Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine

By Charles L. Sullivan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
HO! FOR CALIFORNIA!

JOHN SUTTER'S LADS ON THE AMERICAN RIVER, WHO DISCOVERED gold there on January 24, 1848, were building a sawmill in the Sierra Foothills to provide lumber for their boss to sell to the growing trickle of Americans who had been traveling cross-country and entering the Mexican province since 1841. California had been conquered almost bloodlessly by American forces in 1846. Nine days after the gold discovery, Alta California became part of the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This sparsely populated land was ill equipped to receive the thousands of adventurers who would begin pouring into Northern California after word of the discovery was fully broadcast in the summer of 1848.

The pastoral Mexican province had about 15,000 non-Indian inhabitants when James Marshall and his men made their historic discovery. Four years later the state census counted almost 225,000. Most of those who came to the Golden State in those years were young men looking for gold; a few did make their fortunes in the mines, but an overwhelming majority did not. To some of the newcomers, it was clear from the beginning that surer wealth would come to those who supplied the gold seekers with tools for digging and food to live on. Except for beef cattle, the food supply in early Gold Rush Cali-

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