submitted by: SUP Trail Marker Pioneer Stories January 2023


After the Mormon Battalion had been mustered out in California, some of the Battalion men stopped at Sutter's Fort in the Sacramento Valley to work and earn a little money before crossing the mountains to rejoin their families. Six of them, with Sutter's foreman, James W. Marshall, and some Indians, undertook the construction of a sawmill on the south fork of the American River. There, on January 24, 1848, Marshall picked some gold out of the sand in the mill race. Henry Bigler, one of the Battalion men, wrote in his journal that night: "This day some kind of metal was found in the tail race that looks like gold." That historic entry is the only original documentation of the discovery that sent men rushing over land and sea to California.

Soon gold fever had infected people all over the country including some of those in the Salt Lake Valley who had just passed through a difficult winter. Many of them wanted to head out to California. Brigham Young gave the Saints a prophetic warning:

“Some have asked me about going. I told them that God appointed this place for the gathering of his saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold. Those who stop here and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get richer than you that run after the god of this world; and I promise you in the name of the Lord that many of you that go thinking you will get rich and come back, will wish you had never gone away from here, and will long to come back, but will not be able to do so. Some of you will come back, but your friends who remain here will have to help you; and the rest of you who are spared to return will not make as much money as your brethren do who stay here and help build up the Church and Kingdom of God; they will prosper and be able to buy you twice over. Here is the place God has appointed for his people. … As the Saints gather here and get strong enough to possess the land, God will temper the climate, and we shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. We will extend our cities and our settlements to the east and the west, to the north and to the south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the Saints will gather from the nations of the earth. This will become the great highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here, while the wicked and ungodly will envy us our comfortable homes and possessions. Take courage, brethren. ... Plow your land and sow wheat, plant your potatoes. ... The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.”

Before the close of the year 1848 the population of the valley had reached five thousand. A heavy influx of immigrants seriously taxed the resources of the community. Hunger and hardship were common that winter, and these circumstances added to the discouragement of many. In the midst of these trying conditions Heber C. Kimball, speaking before the people in one of their meetings, prophesied that in less than one year there would be plenty of clothing and other needed articles sold on the streets of Salt Lake City for less than in New York or St. Louis. Such a situation was inconceivable but Brigham Young said of the statement, "Let it stand." The fulfillment of that prophecy came about in remarkable fashion.

Thinking to get rich with the sale of goods in California, eastern merchants had loaded great wagon trains with clothing, tools, and other items for which there would be demand at the gold diggings. But on reaching Salt Lake City they learned that competitors had beaten them by shipping around the Cape.

Their only interest then was to unload what they had for what price they could get, and go on to California as quickly as possible. Auctions were held from their wagons on the streets of Salt Lake City. Cloth and clothing sold for less than they could be bought for in New York. Badly needed tools could be had for less than in St. Louis. Fine teams, jaded from the long journey, were eagerly traded for the fatter but less valuable stock in the Valley. Good, heavy wagons, in great demand in the mountain colony, were traded for lighter vehicles with which the gold seekers could make better time.

We are blessed when we listen to our leaders and follow their council. As Jesus taught the Nephites, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants.” 3 Nephi 12:1 So like the pioneers of 1848, may we always be found following the counsel of our leaders for surely the Lord has a blessing waiting for us!

(Source: What of the Mormons, 1947)