California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. " [E] vents from January 1848 through December 1855 [are] generally acknowledged as the 'Gold Rush' .... After 1855, California gold mining changed and is outside the 'rush' era."cite web |title=The Gold Rush of California: A Bibliography of Periodical Articles |publisher=California State University, Stanislaus|year=2002|url= |accessdate=2008-01-23] News of the discovery soon spread, resulting in some 300,000 men, women, and children coming to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. [cite web|title=California Gold Rush, 1848-1864|url=|work=Learn, a site designed for the California Secretary of State|accessdate=2008-07-22]

These early gold-seekers, called "forty-niners," traveled to California by sailing ship and in covered wagons across the continent, often facing substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly-arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia. At first, the prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning, and later developed more sophisticated methods of gold recovery that were adopted around the world. Gold, worth billions of today's dollars, was recovered, which lead to great wealth for a few; many, however, returned home with little more than they started with.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. San Francisco grew from a tiny hamlet of tents to a boomtown, and roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. A system of laws and a government was created, leading to the admission of California as a state in 1850. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service and railroads were built. The business of agriculture, California's next major growth field, was started on a wide scale throughout the state. However, the Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans were attacked and pushed off traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental harm.


The Gold Rush started at Sutter's Mill, near Coloma.For a detailed map, see [ California Historic Gold Mines] , published by the State of California; accessed 2006-12-03.] On January 24, 1848 James W. Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento pioneer John Sutter, found pieces of shiny metal in the tailrace of a lumber mill Marshall was building for Sutter, along the American River.cite book |last=Bancroft |first=Hubert Howe |title=History of California, Volume 23: 1848–1859 |publisher=The History Company |year=1888 |location=San Francisco|pages=pp. 32–34|url= ] Marshall quietly brought what he found to Sutter, and the two of them privately tested the findings. The tests showed Marshall's particles to be gold. Sutter was dismayed by this, and wanted to keep the news quiet because he feared what would happen to his plans for an agricultural empire if there were a mass search for gold.Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 39–41.] However, rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March 1848 by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan. The most famous quote of the California Gold Rush was by Brannan; after he had hurriedly set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies,cite book |last=Holliday |first=J. S. |title=Rush for riches; gold fever and the making of California |publisher=Oakland Museum of California and University of California Press |year=1999 |location=Oakland, California, Berkeley and Los Angeles |pages=p. 60 ] Brannan strode through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 55–56.] With the news of gold, many families trying their luck at Californian farming decided to go for the gold, becoming some of California’s first miners.

On August 19, 1848, the "New York Herald" was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report that there was a gold rush in California; on December 5, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress.cite book |last=Starr |first=Kevin |title=California: a history |publisher=The Modern Library |year=2005 |location=New York|pages=p. 80| ] Soon, waves of immigrants from around the world, later called the "forty-niners," invaded the Gold Country of California or "Mother Lode." As Sutter had feared, he was ruined; his workers left in search of gold, and squatters invaded his land and stole his crops and cattle.Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 103–105.]

San Francisco had been a tiny settlement before the rush began. When residents learned of the discovery, it at first became a ghost town of abandoned ships and businesses whose owners joined the Gold Rush,Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 59–60.] but then boomed as merchants and new people arrived. The population of San Francisco exploded from perhaps 1,000Holliday, J. S. (1999), p. 51 ("800 residents").] in 1848 to 25,000 full-time residents by 1850.cite book |author=Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) |title=A golden state: mining and economic development in Gold Rush California (California History Sesquicentennial Series, 2) |year=1999 |location=Berkeley and Los Angeles|publisher=University of California Press|page=187] As with many boomtowns, the sudden influx of people strained the infrastructure of San Francisco and other towns near the goldfields. People lived in tents, wood shanties, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships. Holliday, J. S. (1999), p. 126. ]

In what has been referred to as the "first world-class gold rush,"Hill, Mary (1999), p. 1. ] there was no easy way to get to California; forty-niners faced hardship and often death on the way. At first, most Argonauts, as they were also known, traveled by sea. From the East Coast, a sailing voyage around the tip of South America would take five to eight months,cite book |last=Brands|first=H.W. |title=The age of gold: the California Gold Rush and the new American dream |location=New York |publisher=Anchor (reprint ed.) |year=2003 |pages=pp. 103–121] and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative was to sail to the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama, to take canoes and mules for a week through the jungle, and then on the Pacific side, to wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco.Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 75–85. Another route across Nicaragua was developed in 1851; it was not as popular as the Panama option. Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 252–253. ] There was also a route across Mexico starting at Veracruz. Eventually, most gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 5.] Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid fever and cholera.Holliday, J. S. (1999), pp. 101, 107.]

