News / USA

Man Who Found California Gold Died Broke

Ted Landphair

Imagine that you’re John Sutter, and you’re in luck. But not necessarily good luck.

First, some background:

John Sutter looks like a prosperous businessman in this portrait, and that’s how he thought of himself. But he died broke - and a broken man. (Online Archive of California)John Sutter looks like a prosperous businessman in this portrait, and that’s how he thought of himself. But he died broke - and a broken man. (Online Archive of California)
x
John Sutter looks like a prosperous businessman in this portrait, and that’s how he thought of himself. But he died broke - and a broken man. (Online Archive of California)
John Sutter looks like a prosperous businessman in this portrait, and that’s how he thought of himself. But he died broke - and a broken man. (Online Archive of California)

You may have heard of the San Francisco 49ers, a professional American football team. Its name is taken from the year 1849, when thousands and thousands of men rushed to California, hoping to strike it rich.

A year earlier in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a carpenter had discovered gold - great big nuggets of it - in the South Fork of the American River as he was building a sawmill for John Sutter.

Sutter was a Swiss immigrant - a wanderer and a dreamer who tried many ventures in Europe, New York, and the American Midwest before seeking his fortune in fertile but largely undeveloped land in what is now central California.

At the time, in the 1840s, it was part of a remote province belonging to Mexico.

Sutter talked local Mexican officials into allowing him to build a fort on the Sacramento River to protect what he envisioned as a new agricultural empire. "New Switzerland," he called it.

When his carpenter, James Marshall, found gold near a mill owned by Sutter high in the Sierras, he told his boss about it, and the two of them decided to keep it secret while they hired men to pan the gold. Instead, the miners stole most of what they found.

Only in America-Poor John Sutter
Only in America-Poor John Sutteri
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


Word of the discovery spread, and before long, mobs of gold-seekers descended upon the American River, overrunning Sutter’s land.
This is where the great California gold rush began in 1849, when James Marshall, a carpenter working for John Sutter, found the first nuggets. Marshall posed there a year later. (Wikipedia Commons)This is where the great California gold rush began in 1849, when James Marshall, a carpenter working for John Sutter, found the first nuggets. Marshall posed there a year later. (Wikipedia Commons)
x
This is where the great California gold rush began in 1849, when James Marshall, a carpenter working for John Sutter, found the first nuggets. Marshall posed there a year later. (Wikipedia Commons)
This is where the great California gold rush began in 1849, when James Marshall, a carpenter working for John Sutter, found the first nuggets. Marshall posed there a year later. (Wikipedia Commons)

So Sutter gave up the mining idea and tried to start a town, called "Sutterville," nearby. He’d thought he’d make money selling supplies and plots of land. But his agents cheated him, and he went broke.

Within a year John Sutter had given up his California dreams entirely and slunk off to Washington, D.C., where he would later die, alone and penniless, in a hotel room.

Sutter’s Mill is now a ghost town. The settlement around Sutter’s Fort grew into what became Sacramento, California’s capital city.

But Sutter’s name can still be found there. The fort has been restored as a California state historic park and tourist attraction.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yoshi from: Sapooro
September 15, 2012 7:25 AM
Why did he die broke? It's probably because gold belonged to Mexican people. His poverty seems reward from the Mexican Indians. Miners having got huge profits must have lived unhappy life at the end of their lives.


by: Jo Ann Aiello from: Roseville, CA
September 14, 2012 11:54 AM
One little correction, Sutter's Mill is not a ghost town. The site of the mill is part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. Page for the park is at: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid