June Events: Mormon Island

gold nuggetAfter gold was discovered in January 1848 at Coloma, the site of John Sutter’s sawmill-building project, crew-member Henry Bigler wrote to his fellow discharged Mormon Battalion friends who were erecting a grist (flour) mill for Sutter closer to his Sacramento Valley trading post. He asked them to keep the find a secret—as he, himself, had promised John Sutter.  The secret, though, was too delicious to keep. Curious, Bigler’s friends Levi Fifiel, Sidney Willis and Wilford Hudson made their way to Coloma in late February, where they, too, found some gold. On their way back to the gristmill in early March, they discovered what became the richest strike of the California Gold Rush, about fifteen miles downstream from Coloma on a sandbar in the American River. By June 1848, scores of prospectors had flocked to the site. As noted in the Sacramento Daily Union, the special 1852 census tallied a population of 400 souls, including 15 women and 40 children. By 1853 the population numbered more than 2,500. Mormon Island boasted four hotels, eight mercantiles, an express office, a post office, several saloons, and a school before the original town was destroyed by fire in 1856. Today Mormon Island is submerged beneath Folsom Lake.


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