Gold on the American River

Sutters mill

On January 24, 1848 James Marshall found a small amount of gold while flushing out the tailrace of a sawmill he was building along the American River in partnership with John Sutter. They decided to keep the discovery secret, but there were six more men working on the sawmill, all members of the Church of Later Day Saints who had come west with the Mormon Battalion.

Soon rumors of gold reached more members of the church and two men, Sidney Willis and Wilford Hudson, prospected the river between Sutter’s Fort and the sawmill until they found a large sand bar east of the confluence of the north and south forks that would prove to be the first rich strike of the California gold rush.

The First Pan

By March one hundred and fifty members of the Church were mining on the bar, digging gravel that had eroded down the river and settled there over untold centuries, then washing it in a low, flat pan until only the heavier gold remained. Sam Brannan, the leader of the Mormons, recognized the opportunity that gold presented. After stocking his store with all the mining equipment he could get, Brannan announced the gold discovery to the world.

The gold rush had started. The town of Mormon Island would grow to 2,500 in 1853, with four hotels, five general stores and three dry goods stores. In 1856 it was destroyed in a fire. Then, a century later, the site was flooded by Folsom Lake.



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