Mormon Gold

Few people are aware it was the job foreman and half-a-dozen Mormons who first discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. Even fewer are aware of the overall presence and contribution Mormons made during the gold rush years. The Mormon people had been in Salt Lake for less than a year when Gold was discover. A year later the rush to riches was on. People flooded California from around the world in an effort to lay claim to part of California’s rich Gold deposits. Mormon Gold: Mormons in the California Gold Rush Contributing to the Development of California and the Monetary Solvency of Early Utah examines the Mormon people and their participation in the famous Gold Rush of 1849 and the subsequent mining years.

The early years for Mormons in Salt Lake and its surrounding settlements were economically difficult for many. Those who came with Brigham Young, and those who continued to arrive over the next few years, came across the plains with few possessions. Many were destitute and were doing their best just to survive those early years. The temptation to seek wealth and prosperity in the gold rich hills of California was strong. Sensing this pull, and knowing most would not find the wealth they dreamed of, along with understanding the need to keep the new communities in Utah as strong as possible if the Mormons were to survive, Brigham Young ordered the saints to stay, to work, and to follow God’s will. Meanwhile, he also knew that California Gold could be a boon to the struggling economy in Salt Lake. Thus, he selected men to go and seek prosperous enterprises in California, to build businesses and seek opportunities to gain advantage from the flood of gold seekers. Some were to also mine gold and gather tithes and return what they could to Utah. Mormon Gold provides the facts and details about these Mormon participants and their reasons for going to California.

Mormon Gold tries to “identify individuals involved in the gold rush and piece together their lives and interactions. It is extensively illustrated with portraits, landscapes, and maps.” The book is filled with background stories and details. Inset into the chapters are independent, brief, biographies of individuals found within the story. Likewise, added details, historical facts, and explanations are provided in similar manner for key locations, settlements, and interest items. One inset shows and describes the gold mining process using a sluice with a riddle plate. Brief bios are presented for more famous individuals, like John A. Sutter (not a mormon but obviously a major player in the Gold Rush thanks to the discovery of Gold at his mill), Brigham Young, and Orrin Porter Rockwell. Some of the less historically famous individuals, whose presence are noted within the Gold Rush story,  are given individual space with their own brief bios, such as Francis Martin Pomeroy (my own third-great grandfather).

Here are some of the other California Mormon highlights found in the book:

  • “They came, some just before and some just after California became a Territory (1846)
  • They doubled the population of Yerba Buena and helped turn that placid, ‘ends of the earth’ hamlet into a bustling San Francisco
  • They were involved in some of the first gold discoveries (Coloma and Mormon Island)
  • They opened important trails across the Sierra and the Southwest
  • Some brought their families, built homes, and pioneered commercial farming in California
  • Many sent their gold back to help establish a currency for the infant Mormon settlement in the Salt Lake Valley, which without that help might have floundered.”

The first edition of Mormon Gold was published in 1984. At the time, researchers praised the author for “having left no stone unturned in recounting all there is to know about Mormons and the gold rush.” That may have been true at the time. However, in the over twenty-five years since then, much research has been added to the collective knowledge on the subject. Thus, the authors felt the book needed a major update. This second edition make uses of dozens of resources not available at the printing of the first edition. Some of the additional materials include extensive biographies on major participants and leaders among the Mormons in California; plus, annotated diaries, including, the diary of George Q. Cannon, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, during his California years.



Maps and Illustrations



1. The Stage is Set

2. Gold at Coloma

3. Mormon Island: The First California Gold Rush

4. The Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail

5. A Message of Gold to Brigham Young

6. The Mormon ’48ers

7. Mormon Valley Currency

8. Mormon Guides to the Gold Mines

9. Amasa M. Lyman and the Mormon Apostolic Gold Mission

10. The Pueblo Saints

11. The Rhoades Mormon gold TRain

12. Apostle Charles C. Rich and the Gold Missionaries

13. The Gentile Pomeroy Wagon Train

14. The Huffaker Company

15. The Salt Lake Trading Company

16. The Joint Apostolic Gold Mission

17. From God to the Word

18. The Last Trains West

19. Home to Zion

20. A Maverick Mormon Argonaut

21. Mormon Station and the Carson Valley Saints

22. The San Bernardino Saints and Gold

23. Proselyting the Gold Fields

24. Missionaries and the Final Exodus

25. Mormon Argonauts: Some Reflections

Appendix A: The Mormon Argonaut Communities

Appendix B: Mormon Argonauts in the Census Records

Appendix C: Mormon Gold Time Line

Appendix D: Historical Background for the Mormon Gold Story


Map and Illustration Credits

Subject Index

Personal Name Index

About the Authors


Avid historians, gold rush aficionados, and Mormons alike will all appreciate the detailed history this book provides. Rich in details, colorful characters, and a sense of truth helps bring light California’s gold rush and its Mormon participants.

Mormon Gold: Mormons in the California Gold Rush Contributing to the Development of California and the Monetary Solvency of Early Utah is available from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: GMP1, Price: $39.96.


One thought on “Mormon Gold

  1. In 1998 the LDS Church produced video “A Legacy More Precious Than Gold” came out in VHS, and now is available in DVD format. This video tells the story of early Latter-day Saints in Mexican Alta California, the Ship Brooklyn Saints, and the Mormon Battalion. Since then the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation has been continuing the education of both LDS and the public about the important impact of the 600 Saints that were in Alta California prior to the Gold Rush. A state-wide living history program was established that has organized reenacting groups in both southern and northern California, with perhaps the largest in the greater Sacramento Valley area, the Sierra Nevada Mormon Pioneers. The group has more than 35 active members, including full families, and takes part in as many as 40 evants a year, including firesides, parades, community history events and Pioneer Days. Several members serve as docents at Sutter’s Fort and Marshall Gold Discovery State Parks, and many help at Old Sacramento and Columbia State Parks.
    The California Pioneer Heritage Foundation has web and Facebook sites, and provides many links for more research and information.

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