To meet the demands of the arrivals, ships bearing goods from around the world - porcelain and silk from China, ale from Scotland - poured into San Francisco as well.U.S. National Park Service, [ Found! The Wreck of the Frolic] (accessed Oct. 16, 2006). ] Upon reaching San Francisco, ship captains found that their crews deserted and went to the gold fields. The wharves and docks of San Francisco became a forest of masts, as hundreds of ships were abandoned. Enterprising San Franciscans turned the abandoned ships into warehouses, stores, taverns, hotels, and one into a jail. Starr, Kevin (2005), p. 80; cite web |title=Shipping is the Foundation of San Francisco — Literally |publisher=Oakland Museum of California |year=1998 |url= |accessdate=2006-12-06] Many of these ships were later destroyed and used for landfill to create more buildable land in the boomtown.

Within a few years, there was an important but lesser-known surge of prospectors into far Northern California, specifically into present-day Siskiyou, Shasta and Trinity Counties.Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 363–366.] Discovery of gold nuggets at the site of present-day Yreka in 1851 brought thousands of gold-seekers up the Siskiyou Trailcite book |last=Dillon |first=Richard |year=1975 |title=Siskiyou Trail |location=New York |publisher=McGraw Hill |pp. 361–362.] and throughout California's northern counties.cite book |last=Wells |first=Harry L. |title=History of Siskiyou County, California |publisher=D.J. Stewart & Co. |year=1881 |location=Oakland, California|pages=pp. 60–64 ] Settlements of the Gold Rush era, such as Portuguese Flat on the Sacramento River, sprang into existence and then faded. The Gold Rush town of Weaverville on the Trinity River today retains the oldest continuously-used Taoist temple in California, a legacy of Chinese miners who came. While there are not many Gold Rush era ghost towns still in existence, the well-preserved remains of the once-bustling town of Shasta is a California State Historic Park in Northern California.The buildings of Bodie, the best-known ghost town in California, date from the 1870s and later, well after the end of the Gold Rush.]

Gold was also discovered in Southern California but on a much smaller scale. The first discovery of gold, at Rancho San Francisco in the mountains north of present-day Los Angeles, had been in 1842, six years before Marshall's discovery, while California was still part of Mexico.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (1999), p. 3.] However, these first deposits, and later discoveries in Southern California mountains, attracted little notice and were of limited consequence economically.

By 1850, most of the easily accessible gold had been collected, and attention turned to extracting gold from more difficult locations. Faced with gold increasingly difficult to retrieve, Americans began to drive out foreigners to get at the most accessible gold that remained. The new California State Legislature passed a foreign miners tax of twenty dollars per month, and American prospectors began organized attacks on foreign miners, particularly Latin Americans and Chinese.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 9.] In addition, the huge numbers of newcomers were driving Native Americans out of their traditional hunting, fishing and food-gathering areas. To protect their homes and livelihood, some Native Americans responded by attacking the miners. This provoked counter-attacks on native villages. The Native Americans, out-gunned, were often slaughtered.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 8.] Those who escaped massacres were many times unable to survive without access to their food-gathering areas, and they starved to death. Novelist and poet Joaquin Miller vividly captured one such attack in his semi-autobiographical work, "Life Amongst the Modocs."cite book |author=Miller, Joaquin |year=1873 |title=Life amongst the Modocs: unwritten history |publisher=Heyday Books; reprint edition (January 1996) |location=Berkeley | [ On-line version of book] ]


The first people to rush to the gold fields, beginning in the spring of 1848, were the residents of California themselves—primarily agriculturally oriented Americans and Europeans living in Northern California, along with Native Americans and some "Californios" (Spanish-speaking Californians).Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 43–46.] These first miners tended to be families in which everyone helped in the effort. Women and children of all races were often found panning next to the men. Some enterprising families set up boarding houses to accommodate the influx of men; in such cases, the women often brought in steady income while their husbands searched for gold.Moynihan, Ruth B., Armitage, Susan, and Dichamp, Christiane Fischer (eds.) (1990). "So Much to Be Done." Lincoln: U Nebraska, p. 3]

