The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith

The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith

The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith

The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith


"Azariah Smith wrote one of only two contemporary eyewitness accounts of the discovery of gold by John Marshall at Sutter's Mill, California, in January 1848. Smith, at eighteen a member of the Mormon Battalion, recorded the experiences of that far-traveling unit, including its march across Sonora to assist in the conquest of California during the Mexican War and its opening of wagon roads over the Sierra Nevada and Salt Lake Desert, which would be principal routes of the forty-niners. His journey, thoroughly introduced and annotated by David L. Bigler, past president of the Oregon-California Trails Association, is a compelling account of an average citizen experiencing the making of history." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Azariah Smith of the Mormon Battalion was one of two men, and two only, who took part in the American occupation of California in 1846-47, the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in January 1848, and the opening of a new wagon road over the Sierra Nevada to the gold fields six months later, and wrote about what they saw in personal diaries. The other was Henry William Bigler, also a member of the Mormon command.

For more than a century, starting with Hubert Howe Bancroft, historians have recognized the importance of Bigler's accounts of these decisive events in the history of California and the West. The objectivity of the spare Virginian, then in his thirties, places the several versions he prepared from his journals in a class by themselves as source works. Among the latest to base a book on one of these was University of California historian Erwin G. Gudde whose Bigler's Chronicle of the West was published in 1962.

A companion of Bigler throughout this period was the slender teenager, Smith, who stood very straight at five feet ten or eleven inches and weighed not more than 130 pounds, usually less. Both served in the battalion's Company B, both worked for James Marshall when gold was found on the American River's South Fork, and both belonged to the party that opened the Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail, a thoroughfare for the gold rush.

Like his older comrade, Smith for most of his life kept pocket diaries which he later transcribed in ink into two large books with lined pages and covers of cardboard wrapped in percale cloth. He entitled this handwritten record, "A Journal or History of Azariah Smith, his travail &c in the Mormon Battalion, In the Service of the United States, to California; and from there to Salt Lake Valley."

After his death in 1912, the two-volume journal was preserved by his sister, Esther Smith Anderson of Manti, Utah, from whom . . .

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