Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coloma Road

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

Skipping Placerville and the landmarks within for the time being, we head up highway 49 to where this gold rush began in 1848. The unincorporated township of Coloma today is a visual showpiece of museums and old buildings dedicated to reliving the atmosphere of Marshall’s gold discovery. The imagery that stuck from walking around here in 1993 eventually became inspiration for the lyric of the song below. But first, here’s part of James Marshall’s account:

"I went down as usual, and after shutting off the water from the race I stepped into it, near the lower end, and there, upon the rock, about six inches beneath the surface of the water, I discovered the gold. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (who was working at the carpenter's bench making the mill wheel) and the pieces in my hand and said, 'I have found it.'
'What is it?' inquired Scott.
'Gold,' I answered.
'Oh! No,' returned Scott, 'that can't be!'
I replied positively, 'I know it to be nothing else.'"
-          James Marshall

Coloma 1850's - OAC Photo

This song written a week ago was a long time in the making, for the melody is derived from a long time wish to use the essence of some of the hymns written by ‘uncle’ Major Evander Penn (the Texas evangelist) in the 1870’s from his publications of ‘Harvest Bells I and II’. In comparing this style to other music of the era such as minstrel or Stephan Foster popular songs, the music is more stark, simple, and exact, to be easily read and performed by congregations. The lyric is meant to show an example of the actual existence that awaited most of the 49’ers, many of whom arrived penniless and resorted to digging tiny claims with sticks and spoons, sleeping on cold wet blankets and dying from disease. Though the ‘air’ this style allows is a pleasure to play, it admittedly isn’t very perky. As with the rest of these ‘gold country’ songs being newly written, a decent recording of them should be worked up this summer of 2011.  

                  © Radio Flier Music

A miner’s eyes grow weary
The lamps in the camp grow dim
A winter’s night cold and dreary
The state of the fate he’s in

Dreams of life in Indiana
Left a wife for the knifing of the cold
Chased the race to California
And Coloma’s oceans of gold

Ch) See the ghosts of broken miners
Still searching for the mother lode
Neath the swaying oak the forty-niners
Pace the shade of
Coloma Road

He came to Coloma’s gold fields
Only to leave his bones
The silt and soil now conceal
Another lonely miner died alone

Present marker location
Syd Whittle photo

Plaque inscription: NO.
-COLOMA - Here in the valley of the Cul-luh-mah Indians, James W. Marshall discovered gold on January 24, 1848, in the tailrace of Sutter's sawmill. The old
Coloma Road
, opened in 1847 from Sutter's Fort to Coloma, was used by Marshall to carry the news of the discovery to Captain John A. Sutter. During the gold rush, it was used by thousands of miners going to and from the diggings. In 1849 it became the route of California's first stage line, established by James E. Birch.
Location: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, in Gold Discovery parking area, State Hwy 49, Coloma
Google maps: 38.800169,-120.891806

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