From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1938 —
GRAINS OF GOLD AND GOLDEN GRAIN
By Elizabeth Cannon Porter
“Well, Mother, we have a house of sorts, a town lot and a ploughed field, but nothing to plant – thanks to your generosity. What little grain is left will hardly keep life in our bodies until the early harvest, and we will have no crop because we have no seed.”
“Perhaps our bread was cast upon the waters,” replied the wife grimly. She did not begrudge the meager portions of grain she had given away – some to a family with sick children, some to a widowed mother, a little to an old man. She had the satisfaction of knowing that she had done what she could to aid those in need.
“If we could only hear from George,” she said after a moment. “After he reached California with the Battalion, why didn’t he come home instead of staying there to build a saw mill for Mr. Sutter? I worry about him all the time and we’ve heard nothing of him for months.”
“It is hard to get messages through in the winter. Now that spring is here I believe we will hear from him. George is a good boy; he gave us his clothes’ allowance and sent us his pay. But he would be a real help with the fencing,” he sighed.
“You must not be discouraged, Joe, you’ve done wonders,” encouraged his wife, “in not much over a year, and with so little to do with. We have a right good home,” she added.
The little home that she referred to in the Salt Lake Valley that early spring of 1849 was a log cabin located on the east bench. Attached to this was a shanty constructed of poles and a miscellaneous collection of lumber. The canvas-covered wagon box in which they had crossed the plains was still utilized as a bedroom. the place was home-like, the arrangements neat. Buffalo hides made thick rugs and some had been nailed to the walls to keep out the cold wind.
The sturdy couple rejoiced that they had weathered the second winter in the valley so successfully. Spring, with its vagrant breeze, and sparkling sun, filled them with renewed courage. Here in this valley surrounded with its circle of mountains the terrors of the exodus were a thing of the past, the toil of the long journey over. They talked of peach pits and apple seeds. Already the frugal housewife had planted native currants and hollyhock seeds upon the rocky hillside. the wild flowers which would soon be in bloom were lovely – Indian paint brush, wild sweet pea, evening primrose, and sego lilies, the roots of which were good to eat.
The late afternoon grayed into dusk. Mrs. Mack prepared the evening meal; tonight it consisted of rabbit stew, the result of her husband’s lucky shot. She had flavored it with herbs and it gave out a tempting aroma.
“Wonder what that noise is,” exclaimed her husband as an unfamiliar sound was heard in the distance. Going to the door he glanced out.
“Looks like wagons pulled by a string of mules. What does it mean!” The more excitedly, “Seems to be headed here. It couldn’t be – yes – it’s George!”
He ran toward the wagon, followed by his wife. The driver stopped his outfit and leaped down.
Mrs. Mack was in his arms. she could hardly believe that this rough, bearded man was her slim boy who had marched away so bravely while the band played.
After the effusive greeting, the parents asked many questions.
“Did you hear about the discovery of gold in California?” enthusiastically questioned George.
“Yes, we did hear something of it,” admitted his father.
“Well, I was in on it. A bunch of us fellows were helping Mr. Marshall build a mill for Mr. Sutter. It was located at Coloma, in the mountains, about eighteen hours’ journey from the fort. Mr. Sutter has a great land grant, and imported machinery for a flour mill across the ocean and the continent. He needed lumber to construct the mill and so decided to put in a sawmill. We had the frame-work built and Mr. Bennet of Oregon was to install the machinery, and Madam Wimmer was to cook for the outfit. A brush dam was built in the river and a mill race constructed along the dry channel, to economize labor. the largest stones were thrown out of this and during the night the water was turned in to carry off the dirt and sand. One day while Mr. Marshall was sauntering along the tail race inspecting the work he noticed yellow particles mingled with the excavated earth. Sending an Indian to his cabin for a tin plate, he washed out some of the soil and obtained a small quantity of yellow metal. He believed he had found gold but the men reckoned not. They didn’t think there could be any such luck.
“Suddenly Mr. Marshall decided to rush down and see Mr. Sutter and get his opinion. On his arrival he retired to a private room with the owner and displayed the grains that had been found in the mill stream. the wise old Swiss tested them with nitro-muriatic acid, read an article on gold in the encyclopedia Britannica, decided that it was real gold, and then stayed awake all night, worrying about all the ‘terrible consequences and fatal results’ that it would have for him.”
“That’s the way Brigham Young looks at it.”
“He didn’t know the half of it. He tried to keep it quiet for six weeks until his saw mill was finished. He had already spent $24,000 on it. But it was no use. The news spread like wildfire. The workers began to desert. Sutter was left at his fort with a few faithful mechanics and eight invalids.
“We Mormons were the last to leave; we worked on for a while, but after everyone else was gone, it was of little use. Everyone who could walk started for the gold field. Shops and farmhouses were closed. Sutter’s domain was overrun. The mills were plundered, the tanneries deserted, sheets of leather went to green mold in the tanks and the untanned hides rotted away on the walls. Even the Indians and Kanakas washed for gold, which they exchanged for liquor. Shepherds left their flocks on the hills; field workers threw down their spades; there was no one to cut a head of cabbage in the truck gardens. Unmilked cows lowed in their stalls. Even the soldiers deserted. Adventurers came, distilleries sprang up. The whole fertile plain was given over to pillage. San Francisco on the water front became a city overnight. The bay was black with vessels; the hills white with tents.”
“Did you find gold, my son?”
“Sure, we panned it with wicker baskets, washed it out. Some days I did pretty good – others not so well.”
“What did you do with your gold? Do you still have it?”
George felt in his shirt bosom and pulled out a leather pouch. He spilled its contents on the table. While his father and mother examined the nuggets curiously, he continued:
“The bulk of what I found I exchanged for real gold – grain. I bought it from the mission fathers, the finest seed they had. It is out there on the wagons, great sacks of it, to plant here in the valley of the mountains – Zion.”
“Thank God, my son. We are without seed for our plowed ground.” Tears filled his eyes as he looked at his wife.
“Eliza, your bread may not have come ‘on the waters,’ but it has returned after many days.”
“Maybe there are ways of planting wheat besides in the ground,” she countered dryly.
Happily, hand in hand, the united family went out to look at the golden grain.