John Goller

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John Goller (died 1874) was a pioneer settler in Los Angeles, California, as a result of the great gold rush of 1849, escaping with his life during a perilous crossing of the desert and claiming he had found prodigious gold deposits there. He owned a blacksmith and carriage-making business and was a member of the governing body of Los Angeles as well as a founder of the city's first gas company.


John Goller set out with other California Gold Rush pioneers from Galesburg, Illinois, on April 5, 1849, and traveled with them through Missouri and on to Salt Lake. From there, they began with others on the Southern Emigrant Trail on December 4, 1849, but later his party decided to strike out for California on an unrecorded route. The result: They made their way through a trackless desert, and many times they were without water and, for food, they had to eat their starving cattle. "They had no shoes now and wrapped their bleeding feet in pieces of hide which they spared from the cookpots." The emigrants, included two children, age 4 and 7, traveled through Death Valley, without water for long stretches, watching members of their party die. Eventually they found their way, haggard and hungry, to the Santa Clarita Valley, where they were welcomed, fed and given shelter.[1]

And when Goller finally reached Los Angeles,

he was still loaded down with gold nuggets he had picked up in Death Valley. ... John reported that where he found them he could have loaded a pack mule with gold ... There must be a mine there, he said, of fabulous richness; and during the whole of his long and prosperous life in Los Angeles John Goller spent his spare time and money fitting out expeditions to search for his lost bonanza. The 'Goller Mine' is one of the real phantoms today in mining lore; ... he had produced corroborating evidence in actual gold.[1]

Goller was the father of a daughter, Christine, who was born in 1863 and was married to George Stephenson in 1886.[2]

The porch roof of his wagon shop at the corner of Los Angeles Street and Commercial Street, which was a block south of Negro Alley, then part of Chinatown, was used as a lynching spot in the Chinese massacre of 1871, in which eighteen Chinese were confirmed dead.[3] Aided by newly discovered documents from the Huntington Museum, John H. Johnson Jr. wrote for the LA Weekly 140 years later that:

Goller was a model citizen, a former city councilman, respectful husband and dutiful father. He objected bitterly as the Chinese were hoisted outside his windows. There are small children inside, he protested. "You dry up, you son of a bitch," growled a teamster as he leveled a rifle at Goller.[3]

Goller was the second man in the Los Angeles area — the first being Robert Carlisle — to invest in a good team of trotters, at a time when

it was not the taste of the native population to ride in carriages or vehicles of any sort. They had been trained to ride astride of a horse and not behind him. The Sepulvedas, Estudillos, Zameranos and other grantholders, had their huge family carriages, drawn by the biggest mules money could buy, but a decade had passed before anybody began to think of purchasing fast horses for their buggies.[4]

Goller died July 7, 1874.[5]


When Goller arrived in Los Angeles after his trek through the desert, a man named Louis Wilhart or Wilhardt outfitted Goller with blacksmithing tools and sent him customers. His first order was for an awning, for which he received five hundred dollars. He put together an American-style wagon, which remained unsold for a time because "The native people gazed at it with curiosity, but distrust, and went back to their carretas."[2][6]

Goller also made shoes, one account relating that he "hunted up old tires thrown away on the plains" to make them."[6]

In June 1867 Goller joined with James Hagan, W.H. Perry, Wallace Woodworth and George J. Clark to incorporate the first gas company in Los Angeles, whose population was then about 5,000. One historian later observed that the gas was made from "brea [tar], grape pumice, wood, coal and pretty near every thing available from which it could be derived. ... In time, coal imported from Australia became the source."

At one point he was in the forwarding business in San Pedro,[4] and he also continued his prospecting endeavors in partnership with Grant B. Cuddeback.[7]

Common Council[edit]

On May 4, 1857, Goller was elected to the Los Angeles Common Council, the governing body of the city, which had a population of 1,610 in 1850 and 4,385 in 1860.[8]


John Goller is memorialized in Goler Canyon in the southern portion of the Panamint Range, which offers passage from the Panamint Valley into Death Valley.[9] "In 1893 when placer gold was discovered in the normally dry washes which drain the El Paso Mountains, not surprisingly the miners named one of them Goler Gulch after the famous long-lost 'mine' of John Goller."[10][11]

Today, this is a challenging backroad for 4wd vehicles only. The Barker Ranch at Sourdough Spring, Charles Manson's infamous hideout of the 1960s, is also accessed through this narrow and impressive canyon. Goler Canyon is traveled by high clearance vehicles, on many miles of very rugged and hazardous dirt roads, with 4wd always necessary.[9]