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

By Karen Harris
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.