Carleton Watkins                      Steamship Crescent City


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surely was not pleased by the prospect of losing his chief helper and to find himself faced with the task of training-up two teenage daughters, while the five other children were still too young to be of much help with the hotel operations.  It took courage for Carleton to defy family tradition. 

          More understandable was Collis Huntington's decision to escape from Oneonta, where his life lacked the diversity and excitement to which he became accustomed during his wanderlust teenage years as a traveling salesman. [4]  In Oneonta, Collis was an equal partner with his older brother, Solon, in a promising general merchandise business.  Collis was active in civic affairs, and he was married to a well educated woman from a substantial New England family.  Like Solon, Collis had reasons to sink his roots in Otsego County, but chose not to do so.  The lure of California for Collis was surely motivated by ambition, but there could have been more complicated personal reasons.           

          News of the discovery of gold in California by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento on January 24, 1848, was slow in reaching the east coast.  United States Mail service between the coasts had recently been authorized by Congress and it took six to nine months for printed matter to reach New York around South America via the Strait of Magellan.  The first report of gold in California in a New York newspaper was published in the New York Herald on Saturday, August 19, 1848,[5] copies of which could have arrived in Oneonta no earlier than the week of August 20.  

          By early December of 1848, when President Polk made reference to the California bonanza in his State of the Union message, planning by Collis and company would have been well underway.  During the last weeks of December the Herald published four special issues devoted to "gold mania" along with a generalized map of the Mother Lode regions [Fig. 2a] that along with other printed matter would have spurred the imagination of the Otsego County aspirants. 

          At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves in the story, no one could have predicted that after his arrival in California and eventual mastery of the art of photography, Carleton would get to know Marshall and make the only surviving photograph of him standing ceremoniously at Sutter's Mill three or four years after he made the discovery [Fig. 2b].[6] 


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[4] David Lavender, The Great Persuader, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970, pp. 4-5.

[5] J. S. Holliday, Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of California, Berkeley: Oakland Museum and University of California Press, 1999, p. 86.

[6] CMP, cat. no. 1, p. 4.