If ever a man had everything going his way in 1848, it was John A. Sutter, who had arrived in California nine years earlier. He owned land and cattle. His self-sustained community on the Sacramento River was prosperous. People traveling overland from the East were bound to stop at Sutter's Fort when first arriving in California.
So when his employee James Marshall discovered gold while building a sawmill for Sutter in Coloma, Sutter took it for granted that his life would get even better and he would get richer.
On May 4, 1848, he wrote to his business associate Heinrich Thommen, describing the good fortune he was expecting.
"The three pairs of shoes you will have received through Mr. Lennox. For the wheat, for which you have a credit with me, I shall pay you in gold or in anything else I have, since the wheat would cause you nothing but difficulties; besides the wheat is at present very low in price.
"Mr. Lienhard wrote you a few lines at the time gold was discovered near my sawmill. From that time on, many considerable discoveries have been made. Gold is found now twenty miles from here and travels up to the sawmill in a width of twenty to thirty miles and about forty miles in length; that is as far as we have traced it. We have hired an expert miner as manager of our company. I am strongly convinced that the gold region extends as far as San Fernando and upward from here to the end of Sacramento Valley. ... The workers make at least an average of $4 to $5 per day, where the Mormons are operating one has found in a single washing $60. Business in the stores is quite active, Mr. Smith has received in three days thirty ounces of gold and has only a few men working for him
"Not only placeros (gold placers) but also rich gold veins have been discovered on our property, which we shall explore more thoroughly before it pleases Uncle Sam to lay his fatherly hand over it. Major Reading and I have also discovered very rich silver mines only five miles this side of the sawmill, as also iron. I felt it my duty to make you acquainted with all these facts. ... You shall see that Sutterville will immediately become a town, and another small town will spring up near the sawmill, which will give me a splendid market for my boards. My flour mill would have been finished by this time had not every one of the workers gone after gold, but it will be ready within three weeks' time. I do not need to look now for another market for my flour, as within six months at least 3,000 souls will be hereabouts."
Sutter's flour mill never did get finished. Squatters came and took over what he had claimed to be his land. He went to court. He chose the wrong kind of associates, who cheated him over and over again.
In 1857, he wrote an article for Hutchings' California Magazine.
"By this sudden discovery of the gold all my plans were destroyed. ... Instead of being rich I am ruined."
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