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Church leader dedicates replica cabin at historic California park 175 years after gold discovered

‘For me, this is a sacred place,’ said Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy

Following their formal discharge from the military, more than 100 members of the Mormon Battalion traveled north to California’s Sacramento Valley, where John Sutter and James Marshall needed skilled laborers to assist in building mills in the region.

In the fall of 1847, six Mormon Battalion members — Henry Bigler, William Johnston, Azariah Smith, James Brown, Alexander Stevens and William Barger — came with Marshall to help build a mill near the American River and present-day Coloma, California. The men finished building a cabin there on Jan. 23, 1848.

The very next day, Jan. 24, the journals of Bigler and Smith document how Marshall found gold in the water. The discovery initiated the famous California Gold Rush and changed American history.

On Nov. 4, 2023 — 175 years later — a newly built replica of the “Mormon Workers Cabin” was dedicated by Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, California, acknowledging the role of the Mormon Battalion in that historic event.

A crowd gathers for the dedication of a replica historic cabin at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
A crowd gathers for the dedication of a replica historic cabin at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, California, on Nov. 4, 2023. | Patrick Twomey

“I bless those who visit with special insights into the history and meaning of this great site,” Elder Bragg said in the dedicatory prayer. “I dedicate it as a place of faith, a place of prayer, a place of learning, and a place of peace and contemplation. ... May this sacred area be revered and respected.”

He continued: “We dedicate this beautiful Mormon Cabin to the state of California for visitors and friends from all over the world who will come and have renewed feeling in their hearts of the great blessing of pioneers, and for those who were willing to blaze the trail and give to us what we have today.” 

Elder Bragg, a fifth-generation Californian, currently serves as the Church’s North America West Area president.

The dedication of the replica cabin also involved firing a black powder cannon to officially cut the red ribbon. A parade, a band, booths and family activities also highlighted the fifth annual California Pioneer History Day, according to a news release.

A black powder cannon fires during to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the public opening and dedication of a replica “Mormon Workers Cabin.”
A black powder cannon fires during to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the public opening and dedication of a replica “Mormon Workers Cabin” at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, California, on Nov. 4, 2023. | Naomi Harper

Planning and construction of the cabin took 12 years, $100,000 in private donations and labor by members of the California Pioneer Heritage Association. Cabin builders included descendants of the Ship Brooklyn and Mormon Battalion.

Following the dedication, the cabin was transferred by deed over to officials with California State Parks and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

California Living History missionaries, who are also Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park docents, will maintain the cabin and provide tours.

The original cabin is long gone, but this new cabin that stands near the location of the original will tell the story to future generations, said Dennis Holland, president of the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation and former director of California Historic Sites and California Living History Mission.

“Many groups and individuals were instrumental in the settling and building up of California, but their stories are rarely told,” Holland said. “We did as much research as we could on this cabin. We think it is built as accurate as possible. We are enthusiastic about having completed it. We think it will be one of the major attractions of the park.”

Dennis Holland and others stand next to Elder Mark A. Bragg in front of the replica Mormon Workers Cabin in Coloma, California.
In the middle, Dennis Holland stands next to Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy, in front of a new replica of the “Mormon Workers Cabin” in Coloma, California, on Nov. 4, 2023. Others pictured include Terry and Christina Becker, Sue and Tim Taylor, Steven and Loree Hoffman, Bruce and Dee Cunningham, Mark and Tina Eagar, and Dennis and Toni Amaral. | Naomi Harper

Elder Bragg thanked all those who made the new cabin possible. He said the cabin and historic events reminded him of a fond memory from his youth. While visiting the historic park on a fourth-grade field trip, he felt something “special.”

“It was here that I felt a connection to my roots in California,” the Church leader said. “It gave me a greater sense of belonging. So for me, this is a sacred place.”

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who attended the event, said, “Because of what they did here, this Mormon Battalion contributed greatly to the future of California, The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] and to the prosperity of those who followed.”

Tom Lackey, a Latter-day Saint who serves in the 34th Assembly District of the California State Legislature, said the cabin will help preserve pioneer spirit and character.

“This is a great example of shaping the future in a way that will address values, hard work and principles that actually feed success,” he said.

From those early members who arrived with the Ship Brooklyn and the Mormon Battalion, California is now home to nearly 735,000 Latter-day Saints comprising almost 1,190 congregations and 12 houses of the Lord, second most in the U.S. behind Utah.

The newly dedicated “Mormon Workers Cabin” stands near where the original stood adjacent to Sutter’s Mill where gold was discovered in 1848.
The newly dedicated “Mormon Workers Cabin” stands near where the original stood adjacent to Sutter’s Mill where gold was discovered in 1848. | Naomi Harper
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