Word of the Gold Rush spread slowly at first. The earliest gold-seekers to arrive in California during 1848 were people who lived near California, or people who heard the news from ships on the fastest sailing routes from California. The first large group of Americans to arrive were several thousand Oregonians who came down the Siskiyou Trail.cite book |author=Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) |year=2000 |title=Rooted in barbarous soil: people, culture, and community in Gold Rush California |publisher=Univ. of California Press |location=Berkeley and Los Angeles |pages=pp. 50–54] Next came people from Hawaii, by ship, and several thousand Latin Americans, including people from Mexico, from Peru and from as far away as Chile,Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 48–53.] both by ship and overland.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 50–54.] By the end of 1848, some 6,000 Argonauts had come to California. Only a small number (probably fewer than 500) traveled overland from the United States that year. Some of these "forty-eighters," as these very earliest gold-seekers were also sometimes called, were able to collect large amounts of easily accessible gold—in some cases, thousands of dollars worth each day.Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 197–202.] Holliday, J. S. (1999) p. 63. Holliday notes these luckiest prospectors were recovering, in short amounts of time, gold worth in excess of $1 million when valued at the dollars of today.] Even ordinary prospectors averaged daily gold finds worth ten to fifteen times the daily wage of a laborer on the East Coast. A person could work for six months in the goldfields and find the equivalent of six years' wages back home,Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), p. 28.] which attracted people of all types and ethnicities including single men and women, families, and married men. Some hoped to get rich quick and return home, and others wished to start businesses in California.

By the beginning of 1849, word of the Gold Rush had spread around the world, and an overwhelming number of gold-seekers and merchants began to arrive from virtually every continent. The largest group of forty-niners in 1849 were Americans, arriving by the tens of thousands overland across the continent and along various sailing routesStarr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 57–61.] (the name "forty-niner" was derived from the year 1849). AustraliansBrands, H.W. (2003), pp. 53–61.] and New Zealanders picked up the news from ships carrying Hawaiian newspapers, and thousands, infected with "gold fever," boarded ships for California.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 53–56.] Forty-niners came from Latin America, particularly from the Mexican mining districts near Sonora. Gold-seekers and merchants from Asia, primarily from China,Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 61–64.] began arriving in 1849, at first in modest numbers to "Gum Sam" ("Gold Mountain"), the name given to California in Chinese. [ Chinese name for California and Chinese miners in California] Accessed 2008-04-25 ] The first immigrants from Europe, reeling from the effects of the Revolutions of 1848 and with a longer distance to travel, began arriving in late 1849, mostly from France,Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 93–103.] with some Germans, Italians, and Britons.

It is estimated that almost 90,000 people arrived in California in 1849—about half by land and half by sea.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 57–61. Other estimates range from 70,000 to 90,000 arrivals during 1849 ("ibid." p. 57).] Of these, perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 were Americans, and the rest were from other countries. By 1855, it is estimated at least 300,000 gold-seekers, merchants, and other immigrants had arrived in California from around the world.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), p. 25.] The largest group continued to be Americans, but there were tens of thousands each of Mexicans, Chinese, Britons, [ [ Exploration and Settlement (John Bull and Uncle Sam)] ] French, and Latin Americans,Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 193–194.] together with many smaller groups of miners, such as Filipinos, BasquesStarr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), p. 62.] and Turks. [ [ Gold Rush: Background] ] A modest number of miners of African ancestry (probably less than 4,000)Another estimate is 2,500 forty-niners of African ancestry. Rawls, James, J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 5.] had come from the Southern States,African Americans who were slaves and came to California during the Gold Rush could gain [ their freedom] . One of the miners was African American Edmond Edward Wysinger (1816-1891), see also Moses Rodgers (1835-1900)] the Caribbean and Brazil.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 67–69.] .

A notable number of immigrants were from China. Several hundred Chinese arrived in California in 1849 and 1850, and in 1852 more than 20,000 landed in San Francisco. [Out of Many, 5th Edition Volume 1, Faragher 2006 (p.411)] Their distinctive dress and appearance was highly recognizable in the gold fields, and created a degree of animosity towards the Chinese. [Out of Many, 5th Edition Volume 1, Faragher 2006 (p.411)]

There were also many women in the Gold Rush. They held various roles including prostitutes, single entrepreneurs, married women, poor and wealthy women and were of various ethnicities including white, Hispanic, native, Chinese, and European. The reasons they came varied: some came with their husbands, refusing to be left behind to fend for themselves, some came because their husbands sent for them, and others came (singles and widows) for the adventure and economic opportunities.Moynihan, Ruth B., Armitage, Susan, and Dichamp, Christiane Fischer (eds.) (1990), pp. 3-8] On the trail many people died from accidents, cholera, fever, and myriad other causes, and many women became widows before even setting eyes on California. While in California, women were also widowed quite frequently due to mining accidents, disease, or mining disputes. While it was not an easy place for anyone, life in the west did offer many opportunities for women to break from their typical work. [Levy, Joann (1990). "They saw the elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush." Archon:N.p., pp. xxii, 92]

Legal rights

When the Gold Rush began, California was a peculiarly lawless place. On the day when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, California was still technically part of Mexico, under American military occupation as the result of the Mexican-American War. With the signing of the treaty ending the war on February 2, 1848, California became a possession of the United States, but it was not a formal "territory" and did not become a state until September 9, 1850. California existed in the unusual condition of a region under military control. There was no civil legislature, executive or judicial body for the entire region.Holliday, J. S. (1999), pp. 115–123.] Local residents operated under a confusing and changing mixture of Mexican rules, American principles, and personal dictates.

