The American River is a river in California that runs from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Sacramento River. In the 19th century gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada mountain range; it would be carried down by the rivers and so might be recovered from the river silt. John Sutter first found gold at Sutter’s Mill, on the bank of the American River, in 1848. This started the California Gold Rush, when people came in droves to the state to make their fortunes.
One method of finding gold is panning, a simple and low-cost process. Gravel and dirt from the river bed is scraped into a pan along with some water. The pan is then shaken gently from side to side, causing the gold to sink to the bottom. The water and lighter silt and dirt are poured out, and the panner can then search through the remaining material for little pieces of gold. A pocket of gold, which George hopes to find, is a larger piece of gold that has come away from its vein but has not yet been swept away by the river.