The Identity of Space: California’s Golden Jubilee

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Living with the Identity of Space:

Continuing a strategy of providing the primary sources along with analysis, here is another significant statement of California and particularly San Francisco’s collective identity. While the process by which this collective identity is established is complex, (see my exchange on the USIH Bloghere) the resulting influence of an established identity is that residents of the state and the city must reconcile their own individual and group identities with those deployed by the commercial-civic elite and the socially powerful. Below is a statement printed in California’s Golden Jubilee Souvenir Program which describes the story of California and San Francisco’s rise as the most significant example of American Manifest Destiny.

Collective Statement of San Francisco’s Established Historical Identity

[Source Transcription]


Fifty years ago to-day a man stood shouting in the wilderness, “I have found it! I have found it!” His hand held rigidly aloft a scrap of yellow metal. It was gold! Being a simple man and ignorant of the fact that he was a maker of world history, an accident of Fate, he naturally thought to turn his find to his and his companions’ profit solely, limiting the rich secret to their own small circle. But see how Fate made little of his intentions, and how events, like a heard of stampeded cattle, overrode his plans.

There were other men and also a woman in this camp in the wilderness, and they shared the secret and soon it was traveling. Just how is not known. One account relates that the woman, having no one else to tell it to, narrated the great event to a passing teamster, who happened providentially along. But he was a doubting teamster, and teh woman finally gave him one of the little scraps of gold, –thus triumphantly convincing him. And so the teamster went his dusty way, and at the first tavern sold the metal to quench his thirst, and with it went the story. Others again say that one of the laborers grew tired of work, and, quitting, took with him some of the shining bits he had picked up in the creek bed. Presently he fell in with a man who had been a practical miner in another country, who stared and questioned, and forthwith hastened to the scene with pick and pan, –the forerunner of untold thousands of other men with pics and pans. But what does it matter how the story leaked away? It was the world’s secret, not theirs; and, while at first it crept forth in devious whisperings, it was not long before it was passing orm mouth to mouth, outspoken, and even as it passed the sound of it grew louder, thrilling and vibrating in the hearts of those who heard and passed it on to others, until its mighty voice went thundering to the four corners of the earth,–Eureka!  Eureka! I HAVE FOUND IT!

And now occured one fo those wonderful surgings onward of humanity, of which history holds not a few examples, when the old order of things is overthrown and the new order arises on its ruins. into this empty, sunny camp came a deluge of humanity. Before the summer had gone, fifty years ago, the few small towns of Calfironia had discharged their entire population into the newly discovered gold regions. In the following year, 1849, it is estimated that thirty thousand of the people living east of the Rocky Mountains had started for California by land, while twenty-three thousand more had set out by way of the sea, while from foreign countries, some thirty thousand others had turned their faces toward the Golden Gate. What an army was this advancing host, constantly swelled by other advancing thousands, bearing in their hands the very first year the gift of statehood for California! And what a war was that they waged! War with the forces of nature, with heat and cold, in the loneliness of the desert, where not so much as the shadow of a waiting vulture’s wing interposed between dying eyes and the pitiless sun, or in the silent mountain fastnesses, where men were lulled to death in the gently falling snow; war with hunger, with wild beasts, with savage Indians, and war with the brute passions, which kennel in the human breast and stir and rear themselves mightily in times like these, when man is very near to nature, and the law lies in his own right hand.

There are many good people in this world with whom the word gold is synonymous with evil. No doubt the desire for it, or the use of it, in individual cases, unbridled by morality and intelligence, gives some warrant for this stigma. But gold is a mighty force in the betterment of humanity at large, stimulating to activity and endeavor; and perhaps no more striking example of its power can be found than in the results of Marshall’s discovery. In fifty years a wilderness sparsely populated by a few civilized people and savages became transformed into a fertile, life-giving land, sheltering peaceful, beautiful homes, pretty villages, thriving towns and great cities, with harbors crowded with shipping; while everywhere are schools, and colleges, and institutions for the cultivation and promulgation of art, science and literature. Nor was the influence of this epoch confined to the Pacific States alone, for during that mightily convulsion of our nation, the Civil War, California and its wealth was a most potent factor in the preservation of our national integrity, with all its resultant benefits to its millions of inhabitants. What, then, though individual lives were wrecked in that great movement! Nay, the lives of the very men who made the discovery ruined, swept away in the great onward rush of events, so that they died in poverty and bitterness of spirit! What then! They did not know, they could not see the hidden hand of Destiny. But we of to-day, the descendants and heirs of these old pioneers who stand amidst our noble heritage, surrounded by the wondrous metal for which they toiled, transmuted by the years into golden grain and golden sunshine, into golden fruit and golden poppied hills, we know, we understand, and bare our heads in reverential gratitude.




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