Most school children in the U.S. learn that the first discovery of gold in California occurred at Sutter's Mill on the south fork of the American River in 1848. But the kids of the Santa Clarita Valley know better. They know that the first documented gold discovery in California actually occurred 6 years earlier in 1842, right here near a famous oak tree in Placerita Canyon . The man credited with this discovery was Francisco Lopez. On Saturday, September 29 at 2:00 pm , the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society will be presenting a talk by Bob Lopez, a distant relative of Francisco Lopez and member of Los Pobladores, an organization of people who are direct descendants of the original settlers of the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1781. Mr. Lopez will present the true and mostly forgotten story of his ancestor's discovery of gold in Placerita Canyon and the minor gold rush that followed, long before the more famous California Gold Rush that captivated the whole world well into the 1850's and beyond. The talk will be given at the Saugus Train Station at Heritage Junction in Newhall.
Reports of gold in the Santa Clarita Valley date back to the 1790’s with the legendary Lost Padres Mine in the Castaic area, the location of which has never been found to this day. There were also reports of gold in San Francisquito Canyon in the 1820’s. But the first person to file a government claim for mining gold, and therefore credited with the first documented gold discovery in California, was a trained mineralogist from the university at Sonora, Mexico by the name of Francisco Lopez. Lopez was the uncle of Jacoba Feliz, 2nd wife of Antonio Del Valle, who had been granted the Rancho San Francisco by Governor Juan Alvarado in 1839 (thereby the first official owner of the Santa Clarita Valley).
Lopez set off on March 9, 1842 with companions Manuel Cota and Domingo Bermudez to search for cattle in what would become Placerita Canyon . Legend has Lopez falling asleep under an old oak tree in the canyon and dreaming of gold. When he awoke, he dug up wild onions under a grove of nearby sycamore trees and found gold clinging to the roots of the onions. The oak tree was to become known as the Oak of the Golden Dream, today a historic landmark in Placerita Canyon . However, there is much controversy as to whether this is the actual tree under which Lopez had his golden dream. The actual tree may well have been located in the area now known as Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch.
Lopez brought gold samples to Los Angeles merchant Abel Stearns who sent the gold to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia where it was confirmed to be worth $19 an ounce. Lopez, Cota, and Bermudez then petitioned Governor Alvarado for permission to mine the gold, thereby establishing the first documented gold discovery in California history. Lopez’ discovery set off a minor gold rush mostly consisting of miners from the Sonora area of Mexico . While there were some reports of the Lopez find in the Eastern American press, the Placerita gold discovery was primarily noticed by Mexican citizens in an area that was part of Mexico at the time. Although preceding James Marshall’s famous gold strike at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California by 6 years, the Placerita gold discovery and gold rush has been mostly lost to history, except to those of us here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The gold in Placerita Canyon was mostly played out by 1849. Marshall ’s discovery on the American River proved to be far richer than Placerita and set off one of the greatest migrations in human history, an event largely responsible for the settling of California and the Great American West.
Bob Lopez is a direct descendent of Luis Quintero, a member of one of the eleven families who founded the city of Los Angeles on September 4, 1781 . He is an active member in Los Pobladores, an organization made up of descendents of these eleven families and the military escorts that brought them to the founding site of Los Angeles . He is also related to the gold discoverer Francisco Lopez. Mr. Lopez is sure to provide a most interesting and unique perspective on this important episode of Santa Clarita’s history. The general public is welcome. Admission will be free. For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the SCVHS, please call Pat Saletore or Alan Pollack at 661-254-1275. Website: www.scvhs.org.