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The Discovery of Gold in 1848

Sutter: The Discovery of Gold in 1848

The zenith of his prosperity was attained in 1848. He had fulfilled the terms of his grant; his cherished dream was realized and he could point with pride to his "New Helvetia" as a living, growing reality. In addition to his fort, he owned all the land in sight. He had 13,000 head of horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs. Under the American government's rule, Gen. Stockton appointed him governor of the district and Kearney made him Indian agent. With all his wealth, he was content to live a simple, generous, hospitable, unostentatious life among the Americans, Irish, Germans, and the civilized Indians, who were members of the settlement. Little did he dream of the evil days ahead when like a cruel punishment for all his industry and civilizing efforts, the discovery of gold on his land proved his undoing and utter ruin.

James W. Marshall, a soldier of fortune from New Jersey, went to California in 1844. He was a farmer until the outbreak of the Mexican war, when he enlisted in the United States army. Upon his return after the war he found his cattle and horses strayed and stolen. He asked Sutter for work and was hire to locate and build a large sawmill. Marshall chose a favorable spot on the south fork of the American river, at a point now called Coloma, and the mill was completed in January, 1848. On the night of 2 February, Marshall went to Sutter's home and drew from his pocket a pouch containing grains of yellow metal. He told Sutter that the workers had picked up the shining particles near the sawmill. Sutter applied the usual test and discovered that it was pure gold. Both being convinced that there was more of the precious metal, begged the laborers to keep the find a secret until after the crops had been harvested.

Next: The Word about Gold spreads and his Empire gets Destroyed

Prominent Americans of Swiss Origin, Swiss-American Historical Society, James T. White & Co., New York 1932

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