Some ask why it turned out that Coloma, which gets its name from a nearby Southern Maidu village with the name of Culloma, was the site of the California gold discovery. After all, there were many, many places in the Mother Lode where such a occurrence could have easily taken place. Gold was in streams and rivers everywhere along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. But there were several reasons, including luck, that Coloma would have the destiny to become the site of this discovery that would immediately change the the world.
Coloma lies on the South Fork of the American River, a place with sufficient water power for a sawmill, a place with great stands of timber and a place only a day or two ride upriver from John Sutter’s fort, which lay to the west at a place he called New Helvetia (now Sacramento), in honor of his Swiss heritage. It was for these reasons that John Sutter and James Marshall selected this site for Sutter’s sawmill and in doing so, established the first real permanent camp in the foothills of the Sierra. That is what set the stage for the discovery of gold in the Mother Lode to take place at this location.
For the first few years after James Wilson Marshall’s famed discovery of gold, Coloma was where everyone headed. They might end up somewhere else but Coloma, “Sutter’s Mill” or just “The Mill,” was their original destination.
People arrived from all over the world. Most came up the river from San Francisco to Sutter’s Fort and then headed to Coloma through what is now Folsom, Rescue and Lotus. Later, as the word of the “Gold Rush” reached the east coast, they came by boat to San Francisco or over the Sierra Nevada by wagon.