Commemorating Regional Empire, Part I: San Francisco’s Golden Jubilee, 1898

September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Regional Identity and Historic Legacies:

Newspaper reproduction of handbill for California’s Golden Jubilee

As 1897 was fading into memory, the Society of California Pioneers of San Francisco saw a unique opportunity for next year’s celebration of Marshall’s gold discovery on the American River.[1] It had been 50yrs since the Golden State began its evolution into an American place.[2] Every year in January, the Society celebrated the time, place, and people of the California Gold Rush. Composed of individuals present (or descended from) in the earliest days of American occupation of Spanish, an then Mexican California, the Society sought to preserve and disseminate the history which fueled the energy and growth of San Francisco of the 1890s. The Pioneer Myth that emerged as the narrative of the state’s development, needed little reinforcement in the city which came to dominate regional mining, commerce, and culture by the 1880s.[3] Why did San Francisco hold such a commanding presence in the memory of the inhabitants of California and the city of San Francisco? Why were organizations like the Society of California Pioneers still celebrating this event fifty years later? In short, Marshall’s discovery was but the first in a long series of events which led first to American occupation of California, then statehood, and finally the region’s economic and social development. San Francisco was the city that exemplified this transformation. And there would be no place more appropriate, the Society of California Pioneers thought, to commemorate such a seminal event in California’s history.

« Read the rest of this entry »



July 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Well its certainly been a busy couple of months. As of May, 2012, I have fully completed my Master’s requirements at San Jose State University, and have been conferred my degree as of June. Now on to the job market!

However, I still have been quite busy with other projects of which I will mention a few. Of course, I have continued to work on Gilded Empire the article, but it has taken somewhat of a back seat to other projects that I have been working on.

First, for several months now I have been working with Dr. Margo McBane of San Jose State University on two of her projects – “Before Silicon Valley: A Migrant Path to Mexican American Civil Rights,” A project funded by the National Endowement for the Humanities and “Los Olvidados/The Forgotten Ones: The History of Mexicans in Santa Clara Valley, 1920-1960,” a project of “From Cherries to Chips.” This has involved the transcription, contextualization and summarization of oral histories conducted over the past couple years with Chicanos and Mexican-Americans who have lived and witnessed the transition of what is now called Silicon Valley from its agricultural roots. As the two titles imply, these projects seek to understand the communities which would come to form a community resevoir for another significant historical moment, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.

Also, I recently was invited to do a guest posting on the Society of United States Intellectual History blog (S-USIH). Naturally I chose to write some thoughts on the Golden Jubilee as well as the idea of collective identity.

In regards to this blog, much more is to come in the recent months, including more sources, histories, and essays. My first goal will be to finish out the expanded historiography and continue the discussion on key terms and theories.

San Francisco’s Commercial-Civic Elite: A Reminder of Civic Duties and Responsibilities

March 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

During the period which has become known as the Progressive Era in American History, San Francisco’s commercial-civic elite  operated within this progressive impulse in an attempt to promote a more harmonious, efficient, and progressive social development. Especially in San Francisco and California, the social, economic, and class chaos of the 1870s and 1880s had a profound impact on the city’s leadership, civic and commercial. Business leaders, politicians, and influential individuals began to operate in a new social paradigm which attempted at base to preserve the benefits of the Second Industrial Revolution and Corporate Capitalism, but also to regain a semblance of social cooperation, harmony, and stability. While the benefits of the new economy were clearly apparent with the rise of general material prosperity among the population, the depths of poverty, strife, and conflict grew even deeper through all classes. During the 1870s and 1880s, workers clashed with workers, capitalists debated capitalists, and reformers from both sides worked against themselves and the other. Emerging from this dramatic period and pace of change was a sense that something had been lost in this economic paradigm shift. If liberty, community, and family were the foundations of a harmonious and self-sufficient society, how in the trend away from these practical ideals, can society continue to fulfill the ideas of the Revolution of 1776? Industrialization, corporate capitalism, and a clear class based society produced, not community, but discontinuity in American society.

In San Francisco during the 1890s, this progressive impulse led many of the city’s commercial-civic elite to initiate programs that would foster social harmony and cooperation among a diverse and clearly divided urban society.  One way that commercial and civic leaders attempted to foster these ideals of cooperation and harmony was to promote widespread participation in events which celebrated the city and its people. Civic celebrations like California Admission Day, the Fourth of July, and the anniversary of James W. Marshall’s discovery of gold, presented opportunities for the commercial-civic elite to shape society in their own Progressive image. By fostering civic cooperation among classes, businesses, and peoples, the elites saw it as a program of in socialization – or more rightly Americanization. If the traditional ties that bind peoples together were weakening – community, family, and religion – a new civil program must replace it to maintain a cohesive American urban society, they thought. In planning civic celebrations and events in this period, San Francisco’s commercial-civc elite attempted to order their society en mass.

