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Lot 115

The Curse of the Wimmer Nugget

115. PARSONS, George Frederic. Life and Adventures of James W. Marshall, the Discoverer of Gold in California. By George Frederic Parsons. Sacramento: [Sacramento: E. G. Jefferis, Printer, for] Published by James W. Marshall and W. Burke, 1870. 188 pp., wood-engraved frontispiece portrait of Marshall by Butler. 12mo, original blindstamped purple cloth with gilt lettering on upper cover. Binding faded, slighted mottled, and a few voids deftly touched up, text with staining at lower blank margin, pink ink ownership stamp of Leon and Effie Florence Moss of Los Angeles on p. 113.

     First edition. Blumann & Thomas 806. Byrd 3. Camp 487. Cowan I, p. 173. Cowan II, p. 475. Garrett, The Mexican-American War, p. 240. Graff 3204. Holliday 856. Howell 50, California 688. Howes P105. “One of the most important works on California history.” Kurutz & Mathes, The Forgotten War, p. 158 (outlines Marshall’s participation the Mexican-American War and the Bear Flag Revolt). Norris 3013. Rocq 1821. Sabin 58882. Streeter Sale 2927: “This book is essential to a study of the Bear Flag Revolution and the gold discovery.” Vail, Gold Fever, p. 22. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 153.

     Marshall’s life as told here is the story of unintended consequences on the order of Greek tragedy. Reduced by circumstances to working for Sutter in mill construction, Marshall discovered the first nugget of the Gold Rush while deepening the mill raceway; unfortunately, none of those who knew of his discovery could keep silent and thereby set off a national mania and ensured the ruin of Sutter and of Marshall. Marshall considered himself under a curse and lived the remainder of his life a tortured man. The nugget he discovered, now in the Bancroft Library, is, in a final twist of fate, called the Wimmer Nugget after the man whose wife tested it by boiling it in lye. In what is probably a very early plea for historic preservation, Parsons laments that Sutter’s Mill has been destroyed and Marshall can barely recognize now exactly where he found the nugget; he urges that monuments be erected before all memory of the exact locales is lost (pp. 88-89). The portrait of Marshall with a rueful expression on his face sitting on a rock in a stream holding a gold nugget was engraved by Warren C. Butler (see Groce & Wallace, p. 101).

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 483a:

Parsons' biography has been called one of the most important works of California history. Gold Rush historian Rodman Paul wrote: "The volume was not an autobiography, but it came close to being such." For this reason, it is included in this bibliography. William Burke, a business associate of Marshall, persuaded George F. Parsons, the editor of the Sacramento Record, to write this book. It was based on materials supplied by Burke and from Parsons' interviews of Marshall. Much of the book details not only Marshall's famous discovery but also the "curse" that dogged much of his life. The purpose of the book was to win support for a petition to the legislature to grant Marshall a pension. It may have also been a means to gain interest in the discoverer's lecture tours.


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