California Gold Rush

Mining the Central Valley

South Fork of the American River- Coloma, California

Monday, Jan. 24th 1848 at 6:30am

Building site of John Sutter's Mill

The Great Migration

James Marshall (pictured left) and his crew were building a saw mill for John Sutter, on the American River, when on a clear, cold morning Marshall found a few small pieces of gold. Shortly after Marshall's discovery, General John Bidwell discovered gold in the Feather River and Major Pearson B. Reading found gold in the Trinity River.

Marshall's discovery was printed for the first time in March. However, most people would not believe that gold had been found. It was not until May of 1848 when Sam Brannan went through the streets of San Francisco with a small bottle of gold dust shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" Only then did the people have proof that there really was gold.

Soon, from every corner of the earth, people began to descend upon California in search of instant wealth. This began one of the largest human migrations in recorded history. Over a half-million people moved to the west from all around the world.
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Sutter's Mill on the American River where the very first few nuggets of gold were found

Sam Brannan

Sam Brannan had a very large part in the California Gold Rush. He was a smart businessman and a public relations genius. In fact, Brannan was California's very first person to become a millionaire as a result of the Gold Rush.


Brannan owned the only store between San Francisco and the gold fields. He utilized this as a way to gain over $36,000 in the first nine weeks. Brannan bought every pick, every pan, and every shovel he could find for about 20 cents each and sold them for $15 a piece.


While John Sutter was away from his fort, Brannan convinced Sutter's son to lay out a town on the banks of the Sacramento River and in the summer of 1848 he prompted the Sutter's to also give him 200 lots of this new "Sacramento City" so that he could keep his store where it was.


By the mid 1850s Sam Brannan was filthy rich, seizing every opportunity he could to make another profit. Even getting himself situated with things like railroads, banks, and telegrams and eventually staking a claim in land.


Unfortunately, Brannan was a heavy alcoholic and his attachment to liquor landed him in disastrous business deals and in an extremely expensive divorce. By the time he was near death, at around 70 years old, California's first Gold Rush millionaire had become a forgotten failure.

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The Central Valley was where most of the gold in California was found and mined