties and of the drudgery of prospecting and of towns like Marysville, Sacramento, and San Francisco, 1849-1851.

This work can be downloaded from the collections of the Library of Congress.

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Excerpt from Sutter's diary

“I got a General passport for my small Colony and permission to select a Territory where ever I would find it convenient, and to come in one Years time again in Monterey to get my Citizenship and the title of the Land, which I have done so, and not only this, I received a high civil Office (Representante del Govierno en las fronteras del Norte, y Encargado de la Justicia).” – Diary of John Augustus Sutter, April 1838

John Augustus (Johann August) Sutter (1803-1880) left Switzerland for America in 1834. By 1839, he had worked his way west to California, where he became a Mexican citizen and obtained an enormous land grant at the juncture of the Sacramento and American Rivers. Discovery of gold on Sutter's land in 1848 ruined him, and he spent his last years in bitter poverty. The diary of Johann August Sutter (1932) reprints a narrative written in 1856 by Sutter in the hope that it would bolster his legal claim to lands in California. The "diary" picks up the story of his life in 1838, when he journeyed west from Missouri to California. He describes his colony on the American River, unrest of 1845, American military occupation of 1847, and the discovery of gold and impact of emigrants and miners on the Sacramento Valley.

His diary can be downloaded from the Library of Congress.

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“I ate carefully the first evening, but stuffed myself the following days…. For fourteen days we lived in luxury at the Fort…. Drinks, fish, bread, butter, milk, beef, pork, potatoes, wonderful salmon… It is true; this valley is a paradise. Grass, flowers, trees, beautiful clear rivers, thousands of deer, elk, wild horses, wonderful salmon… All soil products thrive…. Plenty of grapes and figs. I shall probably settle on Captain Sutter’s property.” – Charles Preuss 1844

This quote appears on page 119 in Exploring with Frémont: The Private Diaries of Charles Preuss, Cartographer for John C. Frémont on His First, Second, and Fourth Expeditions to the Far West, published in 1958. No electronic access was located for this resource.

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“So we had reached California – the first truly distinctive American emigrant train to do so.” – Nicholas “Cheyenne” Dawson, Reminiscence of 1841

Nicholas Dawson was one of the members of the Bidwell/Bartleson party which emigrated to California in 1841.

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Excerpt from John Bidwell's Reminiscence of 1841

“At Dr. Marsh’s ranch… we learned that we were really in California and our journey [was] at an end. After six months we had now arrived at the first settlement in California.”

John Bidwell's addresses and reminiscences can be downloaded from the Library of Congress. You can read an introduction to Bidwell in the quotes section of the Great Plains room.

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Article from the December 23, 1847 Illinois Journal

“We have landed in California, at last, after great tribulation…. I can make a living for my little family easier here than in the States; and while I am doing this, I am certain that they are enjoying good health.” – James F. Reed, December 23, 1847

This quote came from a series of letters from the Reed family published in all four of the December, 1847 issues of the Illinois Journal.

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Excerpt from Virginia Reed's Reminiscence of 1846

“Words cannot tell how beautiful the spring appeared to us coming out of the mountains from that long winter at Donner Lake in our little dark cabins under the snow. Before us now lay, in all its beauty, the broad valley of Sacramento.”

Virginia Reed was the daughter of Margret Keyes Backenstoe, a widow whom James Reed later married. James was one of the organizers and leaders of the ill-fated Donner-Reed party. He never formally adopted Virginia, but Virginia chose to adopt his last name anyway. Virginia was thirteen years old when the Donner-Reed party made their journey across the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada mountains during 1846-1847. Virginia's reminiscences were later published in Century Magazine. This article can be viewed in the University of Pennsylvania digital library.

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“On the first day of August, 1849, we were elected Councilmen of this City, and our Powers or Duties were not defined. On the 13th day of September, following, we presented to you a Charter for your consideration, which you have seen fit to reject by a majority of 146 votes. Since then we have been unable to determine what the good people of this city desire us to do: and being Republicans in principle, and having every confidence in the ability of this people to govern themselves, we again request the residents of Sacramento City to meet at the ST. LOUIS EXCHANGE on NEXT WEDNESDAY EVENING, at half past 7 o’clock, then and there to declare what they wish the City Council to do. If you wish us to act under the Mexican Laws now in force, however inapplicable they may be to our condition, then we must do the best we can; if you have objections to particular features of the Charter, then strike out the objectionable features and insert such as you desire. The Health and Safety of our City demand immediate action on your part, for in our primitive condition and in the absence of Legislative authority we can, in fact, be of no service to you without your confidence and consent.” – Proclamation to the People of Sacramento City, by order of the President and City Council, October 1, 1849

This proclamation can be viewed and downloaded from the California State Library.