While the treaty ending the Mexican-American War obliged the United States to honor Mexican land grants,Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 235.] almost all of the goldfields were outside those grants. Instead, the goldfields were primarily on "public land," meaning land formally owned by the United States government.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 123–125.] However, there were no legal rules yet in place, and no practical enforcement mechanisms.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p.127. There were fewer than 1,000 U.S. soldiers in California at the beginning of the Gold Rush.]

The benefit to the forty-niners was that the gold was simply "free for the taking" at first. In the goldfields, there was no private property, no licensing fees, and no taxes until a government formed.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 27.] The forty-niners resorted to making up their own codes and setting up their own local enforcement. The miners essentially adopted Mexican mining law existing in California. [Paul, Rodman W. (1947) "California Gold", Lincoln: Univ. Nebraska Press, p.211–213.] For example, the rules attempted to balance the rights of early arrivers at a site with later arrivers; a "claim" could be "staked" by a prospector, but that claim was valid only as long as it was being actively worked.Clay, Karen and Wright, Gavin. (2005), pp. 155–183.] Miners worked at a claim only long enough to determine its potential. If a claim was deemed as low-value—as most were—miners would abandon the site in search for legendary bonanza sites. In the case where a claim was abandoned or not worked upon, other miners would "claim-jump" the land. "Claim-jumping" means that a miner began work on a previously claimed site. Disputes were sometimes handled personally and violently, and were sometimes addressed by groups of prospectors acting as arbitrators. This often led to heightened ethnic tensions.

The rules of mining claims adopted by the forty-niners spread with each new mining rush throughout the western United States. The U.S. Congress finally legalized the practice in the "Chaffee laws" of 1866. [Lindley, Curtis H. (1914) "A Treatise on the American Law Relating to Mines and Mineral Lands", San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, p.89–92.]

Development of gold recovery techniques

Because the gold in the California gravel beds was so richly concentrated, the early forty-niners simply panned for gold in California's rivers and streams, a form of placer mining.Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 198–200. ] However, panning cannot be done on a large scale, and industrious miners and groups of miners graduated to placer mining "cradles" and "rockers" or "long-toms" [ Images and detailed description of placer mining tools and techniques] ; [ image of a long tom] ] to process larger volumes of gravel.Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1888), pp. 87–88.] In the most complex placer mining, groups of prospectors would divert the water from an entire river into a sluice alongside the river, and then dig for gold in the newly-exposed river bottom.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 90.] Modern estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey are that some 12 million ounces [The Troy weight system is traditionally used to measure precious metals, not the more familiar avoirdupois weight system. The term "ounces" used in this article to refer to gold typically refers to troy ounces. There are some historical uses where, because of the age of the use, the intention is ambiguous.] (370 t) of gold were removed in the first five years of the Gold Rush (worth approximately US$7 billion at November 2006 prices). [ Mining History and Geology of the Mother Lode] (accessed Oct. 16, 2006).]

In the next stage, by 1853, hydraulic mining was used on ancient gold-bearing gravel beds that were on hillsides and bluffs in the gold fields.Starr, Kevin (2005), p. 89.] In a modern style of hydraulic mining first developed in California, a high-pressure hose directs a powerful stream or jet of water at gold-bearing gravel beds. [ Use of volumes of water in large-scale gold-mining dates at least to the time of the Roman Empire. Roman engineers built extensive aqueducts and reservoirs above gold-bearing areas, and released the stored water in a flood so as to remove over-burden and expose gold-bearing bedrock, a process known as hushing. The bedrock was then attacked using fire and mechanical means, and volumes of water were used again to remove debris, and to process the resulting ore. Examples of this Roman mining technology may be found at Las Médulas in Spain and Dolaucothi in South Wales. The gold recovered using these methods was used to finance the expansion of the Roman Empire. Hushing was also used in lead and tin mining in Northern Britain and Cornwall. There is, however, no evidence of the earlier use of hoses, nozzles and continuous jets of water in the manner developed in California during the Gold Rush.] The loosened gravel and gold would then pass over sluices, with the gold settling to the bottom where it is collected. By the mid-1880s, it is estimated that 11 million ounces (340 t) of gold (worth approximately US$6.6 billion at November 2006 prices) had been recovered via "hydraulicking." This style of hydraulic mining later spread around the world.

