Captain Sutter’s Own Story Of The Gold Discovery:

The most prominent man in the neighborhood of the California "gold diggins" is Captain John Augustus Sutter, the chief pioneer and statesman of the area - effectively the Daniel Boone of that part of the country. He was formerly an officer in the Swiss guards of Charles X. of France. After the revolution of 1830, in that country, he came to the United States. Emigrating to California, where he obtained a grant of land from the Mexican government, and founded the settlement known as Sutter's Fort, at the location of what has now become Sacramento, the capital of California. Upon his land, the first discovery of the richness of the soil was made, and his house and the settlement around it has been, ever since, the resort of persons going to and from the placers, and a depot for provisions and articles used by the miners. Stores and workshops have been established, and a considerable amount of business is transacted there. Captain Sutter is held in very great respect by the people of the settlement and those stopping at his house on the road to the placers.  

Several versions of the account of the discovery of the gold mines have been circulated, but the true one, in the Captain's own words, is given in a published account. The account is here inserted, both because of the interest connected with the discovery, and in order to correct wrong versions of the matter.



"I was sitting one afternoon," said the Captain, "just after my siesta, engaged, by-the-by, in writing a letter to a relation of mine at Lucerne, when I was interrupted by Mr. Marshall a gentleman with whom I had frequent business transactions bursting hurriedly into the room. From the unusual agitation in his manner I imagined that something serious had occurred, and, as we involuntarily do in this part of the world, I at once glanced to see if my rifle was in its proper place. You should know that the mere appearance of Mr. Marshall at that moment in the Fort was quite enough to surprise me, as he had but two days before left the place to make some alterations in a mill for sawing pine planks, which he had just run up for me, some miles higher up the Americanos River.

When he had recovered himself a little, he told me that, however great my surprise might be at his unexpected reappearance, it would be much greater when I heard the intelligence he had come to bring me. 'Intelligence,' he added, ' which, if properly profited by, would put both of us in possession of unheard-of wealth millions and millions of dollars, in fact.' I frankly thought, when I heard this, that I thought something had touched Marshall's brain, when suddenly all my misgivings were put an end to by his flinging on the table a handful of scales of pure virgin gold. I was fairly thunderstruck, and asked him to explain what all this meant, when he went on to say, that, according to my instructions, he had thrown the mill-wheel out of gear, to let the whole body of the water in the dam find a passage through the tail-race, which was previously too narrow to allow the water to run off in sufficient quantity, whereby the wheel was prevented from efficiently performing its work. By this alteration the narrow channel was considerably enlarged, and a mass of sand and gravel carried off by the force of the torrent. Early in the morning after this took place, he (Mr. Marshall) was walking along the left bank of the stream, when he perceived something which he at first took for a piece of opal, a clear transparent stone, very common here glittering on one of the spots laid bare by the sudden crumbling away of the bank. He paid no attention to this ;"but "while he was giving directions to the workmen, having observed several similar glittering fragments, his curiosity was so far excited, that he stooped down and picked one of them up.

' Do you know,' said Mr. Marshall to me, ' I positively debated within myself two or three times when standing there, that I should take the trouble to bend my back to pick up one of the pieces, and I had decided on not doing so, when, further on, another glittering morsel caught my eye the largest of the pieces now before you. I condescended to pick it up, and to my astonishment found that it was a thin scale of what appears to be pure gold.' He then gathered some twenty or thirty similar pieces, which on examination convinced him that his suppositions were right. His first impression was, that this gold had been lost or buried there by some early Indian tribe perhaps some of those mysterious inhabitants of the West, of whom we have no account, but who dwelt on this continent centuries ago, and built those cities and temples, the ruins of which are scattered about these solitary wilds. On proceeding, however, to examine the neighboring soil, he discovered that it was more or less auriferous This at once decided him. He mounted his horse, and rode down to me as fast as it would carry him with the news. "At the conclusion of Mr. Marshall's account," continued Captain Sutter, " and when I had convinced myself, from the specimens he had brought with him, that it was not exaggerated, I felt as much excited as himself. I eagerly inquired if he had shown the gold to the work-people at the mill, and was glad to hear that he had not spoken to a single person about it. We agreed," said the Captain, smiling, " not to mention the circumstance to any one, and arranged to set off early the next day for the mill. On our arrival, just before sundown, we poked the sand about in various places, and before long succeeded in collecting between us more than an ounce of gold, mixed up with a good deal of sand. I stayed at Mr. Marshall's that night, and the next day we proceeded some little distance up the South Fork, and found that gold existed along the whole course, not only in the bed of the main stream, where the water had subsided, but in every little dried-up creek and ravine. Indeed I think it is more plentiful in these latter places, for I myself, with nothing more than a small knife, picked out from a dry gorge, a little way up the mountain, a solid lump of gold which weighed nearly an ounce and a half.




