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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid