Azariah Smith missed his mom. As a member of the famed "Mormon Battalion," Smith had marched with 600 others from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to San Diego to fight in the Mexican War. Mustered out of the Army in 1847, the skinny 19-year-old kid made his way to Sacramento, where he eventually took a job with a fellow named James Marshall, to help build a sawmill.
But Smith wanted to join his family in Utah. So when Marshall found something glittering in the tailrace of the Coloma mill, Smith was not overly impressed:
"This week Monday the 24th, Mr. Marshall found pieces of (as we suppose) gold," he noted in his journal, "and has gone to the fort for the purpose of finding out."
By the end of April, Smith had "picked up" about $500 worth of gold. That was enough. "I was homesick," he recalled. "I wanted to see my mother, and I did not care whether there was gold in the locality or not."
Smith arrived in Salt Lake City at the end of September 1848. For the next 64 years, he never left Utah again, except once. In 1898, Smith and three other surviving witnesses to the discovery of gold in California were invited to a 50th anniversary celebration in San Francisco.
Surely, he was asked by reporters, he must have regrets about so impetuously leaving the state when a fortune was to be made.
"I have never regretted leaving the mines, never wished myself back there," Smith replied. "If I had stayed there, I would have been under the ground in a short time. By coming away, I have lived to be 69 years of age."
He died 14 years later at the age of 83, perhaps as fortunate as any of those who struck it rich.