Did anyone discover gold in California before John Marshall did?

6/20/2013 • Ask Mr. History

James Marshall was the one who discovered the gold that started the California Gold Rush, but what if he hadn’t found it? Was there anyone else who made a gold discovery before they heard about Marshall’s discovery?


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Dear Hannah,

As a matter of fact, someone did discover gold in California before John Marshall did in 1848, with results recounted by our Wild West editor, Greg Lalire:

“Actually, the Spaniards seemed to have found evidence of some gold in what became California in the 1790s and Mexicans had been mining some gold long before James Marshall made his discovery while building a sawmill for John Sutter. In 1842 a Mexican rancher named Francisco Lopez (he had some mining training, too) found chunks of gold in Placerita Canyon. But it didn’t cause a rush. The Gold Rush of 1849 helped transform California. If any American found gold before Marshall, he must have kept it to himself.”



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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