Sutter's Mill

Coordinates: 38°48′12.5″N 120°53′32.5″W / 38.803472°N 120.892361°W / 38.803472; -120.892361
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Sutter's Mill
2014 replica of Sutter's Mill
Location of Sutter's Mill
LocationColoma, California
AreaMarshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
Governing bodyCalifornia Department of Parks and Recreation
Official nameGold discovery site
DesignatedMarch 7, 1955[1]
Reference no.530

Sutter's Mill was a water-powered sawmill on the bank of the South Fork American River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California. It was named after its owner John Sutter. A worker constructing the mill, James W. Marshall, found gold there in 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush (1848–1855), a major event in the history of the United States.

The mill was later reconstructed in the original design and today forms part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, California. A meteorite fall in 2012 landed close to the mill; the recovered fragments were named the Sutter's Mill meteorite.


Photograph of the original Sutter's Mill, taken circa 1850

The territory of Alta California, which includes modern-day California, was settled by the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1683 onwards. It became part of an independent Mexico in 1821. John Sutter, a German-Swiss settler, arrived in the region in 1839. He established a colony at New Helvetia (now part of Sacramento), in the Central Valley. The United States conquered the region during the Mexican–American War (1846–1848): California was overrun by US forces in 1846 and a ceasefire in the region was agreed in January 1847. A peace treaty for the wider war had not yet been completed when Sutter decided to begin construction of a sawmill in the forest about 30 miles north-east of his existing colony. Sutter employed James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, to supervise construction of the new building.[2]

On January 24, 1848, while working on construction of the mill, Marshall found flakes of gold in the South Fork American River.[2] On February 2, 1848, before news of the discovery had arrived, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in Mexico City. This peace treaty formally transferred sovereignty over the region to the United States. Two workers at the mill, Henry Bigler[3] and Azariah Smith,[4] were veterans of the Mormon Battalion and recorded their experience in journals.[5] Bigler recorded the date when gold was discovered, January 24, 1848, in his diary.[6] Sutter's claim to the US government for mineral rights was investigated by Joseph Libbey Folsom, who issued confirmation of the gold discovery in June. The first flake found by Marshall was shipped to President James K. Polk in Washington DC, arriving in August 1848.[2] It is now on display in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution.[2][7]

As news of the gold spread, settlers flocked to the new US territory of California. The population expanded from 14,000 non-natives to an estimated 85,000 newcomers[contradictory] in just a year.[8] There were roughly 81,000 newcomers[contradictory] in 1849 and another 91,000 in 1850.[9] Many settled at the new town of Coloma, California, which sprung up close to Sutter's Mill. Numerous further discoveries of gold in California were made. During the next seven years, approximately 300,000 people came to California (half by land and half by sea) to seek their fortunes from either mining for gold or selling supplies to the prospectors. This California Gold Rush permanently changed the territory, both through mass immigration and the economic effects of the gold. California became a US State in 1850.

Current status[edit]

Replica (1968-2014)

The site of the mill is part of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, registered as California Historical Landmark number 530.[10]

On September 8, 1965, a groundbreaking was held to begin the construction of a replica of the original structure, based on Marshall's own drawings and a photograph of the mill taken circa 1850.[11] The replica was nearly completed by the following year, and while not built at the exact spot as the original, it was designed to be moved there if the river returned to its 1848 stream bed.[12] The newly completed replica was officially dedicated on January 21, 1968.[13][14] In 2014, the 1960s structure was replaced with a new replica, built closer to the original site.[15][16]


On April 22, 2012 a meteor entered the Earth's atmosphere and exploded, showering meteorite fragments over parts of California and Nevada. The first samples of this meteorite fall were recovered close to Sutter's Mill, so it was named the Sutter's Mill meteorite. Several dozen fragments were eventually identified, with a total weight of about a kilogram. The meteorite is classified as a carbonaceous chondrite and contains some of the oldest known material in the Solar System.[17]

In popular culture[edit]

