Early in 1848, employees of John Sutter paid for goods in his store with gold they had found at Sutter’s Mill, near Coloma, California. Brannan went to the mill and, as a representative of the LDS Church, he received the tithes of the LDS workers there from the gold they had found in their spare time.
Brannan then purchased every shovel in San Francisco and ran through the streets yelling,
“Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”
His “California Star” paper couldn’t publish the news as the staff had already left for the gold fields.
Brannan had opened more stores to sell goods to the miners (his Sutter Fort store sold US$150,000 a month in 1849), and began buying land in San Francisco. At about this time, Brannan was accused of diverting church money, including collected tithes, to fund his private ventures.
An LDS envoy was sent to Brannan and reportedly told them, “You go back and tell Brigham Young that I’ll give up the Lord’s money when he sends me a receipt signed by the Lord.”, although historians, such as Will Bagley have found this is likely just legend.
Brannan was elected to the first town council of San Francisco in the new U.S. territory. After a series of sensational crimes in the area, he helped organize the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, which functioned as a de facto police force.
A squatter was murdered by the vigilante group and, although Brannan may not have pulled the trigger, he was considered the instigator and was subsequently disfellowshipped from the LDS Church for the vigilante violence.
In 1851, Brannan visited Hawaii, and purchased large amounts of land in Honolulu. In 1853 Samuel Brannan was elected as a Senator to the California State Senate in the new state’s capital of Sacramento.
He was involved in developing trade with China and financial agreements with Mexico, founding the Society of California Pioneers, and developing banks, railroads and telegraph companies in California.
Brannan built the first incarnation of the famous Cliff House, in 1858 on the Pacific Ocean in undeveloped western San Francisco.
Moral of Sam Brannan Story:
Do not dig for Gold, instead sell shovels to masses digging for gold.