The Sacramento: River of Gold

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By Julian Dana (Rivers of America Series)
Published 1939

The Sacramento rises at Big Spring near Mt. Shasta and runs 320 miles to its delta joining with the tidal reaches of the San Joaquin. The river runs south through the Great Valley of California to San Francisco, where it is finally lost in the Golden Gate.

In the beginning it flows through the glades where azaleas bloom, past fern and watercress and swaying alders, through mountain meadows to Wagon Wheel Creek, and surges on to meet three tributaries which are born high in marshy meadowlands. The Pit and the McCloud and ten thousand springs and creeks and a dozen lesser rivers run a million miles of white-water way to swell the Sacramento. The torrent whips downward through forests of fur, pine, spruce and ceder,of madrone, cottonwood, white-petaled dogwood, manzanita and whitehorn. The rising Shasta Dam interrupts its progress. Soon there will be a lake conserving the waters that will bring life to far-off desert acres.

Below Red Bluff, the Sacramento enters the Great Valley that stretches 400 miles long and half a hundred wide, fenced by an unbroken mountain wall. It courses on past red clay and high boulder banks, past village and rancho and the city that bears the river’s name, past factory and houseboat and busy wharf lines, taking on the slowness of a tidal stream where vineyards and orchards grow down to its banks. It wanders through delta lands where colors flame in the growing season like sunrise. Meeting the San Joaquin, it rolls through Suisun and San Pablo bays, through the high-walled Strait of Carquinez and the Bay of St. Francis, past the City of No Man Forgets, and through the open gate that fronts the Pacific.

“…Gold and the machine fought against the enduring land. Farmers fought against the ‘Little Giants’ of the hydraulics; against railroads; against the river in floodtime. Landowners and squatters warred for years over clouded titles. Idealists dreamed of irrigation ditches and did something about it. The history of the Sacramento is the story of the land and its fertility. The people who came to the Great Valley took root in the land, grew with it, and adapted themselves to the changes brought by time…”

“…American history began latest and ran fastest along the Sacramento. Other American rivers made and recorded their history with a certain order. But not the River of Gold. John Sutter’s boat wake had scarcely died against the shore before crashing human comber rolled over the river and his private empire. From the beginning, the Sacramento region was titanically quickened into life…”

That tempo still exists on the river and in the valley. There is still about the pace of living a virility that will continue for a long time.

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