A discovery on January 24, 1848 forever changed the course of history in the American West. On that day, a millwright named James Marshall discovered gold along the banks of Sutter’s Creek in California. Marshall was employed by California pioneer, Captain John A. Sutter, to build a saw mill along the South Fork of the American River. A shallow millrace had been excavated in order to redirect the flow of water to the mill’s waterwheel. As Marshall was inspecting the millrace on January 24, a sparkle of light in the dark earth caught his eye. On closer inspection, he found what appeared to be many small flakes of gold in the millrace. Marshall rode forty miles to show his discovery to Captain Sutter. The sample was examined and confirmed as gold. Sutter hoped to keep the discovery a secret, while accumulating as much gold as possible, but the word soon got out and within months the largest gold rush in history had begun. Work on Sutter’s mill was abandoned as the workers joined thousands of others in the hunt for gold. As word spread about the discovery, thousands of prospective gold miners traveled by land or sea to the area. By the end of 1849, the non-native population of the California territory was estimated at over 100,000. A total of $2 million of gold was extracted from the area during the Gold Rush, which peaked in 1852. James Marshall failed to find his own gold strike and died a poor man.
From Jauflione Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution