1849 Headlines: Gold Fever! Marshall’s ‘Wolverine Rangers’ Headed To California
One of the biggest and fastest migrations of people across the vast continent in the 1800s stemmed from the discovery of gold in California. The "Gold Rush" as it was later called began in the spring of 1848 and California quickly grew from 400 settlers to over 90,000.
It began at Sutter’s Mill located northeast of Sacramento when a carpenter named James Marshall spotted something shiny while managing the construction of a water-powered sawmill. After it was determined to be real gold, the news quickly spread. Gold also was found in other areas of the state as more people arrived to try to strike it rich.
In a 2013 article by the Detroit News, they featured some Michigan connections to the California Gold Rush and groups that were formed. An estimated 6,000 men from Michigan made the trip. Many of them, understandably, did not want to make the adventurous journey out west alone. One of the most famous and well-organized groups formed from Michigan was the Wolverine Rangers out of Marshall.
The Wolverine Rangers created a legal document with formal rules and bylaws titled “Articles of Association and Agreement” that each member had to sign. They began with 58 members who paid $100 to join. The company was organized into units they called “messes.” Jobs such as cook or team driver rotated. Leadership also changed monthly, but organizers held military officer ranks, and some members wore uniforms or at least badges.
The group taught inexperienced young men how to drive teams of six or eight oxen or mules. Many of their members had never shot weapons, and there was a real fear of Indian attacks, so they mandated target practice at a firing range prior to leaving. Each man had to carry a Bowie knife, two rifles with 10 pounds of lead to mold into musket balls, and two holstered pistols; a common brand was the Wesson “pepperbox.” - The Detroit News
Marshall's Wolverine Rangers were not the only group out of Calhoun County to head west. The first party of a much smaller group set off in 1849 as twelve Battle Creek men, led by Abram Minges, left for California. The party took six months and ten days to trek across the country to their destination. Minges returned in 1851 to buy a farm south of Battle Creek and begun a prominent local family.