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July/Aug 1999 Vol. XXVIII No. 10
 
CALENDAR
Thursday, Aug 12 @ 7:00 pm
LHG Meeting, Camegie Building
 
Thursday, Sept 9 @ 7:00 pm
LHG Meeting, Camegie Building

HERITAGE GUILD HAPPENINGS
 
Look for anannouncement in the next newsletter regarding the celebration of Robert Livermore's 200th Birthday in October.
 
This year, for the year 2000 LHG Calendar, we will be listing one member's name on each day as recognition of their support of the Guild through their membership. We will be using the name that is shown on your mailing label. We will only be listing the names of members, not their address. If you wish not to be listed, please send us a note at the following address asking not to be listed on the calendar. LHG, P.O. Box 961, Livermore, CA 94551. The calendar will go to the printer in the third week of September and be available for sale in early November.
Excerpted from Livermore Herald, June 12,1915
 

Did Marshall Discover Gold?
(From Grizzly Bear for June)

 
Residing at Livermore, Alarneda county is Mrs. Mary A. Smith, who with her husband, Henry Smith, came to California in 1846 at the same time as the Reed-Donner party. They were members of the Harlan party, which came by the regular trail, the Reed-Donner party taking a new "cut-off 'route which proved so disastrous.
 
Mrs. Smith was related to Peter Wimmer, whose name has been prominently comected with the historic gold find in EI Dorado county that caused thousands and thousands to flock to California.
 
Recently a committee from Las Positas Parlor of Native Sons had occasion to interview Mrs. Smith and obtained from her the following story in reference to the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848. Although 88 years old, Mrs. Smith retains all her mental faculties and having had personal acquaintance with many of the early-day people and events is a most interesting person.
 
"Peter Wimmer was an uncle of mine by marriage, his wife

 

 Page 2

being a sister of my father. He had five children by an earlier marriage, and his wife had two; after their marriage three or four more children were born to them.

"When they came to California he left his family at Sutter's Fort, while he went with Fremont as far as San Jose. When he returned he was employed by Marshall and Sutter to build a mill at Coloma, El Dorado county; it was here that gold was discovered on the 24th day of January, 1848.

"We heard of the discovery soon after and my cousin, Tom Smith, went to see if it was true. While he was gone Ira Van Gordon, who had come to Mission San Jose, told us that gold had really been found and said that he was going up to the mines the next day. Before 12 o'clock that evening we had decided to go to the mines also. Next day we started and went through Berkeley and the Martinez Hills, but there were so many people ahead of us that we had to wait our turn to be ferried across at Benicia.

"There was only one boat, and everyone who had heard about the gold discovery was making a rush to be on the ground first. Finally our turn came. A terrible wind was blowing and the tide was still running up, so that instead of drifting across we drifted up Suisun bay. There were ten horses on the boat belonging to a Mike Foley. They became excited and kept running from one side of the boat to the other, causing one side to sink. The horses had to be beaten so that they went into the water in order to right the boat. It was said that only one horse ever reached the shore.

"At about 3 o'clock in the morning we drifted back to the same shore from which we had made our start. We had been in the water most of the night but no one was drowned. The next day we had to ferry-across again but reached the shore in safety this time. We were on Mormon Island on the 4th of July 1848, in the vicinity of what is now Folsom Island.

The Gold Find

"From Mormon Island we went to Coloma. When we reached there my uncle, Peter Wimmer, told me how they had found the gold. They were going to have a millrace and turned the water on at night. In the morning they turned the water off and when it was dry enough to walk in they found the gold. Marshall and Peter Wimmer were walking along together when the gold was found. They took it to Jane Wimmer, who was making soap, and she put it in the kettle with the soap. When it was taken out it was very shiny, and Jane, who knew gold, told them what it was.

"They then took it to Sutter's Fort where it was tested. Peter Wimmer was only working for Marshall, and as Marshall took the gold to the fort he claimed the discovery. But the nugget was in the possession of the Wimmers and was worn by Mrs. Wimmer on a chain until it was finally given by Peter to an Oakland lawyer for his services in writing up the history of the nugget. But Peter died broken-hearted because he was never given the credit of having really been the discoverer of the gold.

"The fact that Wimmer had the gold in his possession so many years and Marshall not having it at all gives the best foundation for my belief in my uncle, Peter Wimmer's, story of the discovery. One reason that Marshall got all the praise for the discovery was that Wimmer was only his working man, and also the fact that it was he, Marshall, who took the gold to the fort to be tested, telling those there that it was his find.

"Wimmer died at his sister's home, somewhere in the mountains near San Luis Obispo. His wife, Jane died long before, her death being caused by a tumor. A son, John Wimmer, who it was also claimed by many, discovered the gold while playing in the millrace joined the Southern army when the war broke out and never returned to the State. His wife was his stepmother's sister.

 Page 3

"We left the mines in the latter part of October, going to San Francisco. From there we went to Mission San Jose. In 1867 we came to Livermore Valley, where my husband and brother had a store.

Early Spanish Customs

"My husband, Henry C. Smith, was the first Alcalde or Justice of the Peace in Alameda county. He could talk Spanish very fluently, and the Spaniards came to him with all their difficulties. He went to the Legislature as a representative from Santa Clara county, and it was he who drafted the bill that divided the county to form Alameda county. John Bigler was then the Govemor and the Legislature met at Benicia. Alvarado was then the county seat.

"Horace Carpentier offered my husband half of his interest in Oakland property that belonged to the Peralta Grant if he would allow the county seat to be moved to Oakland, but he refused because of his own great interests in Alvarado. However, it was afterward moved to San Leandro, then to Oakland, and although my husband spent an immense fortune trying to get it back to Alvarado it stayed at Oakland. There was a saying at that time that 'Henry Smith said that the county seat should be at Alvarado, but God Almighty said that it should not.'

"My husband died at Livermore in 1875. He was still the Justice of the Peace when he became sick, and was the first Justice of the Peace in Alameda county. When we first came to Livermore there were very few houses here­­really only one large house and that was situated at Laddsville, by which name the town was originally called.

"In those days the Indians were slaves to the Spanish, who never worked. It was no uncommon thing to see the Spanish people being waited upon by a great number of Indian children, because when the Indians rebelled the Spaniards captured their children and made them work for them. The Indians were locked up at all times when they were not actually under the supervision of the Spaniards.

"When we kept a store at Mission San Jose, the Spaniards who came to trade with us rode their horses right into the store, although there were four or five doorsteps. There would sometimes be five or six horses in the store at one time. The Spaniards very seldom got off their horses unless it was really necessary.

"When one made the trip in those days from Oakland to San Jose one would see millions of cattle, and also quite a lot of wheat which was raised by the Indians.

"When a Spanish child died the mother would carry the coffin upon her head, and the sister or nearest relative carried the cover upon her head to the place of burial. A great number of children marched, and they always had a great deal of music. All the children carried bright-colored handkerchiefs. They always had many candies in the death room, and also looking glasses on the tables near the wall."

If you would like to read more of Mary Ann Smith's story pick up a copy of "Recollections of A Pioneer Mother. The Life Story Of Mary Ann (Harlan) Sniith" by Gary Drummond. Copies are available at the Carnegie Library.

 

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