A byproduct of this method of extraction was that large amounts of gravel and silt, in addition to heavy metals and other pollutants, went into streams and rivers.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 32–36.] Many areas still bear the scars of hydraulic mining since the resulting exposed earth and downstream gravel deposits are unable to support plant life.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 116–121.]

After the Gold Rush had concluded, gold recovery operations continued. The final stage to recover loose gold was to prospect for gold that had slowly washed down into the flat river bottoms and sandbars of California's Central Valley and other gold-bearing areas of California (such as Scott Valley in Siskiyou County). By the late 1890s, dredging technology (which was also invented in California) had become economical,Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 199.] and it is estimated that more than 20 million ounces (620 t) were recovered by dredging (worth approximately US$12 billion at November 2006 prices).

Both during the Gold Rush and in the decades that followed, gold-seekers also engaged in "hard-rock" mining, that is, extracting the gold directly from the rock that contained it (typically quartz), usually by digging and blasting to follow and remove veins of the gold-bearing quartz.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 36–39.] Once the gold-bearing rocks were brought to the surface, the rocks were crushed, and the gold was separated out (using moving water), or leached out, typically by using arsenic or mercury (another source of environmental contamination).Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 39–43.] Eventually, hard-rock mining wound up being the single largest source of gold produced in the Gold Country. [cite web |url= |title=Mercury Contamination from Historical Gold Mining in California |accessdate=2008-02-26 |author=Charles N. Alpers, Michael P. Hunerlach, Jason T. May, and Roger L. Hothem |work=U.S. Geological Survey]


Although the conventional wisdom is that merchants made more money than miners during the Gold Rush, the reality is perhaps more complex. There were certainly merchants who profited handsomely. The wealthiest man in California during the early years of the Gold Rush was Samuel Brannan, the tireless self-promoter, shopkeeper and newspaper publisher.Holliday, J. S. (1999) pp. 69–70.] Brannan alertly opened the first supply stores in Sacramento, Coloma, and other spots in the gold fields. Just as the Gold Rush began, he purchased all the prospecting supplies available in San Francisco and re-sold them at a substantial profit. However, substantial money was made by gold-seekers as well. For example, within a few months, one small group of prospectors, working on the Feather River in 1848, retrieved a sum of gold worth more than $1.5 million by 2006 prices.Holliday, J. S. (1999), p. 63.]

On average, many early gold-seekers did perhaps make a modest profit, after all expenses were taken into account. Most, however, especially those arriving later, made little or wound up losing money.Holliday, J. S. (1999), p. 78.] One estimate is that fewer than one in twenty prospectors profited financially from their California gold-seeking. Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 7.] Similarly, many unlucky merchants set up in settlements that disappeared, or were wiped out in one of the calamitous fires that swept the towns springing up.For example, Joshua A. Norton at first acquired a fortune but was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1858, and he wandered the streets of San Francisco, styling himself "Emperor Norton I." By contrast, a businessman who went on to great success was Levi Strauss, who first began selling denim over-alls in San Francisco in 1853. (The famous Levi's jeans were not invented until the 1870s).] Other businessmen, through good fortune and hard work, reaped great rewards in retail, shipping, entertainment, lodging,James Lick made a fortune running a hotel and engaging in land speculation in San Francisco. Lick's fortune was used to build Lick Observatory.] or transportation.Four particularly successful Gold Rush era merchants were Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, Sacramento area businessmen (later known as the Big Four) who financed the western leg of the First Transcontinental Railroad, and became very wealthy as a result.] Boardinghouses, food preparation, sewing, and laundry were highly profitable businesses often run by women (married, single, or widowed) who realized men would pay well for a service done by a woman. Brothels also brought in large profits, especially when combined with saloons/gaming houses.Johnson, Susan Lee. "Roaring Camp: The social world of the California Gold Rush." New York: W.W. Norton (2000), pp. 164-168.]

By 1855, the economic climate had changed dramatically. Gold could be retrieved profitably from the goldfields only by medium to large groups of workers, either in partnerships or as employees.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 52–68.] By the mid-1850s, it was the owners of these gold-mining companies who made the money. Also, the population and economy of California had become large and diverse enough that money could be made in a wide variety of conventional businesses.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 193–197.]

