A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Part II-Chapter 7 : The Mining Bonanza Kings  > Index and Introduction  :   12 - 3   Next »

   The Mining Bonanza Kings  

 The California Gold Rush - placer mining on the mother lode
 The Silver Kings of Nevada’s Comstock Lode
                The Comstock Lode – discovery and first bonanza (1859-1864)      
The Comstock Lode – William Sharon and the Bank of  California 
                Rise of the Silver KingsFair, Flood, Mackay and O'Brien 
                Rise of the Silver Kings – The Hale & Norcross coup 
Rise of the Silver Kings – The Consolidated Virginia and California mines

 Mining fortunes in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, the Dakotas and Montana

From the Encyclopedia of American Wealth
                Family Profiles : Guggenheim - Mills

On January 4th 1848, James Marshall discovered gold on the location of a saw mill, he was building for John August Sutter at Coloma, California. Sutter was a Swiss emigrant who had settled in California in 1839 and taken Mexican citizenship to build a large agricultural estate around what later became Sacramento. He had received a land grant of 47'827 acres in 1841 to found New Helvetia and another one of 96'800 acres (the Sobrante grant) in 1844, in rewards of military services rendered. John August Sutter supported California's struggle for independence but not necessarily its' joining the United States. In the agricultural country California was prior to the gold rush, Johann August Sutter counted among the most powerful men, although his financial resources were by far not as abundant as many of his contemporaries thought.

Sutter tried to keep the gold finds secret or at least minimize their implications, but Sam Brannan, a ruthless adventurer and merchant, who had led a group of Mormons to California, amplified the news in a series of articles in the "California Star" a San Francisco newspaper he had founded. Brannan owned the drygoods store near Sutter Fort and rightly guessed that a gold rush to the Sacramento River would make him rich. Subsequent gold findings by General John Bidwell in the Feather River and by Major Pearson B. Reading in the Trinity River confirmed the rumors and the California Gold Rush of 1848 was soon raging in America and the World. 500'000 people, mostly young men, would follow the lure of instant wealth and travel to the Pacific, by land over the Oregon, the Mormon or the Santa Fe trails or by sea, first around Cape Horn and later through Panama or Nicaragua. Most of these men would become placer miners and seek their luck washing out the California rivers for gold. Few actually made large fortunes as gold miners but substantial wealth was created overall (in California and the USA) by their labors. Some astute businessmen derived large fortunes in merchandising, transportation and banking.

Whereas the ante-bellum landlord John August Sutter lost his entire property to squatters and died penniless in 1865 on the stairs of the Capitol in Washington, after the U.S. Congress had just adjourned voting on a 50'000 $ compensation for him, Sam Brannan became California's first millionaire. After selling at huge profits the mining equipment he had hoarded in his store near Sutter's Fort, Brannan induced Sutter's son to found Sacramento and bought land there and later in San Francisco where he became a large real estate owner.

In the 1850's Samuel Brannan's influence was hardly equaled by any other man in California. He owned one fourth of Sacramento, one fifth of San Francisco and the land on which a number of other towns, like Yuba, were established. He was the first president of the Committee of Vigilantes and otherwise wielded his power through the many enterprises he helped found, including banks, railroads and telegraph companies. Brannan further extended his wealth by acquiring large landholdings in other parts of California, Nevada and Mexico. In 1868 he bought from Abel Stearns 160'000 acres in Los Angeles County. He also owned an extensive property in Honolulu and 3'000 acres around the Calistoga Hot Springs in Napa Valley. A large loan he granted to the government of Mexico in 1855, a series of unlucky speculations and his alcoholism eventually caused his ruin and he too died penniless.

The Mining Bonanza Kings  > Index and Introduction  :   12 - 3   Next » 

The Mining Bonanza Kings

The Railroad Barons

The Trusts



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