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John Sutter Never Discovered Gold

The great Gold Rush of 1849 began because someone else--not John Sutter--discovered gold at the mill site. James Marshall, a carpenter who was building the sawmill on the American River, actually was the first to find the gold. By the time most people got there, Sutter's Mill was indeed in existence. Sutter himself, however, never made much money.

Here's why:

Sutter was a Mexican citizen who had made quite a name for himself (and quite a pile of money) before the discovery of gold in 1848. After that fateful day, most of his workers quit building the sawmill to look for gold themselves. As word got out, more and more prospectors showed up and claimed land. Further complicating things was the Mexican Cession, which gave California to the United States. Because Sutter was a Mexican (not an American) citizen, he technically no longer had a claim to the land on which his mill was built and on which gold was discovered.

Poor John Sutter went bankrupt in 1852 and left the area, a victim of other people's success.


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