The mill was the namesake and inspiration for a song by singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg.[18] The mill was also the namesake for a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and for Herb Sutter's blog. In Beverly Cleary's novel Mitch and Amy, the protagonists build a model of Sutter's Mill out of toothpicks. The mill is referenced heavily in an episode of the Little House on the Prairie television series titled "At the End of the Rainbow," in which Laura Ingalls Wilder and a friend believe they have found gold in a stream near Walnut Grove.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gold discovery site". California State Parks Office of Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2014-08-05.
  2. ^ a b c d "Gold Nugget". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 22 January 2021. This small piece of yellow metal is believed to be the first piece of gold discovered in 1848 at Sutter's Mill in California, launching the gold rush. James Marshall was superintending the construction of a sawmill for Col. John Sutter on the morning of January 24, 1848, on the South Fork of the American River at Coloma, California, when he saw something glittering in the water of the mill's tailrace. According to Sutter's diary, Marshall stooped down to pick it up and "found that it was a thin scale of what appeared to be pure gold." Marshall bit the metal as a test for gold.
  3. ^ "California Gold An Authentic History of the First Find With the Names of Those Interested in the Discovery". Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  4. ^ "The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith". Brigham Young University. Archived from the original on 2011-06-09. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  5. ^ William G. Hartley (September 1997). "On the Trail in September". Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 40–41. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  6. ^ Sutter, John (November 1857). "The Discovery of Gold in California". Hutchings' California Magazine. The Mormons did not like to leave my mill unfinished, but they got the gold fever like everybody else. After they had made their piles they left for the Great Salt Lake. So long as these people have been employed by me they hav [sic] behaved very well, and were industrious and faithful laborers, and when settling their accounts there was not one of them who was not contented and satisfied.
  7. ^ "First gold found at Sutter's Mill, California, 1848". Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  8. ^ García, Justine (2014). California Gold Rush. Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. pp. 415–418.
  9. ^ Clay, Karen (2008). History of World Trade since 1450. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 328–339.
  10. ^ "Sutter's Mill Site". Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  11. ^ "Sutter Mill Rebuilding Is Started". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. September 9, 1965. p. D3.
  12. ^ "Coloma Replica Of Sutter's Mill Nears Finish". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. May 22, 1966. p. B4.
  13. ^ "Coloma Dedication of Sutter's Mill Will Highlight Gold Discovery Days Fete". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. January 19, 1968. p. B1.
  14. ^ "Gold Discovery Event Attracts 20,000 Persons". The Sacramento Bee. Sacramento, California. January 22, 1968. p. B1.
  15. ^ Lakey, Pat (December 15, 2014). "New mill ready to inspire new memories". Village Life. El Dorado Hills, California. Archived from the original on September 9, 2015. Retrieved November 5, 2023.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  16. ^ "Sutter's Mill Reconstruction Project Moves Forward" (PDF) (Press release). California Department of Parks and Recreation. September 5, 2014. Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  17. ^ Jenniskens, P.; Fries, M. D.; Yin, Q.-Z.; Zolensky, M.; Krot, A. N.; Sandford, S. A.; Sears, D.; Beauford, R.; Ebel, D. S.; Friedrich, J. M.; Nagashima, K.; Wimpenny, J.; Yamakawa, A.; Nishiizumi, K.; Hamajima, Y.; Caffee, M. W.; Welten, K. C.; Laubenstein, M.; Davis, A. M.; Simon, S. B.; Heck, P. R.; Young, E. D.; Kohl, I. E.; Thiemens, M. H.; Nunn, M. H.; Mikouchi, T.; Hagiya, K.; Ohsumi, K.; Cahill, T. A.; et al. (2012). "Radar-Enabled Recovery of the Sutter's Mill Meteorite, a Carbonaceous Chondrite Regolith Breccia". Science. 338 (6114): 1583–1587. Bibcode:2012Sci...338.1583J. doi:10.1126/science.1227163. hdl:2060/20140017286. PMID 23258889. S2CID 206543838.
  18. ^ "Sutter's Mill by Dan Fogelberg". Retrieved 2010-04-17.

External links[edit]

38°48′12.5″N 120°53′32.5″W / 38.803472°N 120.892361°W / 38.803472; -120.892361