Center History Museum in Valley Center, California, has mounted
an exhibit marking the 170th anniversary of the discovery of gold in
California, but the nugget that started it all is on public display
elswhere in the Golden State.
Valley Center is the final resting place of Elizabeth Jane (Jennie)
Cloud Wimmer, the woman credited with identifying the first piece of
gold found at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. The nugget was publicly displayed
in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
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According to archival records at the Valley Center Historical
Society, Jennie Wimmer carried the original nugget in a buckskin pouch
around her neck for almost 40 years. In 1885, the same year as
Wimmer’s death, she filed an affidavit with San Diego County attesting
to the identification of the nugget in the pouch as the first piece of
The nugget weighed nearly a third of an ounce with a value at the
time of $5.12.
The nugget was found Jan. 24, 1848, by James Marshall, general
foreman and contractor at Sutter’s Mill along the American River near
the present town of Coloma. Jennie’s husband, Peter, was head of the
construction crew for the lumber mill, while Jennie was the cook for
Marshall sent the nugget back to the cookhouse where Wimmer boiled
the nugget in a folk recipe of lye soap before she prononced it in her
opinion to be genuine. The nugget and other flakes of suspected gold
were chemically tested at John Sutter’s fort using information gleaned
from an encyclopedia.
On March 15, 1848, the first notice of the gold discovery was
published in The Californian newspaper in San Francisco.
Not long before her death in 1885, Wimmer is reported to have sold
the nugget to Oakland attorney W.W. Allen, who planned writing a book
about the discovery, but the book never materialized. Allen eventually
sold the nugget to Chicago industrialist Charles F. Gunther, noted for
holding America’s largest, most extensive collection of historical artifiacts.
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Upon Gunther’s death in 1920, his heirs placed the nugget in a vault
near their winter home in Altadena, California. In 1956, the nugget
was acquired by the Bancroft Library at the University of California
The nugget is on display in an exhibit case on the third floor of