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Sutter was born in Baden, Germany. In 1834 he decided to try his fortunes in America. By 1838, Sutter had determined that Mexican California held the promise of fulfilling his ambitious dreams, and he set off along the Oregon Trail. He finally arrived in California in 1838. The provincial governor gave him permission to establish a settlement east of San Francisco along the Sacramento River.
Within just a few years, Sutter had achieved the grand-scale success he long dreamed of: acres of grain, a ten-acre orchard, a herd of thirteen thousand cattle, two acres of Castile roses.
Barely a week before the war's end, however, there occurred a chance event that would destroy all John Sutter's achievements. On the morning of January 24, 1848, a carpenter named James Marshall, building a sawmill for Sutter upstream on the American River near Coloma, looked into the mill's tailrace and saw at the water's bottom nuggets of gold. Marshall took his discovery to Sutter, who consulted an encyclopedia and then tried to pledge all his employees to secrecy. But within a few months, word had reached San Francisco and the gold rush was on.