To get a sense of the ideology and percepts of this progressive impulse, I have posted numerous sources of San Francisco’s elite reporting their programs of cultural ordering and Americanization. (Under keyword “collective identity“)  Another, from Edward Coleman, a very influential individual among San Francisco’s elite, illustrates the duties and responsibilities of citizens in celebrating their city and its progress. Calling for widespread participation in California’s Golden Jubilee (1898), Mr. Coleman appealed not to individuals or groups, but to the populace as a whole and explained the duty they had in celebrating and funding Marshall’s discovery of gold fifty years prior. It was the duty of these citizens to celebrate what the city’s elites saw as a shared historical precedent.

The San Francisco Call, December 1, 1897:

[Source Transcription]

Edward Coleman:

During the recent meeting of the California State Miners’ convention in this city the suggestion was made that California should fittingly commemorate, on January 24, 1898, the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold in the state.

« Read the rest of this entry »

A Way to Remember: Joaquin Miller and the California Gold Rush

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Faith of the Pioneer Myth: 

As California approached its 50th birthday of statehood, its most renowned “poet of the Sierras” penned what would be the motto of remembering the California Gold Rush. Published in the official pamphlet of California’s Golden Jubilee, most visitors and many of the state’s residents would be exposed to this prose. In remembering the Gold Rush, California’s residents referred to the lines in bold (below) for reflection, assistance in commemoration, and in some ways social retribution when invoked in the name of reforming California’s savage past. But more than anything else, Joaquin Miller’s words became a significant temporal linkage. Those who wanted to invoke the Pioneer Myth of California simply had to recite the few words, “The days of old, the days of gold, the days of ’49.”

{Source Transcription}


We have worked our claims,

We have spent our gold,

Our barks are astrand on the bars;

We are battered and old,

Yet at night we behold

Outcroppings of gold in the stars.


Tho’ battered and old,

Our Hearts are bold.

Yet oft do we repine

For the days of old,

For the days of gold.

For the days of forty-nine. (my emphasis)

« Read the rest of this entry »

Popular Foundations of Identity: The Narrative of Gold’s Discovery in California

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Popular Myth of James W. Marshall’s Discovery of Gold:

          When James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848, Alta California and the western continent that would become the United States had only just begun its integration into the larger global economy. By 1898, the fiftieth anniversary of that seminal event came to bear on many Californians. Those who identified with the United States’ westward expansion saw themselves on the vanguard edge of the last frontier. The now famous “frontier thesis,” extolled by Frederick Jackson Turner had only just been declared, and California was but the latest and most promising frontier. The “frontier” according to Turner had closed when open land was gone. And to Californian’s in 1898, little seemed to be left of the frontier wilderness legacy of Alta California and the California Gold Rush. San Francisco had become the Pacific Metropolis in the eyes of many. The legacy of Marshall’s discovery in 1898, suggested that the social development of American California was founded on a single event, a single man. The Californian identity around the turn-of-the century was one of a pioneer legacy.

          Printed below is the story of gold’s discovery as presented in California’s Golden Jubilee souvenir pamphlet. The narrative had already been molded and changed since it was first told in 1848-49, as you will read. Official historian of the Society of California Pioneers, John Hittell, when presented with contradictory evidence of the date of discovery, spent a decade tracking down the sources that would speak the truth. By 1893, Hittell presented his findings. But what this change in the narrative suggests is more than a changing date of discovery, but the uncertainty of popular myth and the identities in which they are built upon. Little changed in regard to those who identified with this pioneer myth. However, the fate of John W. Marshall in his later years demonstrates that narrative truth had little influence on the popular myth of California’s birth as an American republic.

[Source Transcription]

The Story of the Discovery of Gold

          It was in the fall of 1847 that Marshall began building that famous sawmill which incidentally led to his discovery of gold. Marshall was in the employ of CAPTAIN JOHN A. SUTTER, a prominent man connected with the pioneer era. He was born of Swiss parents in Baden, February 28, 1803, and was there reared and educated. He served in the army of France until he was thirty years of age, and then emigrated to the United States. His main object in coming was to found a Swiss colony, but while examining the region about St. Charles, Missouri, he lost all his effects by the sinking of the steamer in the Mississippi River, and so abandoned the project. He then set out with a party of trappers, under Captain Tripp of the American Fur Company, to cross the Rocky Mountains. Arriving at For Vancouver, he took ship fro Honolulu, and from there came to San Francisco. He then revived his colonizing scheme, choosing the Sacramento River country for the scene of its foundation.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Debating Collective Identity: Does a Social Collective Identity Exist?

