The Quest for Gold

When Christopher Columbus returned home with news of his discovery, ships of many nations set sail for the New World with various agendas. Spain, quite unabashedly, went in quest of gold.  They found it in Mexico—where the natives who came out to greet Hernan Cortez were wearing it. It is ironic, then, that neither Imperial Spain nor its successor, the Republic of Mexico, ever ventured far enough into the interior to discover California’s gold. The first known Spanish explorer to enter the Sacramento Valley was Ensign Gabriel Moraga, during 1806-1808. He was looking for runaway Indians from the San Jose Mission, and for potential new mission sites. Moraga and his small band of soldiers sailed the Sacramento River as far north as present-day Butte City and, it is believed, explored on horseback as far east as today’s Folsom, before retracing their route down the central valley to San Jose.  Moraga was not impressed with what he saw.  Tule swamps adjacent to the main rivers made traveling difficult, and he found no suitable sites for new missions. Neither he nor later Spanish explorers, who navigated the rivers between 1811 and 1817, reported any indications of the gleaming metal discovered by a transplanted Yankee in 1848.

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