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The Art of Mort Künstler / The American Spirit / The Frontier

Here you will find a pictorial chronicle of the drama and excitement of American History. These paintings give the viewer an insight into the tumultuous life of this young nation that mere words cannot achieve.

Gold Discovered at Sutter's Mill

James Marshall, a New Jersey wheelwright, settled at Sutter's Fort in California as early as 1845. He fought the next year under Fremont and against the Mexicans who claimed the area; after which he returned north and went into partnership with Johann Augustus Sutter, a Swiss emigrant. It was while building a sawmill for Sutter, that Marshall – quite by accident – discovered gold.

It was in January of 1848, his "eye caught by a glimpse of something shining in the bottom of the ditch," that Marshall made his discovery. By May, the news had spread widely. Everyone rushed to Sutter's Mill. "The blacksmith dropped his hammer, the carpenter his plane, the farmer his sickle and the baker his loaf…all were off to the mines." Gold fever proved highly infectious.

By 1849, California gold was the talk of the whole of America, of Europe, of Australia, even of Asia. As northerners and southerners mingled with Europeans, Indians, Mexicans and Chinese, fortunes were made overnight in the gold diggings. All too often they were quickly spent in the stores where foodstuffs commanded an enormous price or lost at a "friendly" poker game in a Frisco saloon. (Ironically, one of those who lost the most during the Gold Rush was Johann Sutter, beleaguered by miners and claim jumpers, and forced into bankruptcy by 1852.) By the end of "forty-nine," California's population had risen to 90,000 and was growing five times as fast as that of more settled states. In 1850, the U.S. Congress welcomed California into the Union. Never before had a nation expanded three thousand miles in so short a time.


All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2022. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.