February 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

What is Collective Identity?:

A couple of months ago I weighed into a blog debate about historical methodology on the U.S. Intellectual History blog. Needless to say, I was deboned and quartered by another reader on my logic and methodology. Of course I was excited that my post had sparked a transition in the conversation, however it also provided a moment for me to clarify my ideas in writing. Therefore, I have posted below my side of the debate with the included inquiry questions. The point of this post is not to defend my abilities, but to demonstrate some great insight I had while thinking about these issues being brought up with my methodology.

As soon as California became an American state, influential individuals and groups began to establish historical narratives and perspectives on the past that legitimized and defined America’s conquest of Alta California. But how do the ideas of the few transform and transmute into a collective identity of place?

Join the discussion by posting below or responding on Twitter ~ @Calhistorian. I also encourage anyone interested to visit the U.S. Intellectual History blog for a locus of discussion and community. Any suggestions, challenges, or reading that I should know, feel free to post.


Q: Do individuals whom have deeper memories think or act differently than those with shallow memories?

A: As David Lowenthal suggests in, The Past is a Foreign Country, “all present awareness is grounded on past perceptions and acts.” And if so, could not an individual’s particular understanding of temporality, influence the construction of their identities and actions, let alone frame the landscape of their memories which seem to define in large part the characteristics of one’s cultural identity? Additionally, and as suggested by Ray Haberski’s post referenced above (Marking Time Through War), an individual’s broader understanding of temporality results not from a linear extrapolation of the past but from a non-linear, wrinkling web of retrospection.

Memories are certainly “of ‘the past'” as you say, however the character of the past recalled, the depth into history one’s memories travel, and the meaning placed on that depth, seem to represent formative structures of individual identity. “The past,” Lowenthal reminds us, “is both historical and memorial; its scenes and experiences antedate our own lives, but what we have read and heard and reiterated makes them part of our memories too.” Therefore, we should attempt to not only understand what memories a historical actor values, but how that actor’s memory is transfused with diverse and often contradictory conceptions of the past that are not of their own making.

In the words of R. G. Collingwood, the past is called into “being by recollecting and by thinking historically, but we do this by disentangling it out of the present in which it actually exists.” When James D. Phelan, mayor of San Francisco in 1896, announced the “New San Francisco” in a speech given to the Mechanics’ Institute, he presented a version of the past that had a direct causal connection with his present through his advocation of the City Beautiful Movement. In the speech (click for full source) he acknowledged and traced republican and democratic (political systems, not party) precursors as antecedent to San Francisco’s own version of American exceptionalism. Phelan wrote that:

[O]n the map of the world the great bay and harbor, opening into 76,000,000 miles of ocean, was stamped by the hand of Fate and destined for empire, and passing generations, now floating on the tide of fortune, dimly conscious of the greatness of their metropolis, little appreciate the strength of their position and the value of their heritage. We are, perhaps, too close to the object to take an extensive view. We have groveled too long in the slough of self-depreciation, and should arouse ourselves to the dignity of our citizenship, and more particularly to the duties of the hour.

Significantly, Phelan’s understanding of this progressive social perfection of American republicanism was just as much a consequence of his deep memory as much as his position in power and stance on urban reform. Phelan even seemed to understand and act on the difference between those with shallow and deep memories and in some ways indicating his derision for those who failed to understand his long-view of history and the nation’s progressive evolution of republican societies.

« Read the rest of this entry »

James D. Phelan: The Golden City will Rise Again

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Duty of Collective Identity:

[Source Transcription]

Mayor Phelan’s Call for a Celebration.

California’s Golden Jubilee is the celebration of an event which meant everything for California, a great deal for the Union, and much for the world.

On January 24, 1898, –fifty years ago–gold was discovered by Marshall. At once–Minerva-like–a State sprang into existence. California and all its subsequent history and development, anticipating ordinary processes by two hundred years, took their inspiration from that day. The world was enriched, and the fame of the new State sounded from pole to pole.

Californians would fail in their duty to themselves, to their State and to their country if they did not fittingly celebrate an event upon which so much depended. A celebration will honor a worthy and patriotic sentiment, recall the fact to the minds of men that this is still “the Golden State,” and at the same time attract the argonauts of 1898, now about to seek the golden fleece in the far North. Bearing in mind that our State’s gold is not only in the hills and streams, but in the sunshine, flowers, fruits, grains and wine,–perennially and inexhaustibly golden,–let us make the Golden Jubilee Celebration commensurate with the golden possessions of California, and the golden promise of the years to come.

James D. Phelan, Mayor

Source Citation: