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Criticism

AS I LOOKED back at the rebuilt mill, it began to dawn on me: no wonder they erected this ungainly monument to rusticity here. If people had to actually focus their attention on the cause of it all, they'd probably never come back.

I was standing at the northern perimeter of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which is spitting distance from Placerville but a good 45-minute drive out of Sacramento (if the traffic's against you). The spot was the exact site where James Marshall first noticed flecks of gold in the runoff ditch of the sawmill he was building for John Sutter. It was January 24, 1848, and the West had not yet been won. Sutter was an entrepreneur, and Marshall was a working man who had moved west from Missouri four years earlier for reasons of health. In the end, both died poor.

I had not expected the site itself to be so inconspicuous. Although it is marked “1” on

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