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

    Greenpeace Leak: US-EU Trade Deal Would Favor Corporations

    Activist group leaks classified documents to 'shine a light' on talks that could create the world's largest bilateral trade and investment pact

    Video Ethiopia's Drought Takes Toll on Children

    East African country’s crops failed in 2015, creating food shortages for 10 million – including 6 million children whose development may be compromised

    What Your First Name Reveals About Who You Vote For

    People named Chad are more likely to be Republicans and Jonathans are usually Democrats

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora