Bidwell Learns of the Gold Discovery

John Bidwell was still doing occasional work for Sutter, but at the time of Marshall’s gold discovery in Coloma he was near Chico, building a log cabin, surveying some land, and digging an irrigation ditch. In August of 1845 he had purchased a part interest in Edward Farwell’s rancho New Salem, which was located just south of Chico Creek. It was here that he had determined to settle as a farmer and raise cattle and grain.

“Having occasion to go to San Rafael and San Francisco, I reached Sutter’s Fort one or two days after Marshall had been there and announced his discovery, “Bidwell told Bancroft’s scribe in 1877. Sutter immediately took Bidwell into his confidence and sent him with samples of the ore to San Francisco.

“I was the first to carry the news to San Francisco. I well remember Vallejo’s words when I told him of the discovery and when it had taken place. he said, “As the water flows through Sutter’s mill-race may the gold flow into Sutter’s purse.”” That was a poetic and courtly comment on Vallejo’s part, but alas for Sutter it was not to be. The Gold Rush utterly ruined him. His vast rancho was overrun with prospectors and squatters, who stole his livestock, broke down his fences and took over his property.

By 1851 Sutter had abandoned the fort at Sacramento and was living with his wife and children on his Hock Farm near Marysville. When Sutter first came to America in 1834 he deserted a wife and four children back in Switzerland. After many years of separation he had at last brought them to California, and after the failure of all his schemes for wealth and power he only hoped to live out his years in a comfortable house on a farm on the banks of the Feather River.

Today an historical marker indicates the site of the farm, but there is nothing else to see. The house burned down in 1865, and John Sutter and his wife went east so that he could petition Congress for restitution of his losses. He died in 1871.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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