Mormon Island – Early Sketch
Mormon Island was a mining camp on the South Fork of the American River, some fifteen miles west of Coloma and three miles east of Folsom. It was in actuality a very large gravel bar (it is also known as Mormon Bar) and was first discovered and mined by a group of men from the Mormon Battalion, shortly after James W. Marshall discovered gold in Coloma.
To give a little background on the discoverers of gold at this location, the Mormon Battalion was organized in 1846 when the then President of the United States, James K. Polk, requested of Jessie C. Little, a messenger sent by Brigham Young to Washington D.C., that he and his followers form a battalion to help fight Mexico in the conquest of California.
On July 16, 1846 five hundred and thirty-six enlisted and the Mormon Battalion was formed. Under the command of Captain James Allen and later Colonel P. St. George Cook, the Battalion worked their way west and on January 30, 1847, the group, ragged, fatigued and hungry, arrived in San Diego.
In 1847 the battalion was mustered out at the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Some reenlisted, but the rest turned east and headed over the summit of the Sierra Nevada towards Salt Lake, the place selected by Brigham Young as the future home for the Mormons.
On their way they met Sam Brannan, a Mormon who lived in San Francisco and was travelling back from Salt Lake. He informed the group that there was little food or supplies in Salt Lake and that Brigham Young wanted those without families there to return to California until the next spring.
About half of them turned back, the rest continuing eastward. Of those who arrived back at Sutter’s Fort, some of the men went to work on Sutter’s grist mill at Natomo (Natoma?) and some proceeded to Coloma to work on the sawmill. It was these men who would first mine at and name Mormon Island.
It was simple logic, many at Sutter’s sawmill thought, that if there was gold at Coloma, there would also be gold further down the river. This was proven when three former members of the Mormon Battalion – W. Sidney Willis, Wilford Hudson and Levi Fifield – set out from Sutter’s grist mill at Natomo to “visit with the boys at the sawmill and hunt deer.”
Henry W. Bigler, who was at the sawmill when Marshall found the gold, had secretly sent a letter to them and they were very interested in checking things out – quietly.
After finding several flakes of gold near the sawmill, Willis and Hudson headed back towards Natomo along the river while Fifield and Bigler took the road. When they met at the grist mill, Willis and Hudson told the others about the gold they had taken from a gravel bar about half way between Sutter’s Fort and Coloma.
Willis, Hudson and Fifield immediately headed up river and found that the gravel bar was extremely rich with gold. They named the place Mormon Island and staked out claims on it.
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