The Gold that Made California

Admin Uncategorized

With the gold price so high at the moment, it feels like there is something of a gold rush going on in the industry and that made us think about the real gold rushes of the past and, particularly, the legendary California Gold Rush of 1849 which put California on the map.  During that extraordinary scramble for gold, miners extracted around 750,000 pounds of gold worth around $2billion.  It all began with one man building a mill and here’s a bit more about it:

Sutter’s Mill

On 24th January 24 1848, James Wilson Marshall was building a water-powered sawmill for John Sutter on the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  He discovered gold flakes in that river and he and Sutter managed to keep it quiet for a little while but by mid-March, a local newspaper was reporting the find.

San Francisco

News of the gold at Sutter’s Mill was initially met with scepticism but when a shop keeper thought it would be a good idea to go parading around with a bottle of gold obtained from there, it set off a frenzy of people flooding to the area.  The exodus from San Francisco to go prospecting for gold was so extreme that two newspapers were forced to close because of lack of staff and ships were left derelict in the harbour with their crews off looking for gold.  By June, three quarters of the male population of the city had left to go gold mining and the total number of miners was around 4,000.  This soon changed, however, when the word travelled further and the huge influx of would-be gold miners flooded into the area.


In December 1848, President James K Polk announced the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill and people began to travel from all over the country and beyond to get to California.  By boat, people were sailing all the way around Cape Horn (at the bottom of South America) to reach California as well as coming from Mexico, Chile, Peru and even China.  Before the gold rush, the population of area was around 800.  By the end of 1849, it was around 100,000 people.  This caused whole communities to spring up with shops, saloons and other businesses.  It also created a huge amount of lawlessness with rampant banditry, prostitution, violence and gambling.

One Man’s Observations

The trip to join in the gold rush was documented by a man called Sheldon Shufelt in a letter to his cousin sent from the gold fields in 1850.  After an arduous sea journey from New York City to Panama and then on to San Francisco in search of enough gold to give him a comfortable life, he   found that, despite the abundance of gold, people were “liable to disappointments, disease and death”.  He recounts all the bad behaviour he saw and said that people were throwing away huge amounts of money in drinking, gambling and prostitution.  Typical really!  A few years later, the gold rush was already tailing off.

California’s gold rush sped up how quickly it became part of the United States and meant its population continued to increase making it a major player in the Union.  It’s quite funny that gold caused such change and upheaval then but it’s now seen as a safe haven in times of economic uncertainty.  We can’t claim to have gold from the California Gold Rush but we do have lots of antique and pre-owned gold jewellery and are always happy to buy good quality gold.  If you’ve got any gold to sell or would like to buy any gold jewellery, please give us a call on 01273 239763 or email

The Gold that Made California was last modified: July 20th, 2020 by Admin