Why The California Gold Rush Wasn’t A Boon For John Sutter

By | March 18, 2019

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Sutter's saw mill where gold was found in 1848, precipitating the Californian Gold Rush. Engraving, 1853. Source: (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California on the morning of January 24, 1848, a frenzied gold rush—the largest one in history—was kicked off, bringing an estimated 300,000 people flooding into the state to seek their fortune in gold. Sutter’s Mill, on Sutter’s Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of Sacramento Valley’s American River, was owned by John Sutter, a landowner, and businessman. One would think that discovering gold on Sutter’s property would have made him a wealthy man. The Gold Rush, however, had the opposite impact on Sutter and his property. His land was destroyed, his businesses died, and his money dried up. In fact, Sutter spent the remainder of his life petitioning the U.S. government for reimbursement for the losses caused by the gold rush that he started. Here is the story of why the California Gold Rush wasn’t a boon for John Sutter. 

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John Sutter. Source: (thoughtco.com)

Who Was John Sutter?

John Augustus Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who moved to California in 1839 when it was under the rule of Mexico. Sutter applied for Mexican citizenship so that he could get a land grant from the Mexican government for approximately 50,000 acres in Sacramento Valley. His goal was to build a utopian community in the lush, fertile valley. The first town he built in the valley was New Helvetia, a village that included a fort and a cannon for defense.