Path of the gold

Once the gold was recovered, there were many paths the gold itself took. First, much of the gold was used locally to purchase food, supplies and lodging for the miners. It also went towards entertainment, which consisted of anything from a traveling theater to alcohol and gambling to prostitutes. These transactions often took place using the recently recovered gold, carefully weighed out.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 212–214.] These merchants and vendors, in turn, used the gold to purchase supplies from ship captains or packers bringing goods to California.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 256–259.] The gold then left California aboard ships or mules to go to the makers of the goods from around the world. A second path was the Argonauts themselves who, having personally acquired a sufficient amount, sent the gold home, or returned home taking with them their hard-earned "diggings." For example, one estimate is that some US$80 million worth of California gold was sent to France by French prospectors and merchants.Holliday, J. S. (1999) p. 90. ] As the Gold Rush progressed, local banks and gold dealers issued "banknotes" or "drafts"—locally accepted paper currency—in exchange for gold,Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 193–197; 214–215.] and private mints created private gold coins.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 214.] With the building of the San Francisco Mint in 1854, gold bullion was turned into official United States gold coins for circulation.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 212.] The gold was also later sent by California banks to U.S. national banks in exchange for national paper currency to be used in the booming California economy.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 226–227.]


Immediate effects

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of new people within a few years, compared to a population of some 15,000 Europeans and "Californios" beforehand,Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), p. 50. Other estimates are that there were 7,000–13,000 non-Native Americans in California before January 1848. See Holliday, J. S. (1999), pp. 26, 51.] had many dramatic effects.Historians have reflected on the Gold Rush and its effect on California. Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft used the phrase that the Gold Rush advanced California into a "rapid, monstrous maturity," and historian Kevin Starr stated, for all its problems and benefits, the Gold Rush established the "founding patterns, the DNA code, of American California." "See" Starr, Kevin (2005), p. 80.]

First, the human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans became the victims of disease, starvation and genocidal attacks;cite book |last=Heizer |first=Robert F. |title=The destruction of California Indians |publisher=Univ. of Nebraska Press |year=1974 |location=Lincoln and London|pages=p. 243 ] the Native American population in California, estimated at 150,000 in 1845, was less than 30,000 by 1870.Starr, Kevin (2005), p. 99.] It is estimated that some 4,500 Native Americans suffered violent deaths between 1849 and 1870. [ [ Minorities During the Gold Rush] ] Explicitly racist attacks, laws and confiscatory taxes sought to drive out Chinese and Latin American immigrants.Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 56–79.] [Out of Many, 5th Edition Volume 1, Faragher 2006 (p.411)] The toll on the American immigrants could be severe as well: one in twelve forty-niners perished, as the death and crime rates during the Gold Rush were extraordinarily high, and the resulting vigilantism also took its toll.Starr, Kevin (2005), pp. 84–87.] In addition, the environment suffered as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats.

However, the Gold Rush propelled California from a sleepy, little-known backwater to a center of the global imagination and the destination of hundreds of thousands of people. The new immigrants often showed remarkable inventiveness and civic-mindedness. For example, in the midst of the Gold Rush, towns and cities were chartered, a state constitutional convention was convened, a state constitution written, elections held, and representatives sent to Washington, D.C. to negotiate the admission of California as a state.Starr, Kevin (2005), pp. 91–93.] Large-scale agriculture (California's second "Gold Rush"Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 243–248. By 1860, California had over 200 flour mills, and was exporting wheat and flour around the world. "Ibid." at 278–280.] ) began during this time.Starr, Kevin (2005), pp. 110–111.] Roads, schools, churches,cite book |last=Starr |first=Kevin |title=Americans and the California dream: 1850–1915 |publisher=Oxford University Press |year=1973 |location=New York and Oxford|pages=pp. 69–75 ] and civic organizations quickly came into existence. The vast majority of the immigrants were Americans. Pressure grew for better communications and political connections to the rest of the United States, leading to statehood for California on September 9, 1850, in the Compromise of 1850 as the 31st state of the United States.

Between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000. [ [ Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1870] , U.S. Bureau of the Census] The Gold Rush wealth and population increase led to significantly improved transportation between California and the East Coast. The Panama Railway, spanning the Isthmus of Panama, was finished in 1855."Harper's New Monthly Magazine" March 1855, Volume 10, Issue 58, p. 543.] Steamships, including those owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, began regular service from San Francisco to Panama, where passengers, goods and mail would take the train across the Isthmus and board steamships headed to the East Coast. One ill-fated journey, that of the S.S. "Central America", [ S.S. Central America information] ; [ Final voyage of the S.S. Central America] Accessed 2008-04-25] ended in disaster as the ship sank in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas in 1857, with an estimated three tons of California gold aboard.Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 192–196.] Another notable ship wreck was the steamship "Winfield Scott", bound to Panama from San Francisco, which crashed into Anacapa Island off the Southern California coast in December 1853. All hands and passengers were saved, along with the cargo of gold, but the ship was a total loss.]

