The official report that sparked the gold rush

Richard Barnes Mason

Richard Barnes Mason, a colonel in the United States Dragoons the unit that later became the U.S. 1st Cavalry, 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.

Temporary hospital, Fort Mason, 1906

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.

Fort Mason Center

The Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Photo from Wikimedia Commons


  1. Douglas Whitlock says

    Its well known that Gen Kearny was lead to California by Kit Carson…but William T Sherman also had a connection with Carson. After the death of Kit and his wife Josefa in 1868 Sherman took in Kit’s eldest son William Carson. William appears on the 1870 census twice. Once attending Notre Dame in Indiana sponsored by Sherman and again at Fort Levenworth in Kansas. Apparently William didnt take to the schooling “back east” because by the 1880 census he was back in Colorado married to Pasqualita Tobin daughter of Kit’s trapping buddy Tom Tobin.

    • Thanks for the great information, Douglas. I would think that to William Carson Colorado was home while Indiana would seem pretty foreign, and home always has a magical draw over us.

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