On our return to the mill, we were astonished by the work people coming up to us in a body, and showing us small flakes of gold similar to those we had ourselves procured. Marshall tried to laugh the matter off with them, and to persuade them that what they had found was only some shining mineral of trifling value ; but one of the Indians, who had worked at the gold mine in the neighborhood of La Paz, in Lower California, cried out, ' Oro-! oro!' We were disappointed enough at this discovery, and supposed that the work-people had been watching our movements, although we thought we had taken every precaution against being observed by them. I heard, afterwards, that one of them, a sly Kentuckian, had dogged us about, and that, looking on the ground to see if he could discover what we were in search of, he had lighted on some flakes of gold himself.' The next day I rode back to the Fort, organized a laboring party, set the carpenters to work on a few necessary matters, and the next day accompanied them to a point of the Fork, where they encamped for the night. By the following morning I had a party of fifty Indians fairly at work. The way we first managed was to shovel the soil into small buckets, or into some of our famous Indian baskets ; then wash all the light-earth out, and pick away the stones; after this, we dried the sand on pieces of canvas, and with long reeds blew away all but the gold. I have now some rude machines in use, and upwards of one hundred men employed, chiefly Indians, who are well fed, who are allowed whisky three times a-day.

" The report soon spread. Some of the gold was sent to San Francisco, and crowds of people flocked to the diggings. Added to this, a large emigrant party of Mormons entered California across the Rocky Mountains, just as the affair was first made known. They halted at once, and set to work on a spot some thirty miles from here, where a few of them still remain. When I was last up to the diggings, there were full eight hundred men at work, at one place and another, with perhaps something like three hundred more passing backwards and forwards between here and the mines. I at first imagined the gold would soon be exhausted by such crowds of seekers, but subsequent observations have convinced me that it will take many years to bring about such a result, even with ten times the present number of people employed."What surprises me," continued the Captain, "is, that this country should have been visited by so many scientific men, and that not one of them should have ever stumbled upon the treasures; that scores of keen-eyed trappers should have crossed this valley in every direction, and tribes of Indians have dwelt in it for centuries, and yet that this gold should have never been discovered. I myself have passed the very spot above a hundred times during the last ten years, but was just as blind as the rest of them, so I must not wonder at the discovery not having been made earlier."

While the Captain was proceeding with his narrative, I must confess that I felt so excited on the subject as to wish to start off immediately on our journey. When he had finished, I walked off to see after the horses, but, although they were ready, the additional shoes we wanted to carry with us, would not be furnished for several hours : it was late in the afternoon before we got them. We bought two horses of Captain Sutter (very strong animals), and our partner McPhail managed to engage a big lad as a servant a rough-looking fellow, who appears to have deserted from some ship, and worked his way up here. All things considered, it was agreed that we should remain here all night, and resume our march as early as we could in the morning.

Return To: California Gold Rush: True Tales of the 49ers



Nevada Outback Gems

Find out more by checking out All of our links below:

View our Contemporary Turquoise Jewelry - Wearable Artwork! View our Unique Gem Quality Turquoise Cabochons
Premium Jewelry, with Gemstones of all types Top Quality Loose Gemstones - Gemstones of all types
Rare Crystals and Gemstone Rough, all types Our Free Colored Gemstone Information Encyclopedia
Chris' Gold Prospecting Encyclopedia Take a virtual tour of our Nevada Turquoise mines
Miners Reference Pages         More Info about Turquoise, the Beautiful Gem
Basic Placer Mining Mineral Photo Gallery Nevada Outback Gems Homepage
Build Your Own Mining Equipment Investing in Gold and Precious Metals
Metal Detecting with the MXT Metal Detector More information about us - Nevada Outback Gems
Locations to Prospect for Gold The Rockhound's Corner Nevada Outback Library and Bookstore - Learn more!
  Chris's Prospecting Adventures About Nevada Turquoise More Info about Gem Cutting Tanzanite Jewelry
Nevada Outback Gems Site Map Make Your Own Jewelry Buy Safely on EBay: avoid fraud and scam artists