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150 Years since the First Gold Rush

The story of John August Sutter whose wealth evaporated.
With a link to
Levi Strauss andStudebaker Brothers who made a fortune.

Fleeing financial woes, John Augustus Sutter emigrated from Switzerland to California in 1839. He made his way to California and took Mexican citizenship, as California was then part of Mexico. From the governor he gained title to land in order to start a settlement named Nueva Helvetia at the meeting point of the Sacramento and American rivers, where the city of Sacramento stands today. He took possession of 50,000 acres (20,235 hectares), and ten years later he was a prosperous rancher, with thousands of head of cattle, horses, and sheep. When the Mexican War of 1846-48 brought California to the United States, Sutter's future seemed assured. Then, suddenly, events turned against him. On the morning of Jan. 24, 1848, one of Sutter's workmen, James Wilson Marshall, discovered gold at the site of a sawmill construction project. Marshall and Sutter agreed to become partners in mining the gold, but soon the news leaked out. Sutter's property was besieged by thousands of trappers, farmers, sailors, lawyers, preachers, and people from nearly every other occupation--all of whom wanted to strike it rich in the new gold find. This was the beginning of the first, and still most famous, gold rush of modern times. Within a year, the "Forty-niners" flooded by the thousands into California seeking wealth, and in the process they built up northern California and the city of San Francisco. Sutter became bankrupt in1852. He was given pension of $250 a month by state of California in 1864. The gold rush of 1849 played a significant role in the social and economic development of California. It was an important factor in turning the region from a sleepy Mexican province into a thriving American state. Although the average production of the gold fields was barely half a troy ounce (15.6 grams) per man per day, some 2.5 million troy ounces (77.8 million grams) of gold passed through buyers' and dealers' hands in one 12-month period. After a few years the gold fever faded, and there were few new finds, but gold is still found in California from time to time.

Read on for more details:

nugget

Picture of the first Nugget found at the sawmill.
(
Courtesy of CNN)

fortsutternow

Fort Sutter
Sacramento, CA

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