The Gold Rush Revisited – Jewelry Style
California’s historic Gold Rush (1848–1855) first sparked on January 24, 1848, when James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget in a section of the American River that runs through Coloma, California. The “Rush” actually ignited four months later when Sam Brannan, a storekeeper in Sutter’s Creek, paraded a bottle of gold dust around San Francisco, shouting ‘Gold! Gold! Gold from American River!’ By the summer of 1848, the New York Herald printed news of the discovery and the rush turned into a full blown stampede. Thousands of people from around the world began their long and often difficult journey to the wild Foothills of California.
Arriving gold-seekers were commonly referred to as “forty-niners” due to the influx of new miners in the year 1849. Homage has been paid to this nickname over the years – most notably the professional football team, the 49ers, and the area’s roadway, Highway 49. So popular was the dream of making a fortune mining gold in California, that by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory had grown to approximately 100,000; a dramatic rise compared to the previous year of less than 1000 people.
During the Gold Rush era, the region became known as “Gold Country” or “Mother Lode Country”. The term “Mother Lode” was first coined by miners who followed the gold-bearing sands upstream to locate the source in the bedrock – the “source” being the “mother” of the gold in the river. Later the term “Mother Lode” became a metaphorical reference for something of great abundance, particularly money.
The early prospectors retrieved gold from streams and riverbeds using rudimentary techniques; the most popular method was panning. Gold panning required nothing more than a metal pan and a patient amount of determination. As more sophisticated means of gold mining were developed, the industry began to shift from individual miners to heavily financed gold companies, with advanced equipment, operated by several employees.
The Gold Rush had only been underway for two years when the surface gold in California largely disappeared. By 1852 mining had reached its peak. Approximately $81 million had been extracted from the area that year and over $2 billion from the time the first miners arrived. In 1853 hydraulic mining was developed, resulting in enormous profits. Unfortunately this invasive method of mining destroyed much of the region’s pristine landscape.
Auburn was close to the spot on the American River where James Marshall made his golden discovery. The tiny mining camp quickly grew into a prominent Northern California town, incorporating in 1861. Now referred to as “Old Town Auburn,” the heart of the historic town is still lined with quaint buildings and houses from the 1800s.
One of these buildings is home to Sierra Moon Goldsmiths. Originally Auburn’s butcher shop, 107 Sacramento Street has been producing stunning custom jewelry for almost 40 years. Sierra Moon has been hailed as Gold Country’s premier jewelry store, specializing in one-of-a-kind gold nugget and gold bearing quartz pieces, using material from local mines and modern-day miners. “We are privileged to honor our rich history by creating beautiful and unique jewelry, using our skills and the very material that put our town on the map,” says co-owner Linda Pierce.
As one of the few remaining jewelry stores practicing lost wax casting, Sierra Moon designers transform blocks of wax into spectacular works of art. “The curves of a nugget or the vein of the quartz often guide my vision for each creation,” Pierce continues, “Plus it’s fun to think about the journey of the gold: from when it’s first discovered at the river and brought to our store – where it is transformed into something lovely and put out in the case – until the moment it catches someone’s eye and finds a new home – where hopefully it will be cherished for many generations to come.”
The next time you are in historic Old Town Auburn, be sure to stop by Sierra Moon Goldsmiths and discover for yourself the beauty of natural gold combined with the talents of master jewelers. There are few other towns in California where the past meets the present and you can own a little piece of history.