Tuesday, January 25, 2011

James W. Marshall Found Dead

Late in the evening, workers at Sutter's Mill outside Sacramento, California Territory, discovered the drowned body of foreman James Marshall. Rumors instantly flew that it was at the hands of the Mormon workers who had immigrated to California after being discharged from the Mormon Battalion of the Mexican-American War. Though the historiography is sketchy it is believed that Henry Bigler and Azariah Smith killed Marshall shortly after his discovery of gold flakes in the stream and before he turned the information over to owner John Sutter for testing. Further evidence is garnered by hasty messages by both of them sent to the heads of the LDS Church in newly founded Great Salt Lake City. Representatives from President of the Church Brigham Young soon arrived in California with ample funding to buy out Sutter, who moved his mill to lands farther north and continued his empire-building dream of New Helvetia.

That March, newspaper editor Samuel Brannan was also found dead, drowned in the San Francisco harbor. It is believed that he caught word of the discovery of gold, now practically held in monopoly by the Mormons, and was planning to announce it as he had recently opened a store for prospecting supplies. The public announcement of the discovery of gold in California did not come until 1851, when nearly all claims had been made by Mormon immigrants, who had also bought up all of the prospecting equipment in the region.

Wealth exploded out of California, and much of it passed into the coffers of the LDS Church, centered in Deseret Territory (it is believed that sufficient bribery had caused the Federal Government to give Governor Young a great deal of control over its organization in the Compromise of 1850). The Mormon Church came to dominate Deseret Territory as well as Northern California, creating an enormous religious bloc that would act as a state within the US, continually influencing politics in far-off Washington while keeping itself separated from outside control.


In reality, James Marshall brought his discovery of gold flakes to John Sutter, who tried to keep the find quiet. Samuel Brannan published the discovery in his newspaper in March, reportedly walking through the street upholding a vial and calling, "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" Latter-day Saints Henry Bigler and Azariah Smith made the first recorded documentation of the discovery in their diaries.

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