Early Participants in the Gold Mining: Mormon Emigrants


One group of emigrants who participated in the westward expansion and were present at Sutter's Fort at the time gold was discovered were the Mormons. One of the first Mormon groups to arrive in California was made up of members of the Mormon Battalion. This battalion had fought in the Mexican-American War and now made their way through northern California on their way to Salt Lake City just before the gold rush. Nine of the twelve laborers who were enlisted by John Sutter to assist in building a gristmill and a sawmill near Sutter's Fort were members of the Mormon Battalion . One veteran of the Mormon Battalion named Henry Bigler recalled his experiences working for Sutter in 1886. Bigler volunteered to work on the construction of the sawmill under James Marshall in the fall of 1847. Some of his thoughts and recollections of the events surrounding his employment during the winter of 1847-1848 are as follows:

We earned one dollar and fifty cents per day all around to the man. Our hands were tender and soon became very sore. Some of our men were taken sick with chills and scurvy. While at dinner on the 27th [of September 1847], a man entered our quarters dressed in buckskin, and said Captain Sutter wanted four men from our company to go up into the mountains about thirty miles to help build a saw-mill on the south fork of the American River. He said that he and Sutter were partners in building the mill and that he had been up there with a few hands and had done a little work, but some of them were expecting to leave soon, hence they wanted more help. This man was Jams Wilson Marshall... Marshall took an ox team and wagon loaded with provisions, and a few tools. We arrived at the mill site in the evening of the 29th, where we found several of the battalion boys who, by the advice of Levi W. Hancock, had stopped at Sutter's at the time we passed their in August. To me the surrounding country looked wild and lonesome. We were surrounded by high mountains, more or less covered with a heavy growth of pine, balsam, redwood, pinion pine and oak timber. The place was infested with wolves, grizzly bears and Indians. Before our arrival at the mill site, Marshall and the brethren had built a nice double log cabin about one-fourth of a mile from the mill. In one part of the house lived a family. The man's name was Peter L. Wemer [Peter L. Wimmer], whose wife [Jennie Wimmer] was to be cook for the mill hands.


Kenneth N Owens, Gold Rush Saints: California Mormons and the Great Rush for Riches. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.