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In the 1840s, Sutter’s Fort became the first stopping-off point for overland Anglo-American emigrants coming to California to build farms and ranches. Though sworn to protect the Mexican province from falling under the control of the growing number of Americans, Sutter recognized that his future wealth and influence lay with these Anglo settlers. With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, he threw his support to the Americans, who emerged victorious in the fall of 1847
With the war over and California securely in the hands of the United States, Sutter hired the millwright James Marshall to build a sawmill along the South Fork of the American River in January 1848. In order to redirect the flow of water to the mill’s waterwheel, Marshall supervised the excavation of a shallow millrace. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was looking over the freshly cut millrace when a sparkle of light in the dark earth caught his eye. Looking more closely, Marshall found that much of the millrace was speckled with what appeared to be small flakes of gold, and he rushed to tell Sutter. After an assayer confirmed that the flakes were indeed gold, Sutter quietly set about gathering up as much of the gold as he could, hoping to keep the discovery a secret. However, word soon leaked out and, within months, the largest gold rush in the world had begun
Ironically, the California gold rush was a disaster for Sutter. Though it brought thousands of men to California, the prospectors had no interest in joining Sutter’s despotic agricultural community. Instead, they overran Sutter’s property, slaughtered his herds for food, and trampled his fields. By 1852, New Helvetia was ruined, and Sutter was nearly wiped out. Until his death in 1880, he spent his time unsuccessfully petitioning the government to compensate him for the losses he suffered as a result of the gold rush he unintentionally ignited
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On January 24, 2011, a bomb explodes in the international arrivals hall of Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport, killing 35 people and injuring 173 others. The Caucasus Emirate, a militant jihadist group based in Chechnya, claimed responsibility, adding to a string of ...read more
The California Gold Rush was sparked by the discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 and was arguably one of the most significant events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century. As news spread of the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners traveled by sea or over land to San Francisco and the surrounding area; by the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory was some 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852.
On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California. At the time, Marshall was working to build a water-powered sawmill owned by John Sutter, a German-born Swiss citizen and founder of a colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland, which would later become the city of Sacramento. As Marshall later recalled of his historic discovery: “It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold.”
Days after Marshall’s discovery at Sutter’s Mill, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican-American War and leaving California in the hands of the United States. At the time, the population of the territory consisted of 6,500 Californios (people of Spanish or Mexican descent); 700 foreigners (primarily Americans); and 150,000 Native Americans (barely half the number that had been there when Spanish settlers arrived in 1769). In fact, Sutter had enslaved hundreds of Native Americans and used them as a free source of labor and makeshift militia to defend his territory and expand his empire
Though Marshall and Sutter tried to keep news of the discovery under wraps, word got out, and by mid-March at least one newspaper was reporting that large quantities of gold were being turned up at Sutter’s Mill. Though the initial reaction in San Francisco was disbelief, storekeeper Sam Brannan set off a frenzy when he paraded through town displaying a vial of gold obtained from Sutter’s Creek. By mid-June, some three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left town for the gold mines, and the number of miners in the area reached 4,000 by August
As news spread of the fortunes being made in California, some of the first migrants to arrive were those from lands accessible by boat, such as Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), Mexico, Chile, Peru and even China. When the news reach the East Coast, press reports were initially skeptical. Gold fever kicked off there in earnest, however, after December 1848, when President James K. Polk announced the positive results of a report made by Colonel Richard Mason, California’s military governor, in his inaugural address. As Polk wrote, “The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service.”
Throughout 1849, people around the United States (mostly men) borrowed money, mortgaged their property or spent their life savings to make the arduous journey to California. In pursuit of the kind of wealth they had never dreamed of, they left their families and hometowns; in turn, women left behind took on new responsibilities such as running farms or businesses and caring for their children alone. Thousands of would-be gold miners, known as ’49ers, traveled overland across the mountains or by sea, sailing to Panama or even around Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America
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