Within a few years after the end of the Gold Rush, in 1863, the groundbreaking ceremony for the western leg of the First Transcontinental Railroad was held in Sacramento. The line's completion, some six years later, financed in part with Gold Rush money,Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 278–279.] united California with the central and eastern United States. Travel that had taken weeks or even months could now be accomplished in days.Historians James Rawls and Walton Bean have postulated that were it not for the discovery of gold, Oregon might have been granted statehood ahead of California, and therefore the first "Pacific Railroad might have been built to that state." "See" Rawls, James, J., and Walton Bean (2003), p. 112.]

The Gold Rush stimulated economies around the world as well. Farmers in Chile, Australia, and Hawaii found a huge new market for their food; British manufactured goods were in high demand; clothing and even pre-fabricated houses arrived from China.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 285–286.] The return of large amounts of California gold to pay for these goods raised prices and stimulated investment and the creation of jobs around the world.Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), pp. 287–289.] Australian prospector, Edward Hargraves, noting similarities between the geography of California and his home, returned to Australia to discover gold and spark the Australian gold rushes. [Younger, R.M. 'Wonderous Gold' in "Australia and the Australians: A New Concise History", Rigby, Sydney, 1970]

Long-term effects

California's name became indelibly connected with the Gold Rush, and as a result, was connected with what became known as the "California Dream." California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. Historian H. W. Brands noted that in the years after the Gold Rush, the California Dream spread to the rest of the United States and became part of the new "American Dream."

:cquote|"The old American Dream . . . was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard . . . of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream . . . became a prominent part of the American psyche only after [Sutter's Mill] ."Brands, H.W. (2003), p. 442. ]

Generations of immigrants have been attracted by the California Dream. California farmers," [A] griculture [dominated the post-Gold Rush] sequence of development, employing more people than mining by 1869 . . . and surpassing mining in 1879 as the leading element of the California economy." Starr, Kevin (2005), p. 110.] oil drillers,"See, e.g.," Signal Hill, California, Bakersfield, California; Los Angeles, California] movie makers,20th Century Fox, MGM, Paramount, RKO, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists are among the most recognized entertainment industry names centered in California; "see also" Film studio.] airplane builders,Hughes Aircraft, Douglas Aircraft, North American Aviation, Northrop, Lockheed Aircraft were among the complex of companies in the aerospace industry, which flourished in California during and after World War II.] and "dot-com" entrepreneurscite news |author=Gaither, Chris and Chmielewski, Dawn C |title=Google Bets Big on Videos |work=Los Angeles Times |pages= |language= |publisher= |date=2006-10-10 |url=,0,1747609.story?coll=la-home-business |accessdate=2006-10-10 ] have each had their boom times in the decades after the Gold Rush.

Included among the modern legacies of the California Gold Rush are the California state motto, "Eureka" ("I have found it"), Gold Rush images on the California State Seal, Gold Rush images on the state seal include a forty-niner digging with a pick and shovel, a pan for panning gold, and a "long-tom." In addition, the ships on the water suggest the sailing ships filling the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay during the Gold Rush era.] and the state nickname, "The Golden State," as well as place names, such as Placer County, Rough and Ready, Placerville (formerly named "Dry Diggings" and then "Hangtown" during rush time), Whiskeytown, Drytown, Angels Camp, Happy Camp, and Sawyer's Bar. The San Francisco 49ers National Football League team, and the similarly named athletic teams of California State University, Long Beach, are named for the prospectors of the California Gold Rush. The literary history of the Gold Rush is reflected in the works of Mark Twain ("The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"), Bret Harte ("A Millionaire of Rough-and-Ready"), Joaquin Miller ("Life Amongst the Modocs"), and many others.

Today, aptly-named State Route 49 travels through the Sierra Nevada foothills, connecting many Gold Rush-era towns such as Placerville, Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City, Coloma, Jackson, and Sonora. [ [ Your guide to the Mother Lode:Complete map of historic Hwy 49.] Retrieved December 4, 2006.] This state highway also passes very near Columbia State Historic Park, a protected area encompassing the historic business district of the town of Columbia; the park has preserved many Gold Rush-era buildings, which are presently occupied by tourist-oriented businesses.


