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California basks in the sparkle of gold

Gold nugget
The nugget that started the rush  

State kicks off 150th anniversary celebration of gold rush

January 24, 1998
Web posted at: 9:23 p.m. EST (0223 GMT)

From Correspondent Rusty Dornin

COLOMA, California (CNN) -- James Marshall didn't know what he was about to unleash 150 years ago when he picked up something off the ground in Coloma, California.

Not sure of what he found, he described it in a letter as "a kind of mettle...looks like goald."

Indeed, what he found on January 24, 1848, was gold, and it triggered the great California gold rush, with fortune hunters rushing in from all over the world.

"This mystique of a gold discovery created an image for the United States as a place not to make a living, but to make a fortune," said Mathew Sugarman of Gold Discovery State Park.

James Marshall
James Marshall  

This weekend, California is kicking off a 33-month long sesquicentennial celebration of the gold rush, one of the defining moments in the state's history. The celebration's official logo will be unveiled Sunday during the Super Bowl in San Diego.

But while gold fever defined the California dream, it also had its dark side. By the beginning of the 20th century, Native Americans in California were nearly wiped out.

"They were hunted, literally, for sport because they were in the way," Sugarman said. "It wasn't just the Native Americans. We had the Chinese, too. (They) had their queues cut off."

Gold fever still exists to an extent these days. Folks still pan and pick for gold in the hills where the first nuggets were found.

Organizers of the commemoration hope they, too, will find the financial wherewithal for the long celebration of the golden beginnings of the Golden State.


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