Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

John Sutter and the California Gold Rush

John Sutter and the California Gold Rush

Matt Doeden
Illustrator:  Ron Frenz , Charles Barnett III 
Nonfiction Graphic Novel  Series
For ages 7 to 10
Capstone Press, 2006   ISBN: 0736843701

It all began on a very ordinary January day in 1848. James Marshall, an employee of John Sutter, was overseeing the work that was being done on the new saw mill that John Sutter was having built in the Coloma Valley in California. As he was looking the site over Marshall saw something glittering in the waters of the American River. He soon found out that what he had seen was gold and the river appeared to be full of similar nuggets and chips of the precious metal.

Though John Sutter asked his workers to keep quiet about the discovery, word soon got around and the gold rush began. Sutter’s workers left their job and began looking for gold for themselves. It wasn’t long before they were joined by thousands of other men, all of whom were trying to make that special lucky strike. People from all over the United States and from other countries came to California hoping to make their fortunes. Few did. Indeed many left California worse off than when they arrived and John Sutter was one of the many whose whole lives were changed for the worse by the gold rush.

In this easy to read comic book style work of non-fiction the author tells the story of both the gold rush and of poor John Sutter who was ruined by it. The text and illustrations make it quite clear that the journeys that the forty-niners took to get to California were grueling and dangerous. This state of affairs did not change once they arrived at their destination. Clearly, prospecting for gold was very much a hit and miss business.