Scientists believe that global forces operating over hundreds of millions of years resulted in the large concentration of gold in California. Only gold that is concentrated can be economically recovered. Some 400 million years ago, California lay at the bottom of a large sea; underwater volcanoes deposited lava and minerals (including gold) onto the sea floor. Beginning about 200 million years ago, tectonic pressure forced the sea floor beneath the American continental mass.Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 168–169.] As it sank, or subducted, below today's California, the sea floor melted into very large molten masses (magma). This hot magma forced its way upward under what is now California, cooling as it rose,Brands, H.W. (2003), pp. 195–196.] and as it solidified, veins of gold formed within fields of quartz.Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 174–178.] These minerals and rocks came to the surface of the Sierra Nevada,Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 169–173.] and eroded. The exposed gold was carried downstream by water and gathered in quiet gravel beds along the sides of old rivers and streams.Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 94–100.] The forty-niners first focused their efforts on these deposits of gold, which had been gathered in the gravel beds by hundreds of millions of years of geologic action.Hill, Mary (1999), pp. 105–110.] [Curiously, there were decades of minor earthquakes - more than at any other time in the historical record for northern California - before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Widely previously interpreted as precursory activity to the 1906 earthquake they have been found to have a strong seasonal pattern and were found to be due to large seasonal sediment loads in coastal bays that overlie faults as a result of mining of gold inland. [ Seasonal Seismicity of Northern California Before the Great 1906 Earthquake] , (Journal) Pure and Applied Geophysics, ISSN 0033-4553 (Print) 1420-9136 (Online), volume 159, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2002, Pages 7-62.]

ee also

*List of people associated with the California Gold Rush
*Virginia gold mining (beginning 1804)
*North Carolina Gold Rush
*Georgia Gold Rush (beginning 1829)
*Australian gold rushes (1850s)
*Ballarat (Australia) Gold Rush (1851)
*Fraser Canyon Gold Rush (late 1850s)
*Pike's Peak Gold Rush (1858–1860)
*Central Otago Gold Rush (1860s)
*Holcomb Valley gold rush (1860s)
*Witwatersrand Gold Rush (1880s)
*Klondike Gold Rush (1890s)
*History of the west coast of North America
*History of California to 1899
*Women in the California Gold Rush
*Hamborger Veermaster
*Oh My Darling, Clementine



* Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1884–1890) " [ History of California] ," vols. 18–24.
*cite journal |last=Clay |first=Karen |coauthors=Gavin Wright |title=Order Without Law? Property Rights During the California Gold Rush |journal=Explorations in Economic History |volume=42 |issue=2 |pages=155–183 |month=April |year=2005 | issn=0014-4983|doi=10.1016/j.eeh.2004.05.003 | unused_data = |Wright, Gavin
*cite book |last=Dillon |first=Richard |year=1975 |title=Siskiyou Trail: the Hudson's Bay Company route to California |location=New York |publisher=McGraw Hill |id=ISBN 0-07-016980-2
*cite news |last=Gaither|first=Chris|coauthor=Chmielewski, Dawn C. |title=Google Bets Big on Videos |publisher=Los Angeles Times |date=2006-10-10 |url=,0,1747609.story?coll=la-home-business |accessdate=2006-10-10 Archived .pdf version of the page: []
*"Harper's New Monthly Magazine" March 1855, volume 10, issue 58, p.543, [ complete text online] .
*cite book |last=Wells |first=Harry L. |title=History of Siskiyou County, California |publisher=Siskiyou Historical Society |origyear=1881|year=1971 |id=ASIN B0006YP8IE, OCLC|6150902

Further reading

*cite journal|last=Burchell|first=Robert A.|title=The Loss of a Reputation; or, The Image of California in Britain before 1875|journal=California Historical Quarterly|volume=53|issue=3|pages=115–130|date=Summer 1974|issn=0097-6059

External links

* [ PBS: Slavery in the California Gold Rush]
* [ Gold Rush! Oakland Museum of California]
* [ California Gold Rush chronology]
* [ Museum of the Siskiyou Trail]
* [ Description by John Sutter of the Discovery of Gold]
* [ Commentary accompanying PBS documentary film "The Gold Rush"]
* [ Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park]
* [ Columbia State Historic Park]
* [ Impact of Gold Rush on California]
* [ California Gold Rush timeline]
* [ The Gold Rush: fun facts]
* [ Gold Rush geology]
* [ USGS circular on the geology of gold]
* [ Weaverville State Historic Park]
* [ Shasta State Historic Park]
* [ San Francisco harbor Gold Rush archaeology]
* [ Gold Rush era ship wreck]
* [ Stories of the People who lived the California Gold Rush]
* [ Historic Maps of the California Gold Rush]

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