Richard Barnes Mason, a colonel in the United States Dragoons the unit that later became the U.S. 1st Calvary, followed his own commander, General Stephen Watts Kearny, as Governor General of California, and faced some of the most important changes in California’s history, the end of the war with Mexico and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill. In 1882 San Francisco’s Civil War fortifications at Point San Jose were named in his honor and Fort Mason was later used as a temporary hospital after the 1906 earthquake.
On June 12, 1848, accompanied by a young Lieutenant named William Tecumseh Sherman, Mason journeyed from Monterey to the gold country. On the 20th he reached San Francisco and found that most of the men had gone to the mines. After a boat ride to Sausalito and stops at Bodega and Sonoma, Mason arrived at Sutter’s fort on July 2nd. All along this journey he found crops, houses, and animals abandoned in the mad rush for gold. He continued up the American River, first to the lower mines at Mormon Island then to Sutter’s mill, and finally to the North Fork of Weber Creek, or Placerville’s Hangtown Creek today, collecting gold samples and interviewing miners. The report he sent to Washington was a catalyst that ignited the 1849 California gold rush.
The Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Photo from Wikimedia Commons