Col. John C. Frémont was one of the great names in California history. After playing his part in the conquest of the territory during the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, Frémont decided to settle down near San Francisco Bay. In 1847 he sent $3,000 to the American consul, asking to buy a certain ranch near San José. What he received instead was Rancho Las Mariposas (butterfly), consisting of 45,000 acres in the southern Sierra Nevada foothills. Frémont angrily demanded either the San José ranch or his money back. He got neither.

Two years later, Frémont’s unwanted tract of land turned out to be the richest rancho in California, after fabulous gold discoveries were made there in August. Frémont ceased his complaining, at least for a few years.

In fall of 1849 Frémont told journalist Bayard Taylor of his findings. “It was nothing less than a vein of gold in the solid rock—the first which had been found in California.” After Frémont appeared in San Francisco waving rock samples and boasting of Mariposa’s treasure, hordes of wealth-seekers soon descended upon the Mariposa region, not caring that Frémont owned the land. Gold seekers freely staked out claims, saying that their claims were outside Frémont’s territory. They charged instead that Frémont arbitrarily extended his borders to cover every new strike. Years of legal maneuvering and violence followed.

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