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Excerpt from Volume 9 of The Historical Society of Southern California

“I announce to you that the telegraph to California has this day been completed. May it be a bond of perpetuity between the states of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.” – Horace W. Carpentier to President Abraham Lincoln, October 24, 1861

This quote is attributed to the War Diary of Abraham Lincoln's private telegrapher David Homer Bates in Volume 9 of The Historical Society of Southern California (1912-1914).

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Excerpt from the Epilogue of Stephen Ambrose's book

“Together, the transcontinental railroad and the telegraph made modern America possible.” – Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like it in the World (2000)

No electronic access was located for this reference. It can be found in the Epilogue of Stephen Ambrose's book Nothing Like it in the World. You view a preview of the book on Google books.

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The Californian, San Francisco newspaper, May 29, 1848

“The whole country … resounds with the sordid cry of ‘gold! Gold!! GOLD!!’ while the field is left half planted, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.”

The Californian was a weekly newspaper in San Francisco. The article that this quote is from is describing for the readers why the newspaper is ceasing publication for the time being. In essence, they are saying that so many of their subscribers have left San Francisco to go to the new gold fields on the Sacramento River that the paper can not currently justify the expense of continued publication. They did, however, resume publication about six weeks later.

The article above can be viewed at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

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Excerpt from Daniel B. Woods' diary

“In sunshine and rain, in warm and cold, in sickness and health, successful or not successful, early and late, it is work, work, WORK! Work or perish!” – Daniel B. Woods, 1850

Daniel B. Woods of Philadelphia sailed to California in February 1849, crossing Mexico to San Blas, and arriving in San Francisco in June. Sixteen months at the gold diggings recounts those travels as well as his experiences as a prospector in the Northern Mines on the American River and at Hart's Bar and other camps in the Southern Mines before starting home in November, 1850. His book offers an exceptionally realistic picture of the drudgery of mining and the business side of miners' companies. This item is available for download from the Library of Congress.

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Excerpt from J.S. Holliday's book The World Rushed In

“From present accounts from California there is much suffering, little success, and great chagrin…. I am convinced that digging is not the way to make money there. It is to trade.” – George Swain, 1850

The correspondence between William Swain (in California) and his wife (Sabrina) and brother (George), in New York, is the subject and source material for J.S. Holliday's book The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience. You can see a preview of the book here. The above quote is found on page 384.

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Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Edward Buffum's Diary

“The interior of [Sutter’s Fort] … was converted into stores, where every description of goods was to be purchased at gold-mine prices. Flour was selling at $60 per barrel, pork at $150 per barrel, sugar at 25 cents per pound, and clothing at the most enormous and unreasonable rates.” – E. Gould Buffum, 1848

Edward Gould Buffum (1820-1867), a New York journalist, came to California as an officer in the 7th Regiment of N.Y. Volunteers during the Mexican War. He stayed on to seek gold and edit a California newspaper before returning east to become Paris correspondent of the New York Herald. Six months in the gold mines (1850) is Buffum's vivid account of his regiment's voyage west in 1846 to help secure California for the United States. He describes his discharge from the army in Monterey and his subsequent adventures as a gold seeker, sailing up the Sacramento to reach the Sierra Nevadas above Sutter's Fort. He describes prospecting along the Bear and Yuba Rivers, Weber Creek, and Middle and South Forks of the American River, Foster's Bar, and Weaver's Creek, 1848-1849. He concludes with the story of his work for Alta California in San Francisco and the growth of San Francisco.

His diary can be downloaded from the Library of Congress.

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“On, on, stay not for those who linger; on, on, look not for those behind…. America with one heave throws her life toward Sacramento.” – Charles B. Darwin, 1849

No electronic access was located for this reference.