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A phrase immortalized by Mark Twain began in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Have you ever heard anyone say; “Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills?”  Would it surprise you to learn that it all began with a speech in Dahlonega?  In 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California.  For the gold miners of Lumpkin County, Georgia this was exciting news.  Most of the easy gold had been taken from the streams and rivers since the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829, twenty years earlier.  California offered the Georgia miners a chance to start fresh.  Day after day, news came in of gold discoveries being made in the California region.  Men began talking of packing up and heading west while the pickings were still good. 

Matthew Stephenson was a well respected expert on gold in Dahlonega.  When he heard that many of the miners were planning on heading west to California, he just shook his head and denounced it as a foolish craze.   Dr. Stephenson’s opinion was highly sought after by locals and visitors alike when it came to the subject of gold and mining.  Before anyone left for California, Dr. Stephenson let the townspeople know that he wished to make a speech.  Known for his great speaking skills, Dr Stephenson hoped to persuade the miners from leaving Dahlonega.  

Climbing the steps of the courthouse, Dr. Stephenson looked out at the assembled crowd from the balcony.  With his long tailed coat flapping in the breeze, he began: “Boys, why go to California?”  Looking out beyond the town, he pointed his finger at Crown Mountain.  “In that mountain lies more wealth than you’ve ever dreamed possible, there’s millions in it!” He repeated himself. “There’s millions in it!”  The rest of his speech was never handed down, but his famous words became the rallying cry of the Georgia miners.
Despite his plea, many of the men did not share Dr. Stephenson’s vision and felt most of Dahlonega’s  gold had already been found.  As their overland wagon train headed west, the crack of the whip and the daily cry of “There’s millions in it!” drove the Georgians onward towards the new El Dorado.

Once they arrived in California, Dr. Stephenson’s expression became a familiar phrase at the mining camps.  Whenever one of the Georgia miners was ready to give up in despair, all it took from one of his fellow miners was to say “There’s Millions in It.”  This generally prompted the discouraged miner to pick up his shovel and resume digging.

Some years later, a man named James Sellers joined one of the Georgia mining camps.  Sellers liked using the popular phrase “There’s millions in it” so much, that it was never off his tongue for very long. 

One day, Samuel Clemens better known as Mark Twain, was visiting one of the Georgia gold mining camps. While at the camp, Mr. Clemens struck up a conversation with James Sellers. The story of Dr. Stephenson’s famous phrase used by the miners was retold to Mr. Clemens. So amused was Clemens by this popular phrase, that he created the character of Colonel Mulberry Sellers in his book “The Gilded Age.”  Colonel Sellers would become synonymous with “There’s Millions In It!”
When “The Gilded Age” was published in 1873, it became an instant success.  Within two years, the phrase “There’s Millions in It” was sweeping the country.  So popular was the character of Mulberry Sellers that Mark Twain cast him in another of his books, “The American Claimant.”

Over the years, Dr. Stephenson’s famous phrase has changed.  In the early part of the 20th century, the phrase changed to “There’s Gold in Them Hills.”  About the 1930s, perhaps with the growing popularity of Hollywood westerns, a more rustic and frontier sounding slang changed the phrase to the now familiar, “Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!”   

And to think, it all began in Dahlonega with Dr. Stephenson’s speech in 1849.  “There’s Millions in It !

Submitted by Chris Worick on 2 April 2012.