Would you travel, live, and work under harsh conditions for months to fulfill a dream? Thousands of gold hunters from all corners of the world did so in hopes of striking rich after a brief discovery of gold in the American territory of California. This huge worldwide flock of people became known as the California Gold Rush of 1849. The Gold Rush granted riches to and a handful of miners, but provided Americans as well as many foreigners a new homeland and life.
At the start of the 1839 decade, about 500 people resided in California. One of the settlers was John Sutter (Boyer 336). Sutter was an immigrant who came to California in 1839 intending to build his own private empire. On January 24th of 1848, Jame Marshall, an employee of Sutter, was assisting with the construction of a lumber mill on American river in Sacramento valley.
A bright glint in the river caught Marshall eye. It appeared to be a bright, soft metal. In disbelief, Marshall and Sutter tested this metal and concluded it to be gold.
Sutter made a pact with Marshall and his employees to keep the discovery convert due to the fact that gold hunters will get in the way of constructing the lumber mill. However, the promise was broken and the world was leaked out to the public (the gold rush noe3). News spread rapidly along the west coast including Mexico and Hawaii of the discovery of gold (the gold rush of 1849 noe1). Whispers of a gold strike had progressed need eastward. However, most of these were disregarded. The gold discovery needed validation. In the late December of 1848, President James Polk confirmed the accounts of gold to congress and the nation (noe4). After the confirmation of gold by President Polk, the subject of old was discussed in every household, large flock of people including farmers, merchants, soldiers, and many others left their current education occupation and made their way to California.
These adventures were called forty-niners, due to the departure year of 1849 (the gold rush noe4). Since there was no railroad or river to transport miners westward to California the gold seekers had to either taken the sea route or walk cross-country(noe6). Those who took sea route departed from parts along the eastern sea board, traveled around Cape Horn, and continued up the coast of South and North America. Many gold seekers experienced seasickness and some died of malaria and yellow fever while passing the regions of Central America. Cross-country travelers also experienced hardships. Thousands of wagons, often traveling at less than 5 miles per hour, journeyed across trails and up mountains. During this expedition, cholera struck killing 1,500 out of the 25,000 of the gold seekers (TEN DAYS VID).
Supply and demand also struck hard for the exhibitioners. Since uncontaminated water was scarce, the price for fresh water sometimes went up to $100 per drink. Adventures with little or no money were left to die. Once in California, there was a diverse set of forty-niners the ethnics of miners involved 80% Americans, 4,000 African Americans, and 8% from Australia, China, Europe, and South America (Boyer338). The majority of these miners were young, unmarried men. However, there were a few women. California at the beginning of 1849 was remote with a population of only 20,000. After the discovery of gold, California became a thriving center for residence. 250,000 arrived in California within a 5 year span in search for riches. And, in 1850, California became part of the union mainly due to the gold rush (TEN DAY VID). Gold strikes also took place in the present day states of Colorado, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska.
Wherever a gold strike was made, hundreds of miners would gather to stake their claims and build a camp (the gold rush of 1849 noe2). Few women or children accompanied the miners to these boomtowns. These mining camps with names like hang town, poker flat, and skunk gulch were dangerous, dirty, and disorderly (Boyer337). There was no law and order in the temporary camps. Robbery and violence was common since there was no police force. Miners had to carry out their own rulings to accused convicts. The quickest, most effective punishment in all sentences was execution by hanging (Andrist115). Gold in California was plentiful and free for taking. At first, forty-niners used panning as a method to obtain the good. When this became less effective, the miners turned to alternative techniques such as creating dams and using hydraulic mining. These techniques caused environmental disasters to rivers and terrain (the gold rush noe17).
By 1852, California produced fifty billion dollars in gold. In the history of the gold rush to the town of Carson Hill held the record of the most profit mined with 2,800,000. The largest lump of gold ever mined was the Calaveras nuggets, weighing 195 pounds and cashing in 43,534 (Andrist63). One area that benefited from the gold rush was the once tiny hamlet of San Francisco. During the gold rush, 30 new houses were constructed each day on average. Real Estate that cost $16 in 1847 jumped to 45,000 in 18 months (the gold rush noe18). By 1853, San Francisco had 600 brick buildings 12 daily newspapers, 9 insurance companies, and 27 government councils (TEN DAYS VID). Despite these economics and growing aspects crime was a major issue during the development of the city. Each day during the gold rush era, there was reported average of two murders. Also, in a span of only two years, San Francisco burnt to the ground six times, but there was always profit from the gold findings to rebuild it, By 1856, Sam Brannan owned much of downtown San Francisco.
With nearly a half-million dollar income, Brannan was the richest man in California (the gold rush now18). There were some people besides Brannan who stuck rich from the gold rush without digging. Levi Strauss, an immigrant Bavaria, stitched a pair of pants out of canvas to stand up for the intense work in mining. The sturdy pants became popular amongst the forty-niners and made Strauss rich. Soon, the pants were made of denim dyed with indigo, and were nicknamed jeans (Boyer338). Two businessmen named Henry Wells and William Fargo also found opportunity in the west. California during the gold rush was lacking stability and robbery was at large. The two men offered secure banking and mail delivery to miners. This was the birth of Wells Fargo, which became the giant in banking industry. Lastly, the most famous celebrity of the gold rush came to California to take a job for the San Francisco call. His name was Samuel Clemens better known as Mark Twain.
He was thrown into the national spotlight when he wrote a fictional story about a frog jumping contest in nearby Calaveras County, California (the gold rush noe11). The Native Americans preferred not to be involved with the gold rush. The indenture act was established in 1850, which permitted miners to use Californian Indians as slaves for up to four months (events 1851-1860 noe1). Soon after, army unity and forty-niners raided Indian villages and forced them to work in mines. The California Indians soon look arms against the forty-niners. This conflict was known as the mariposa war which lasted from 1850 to 1851 (Boyer339).
The war came to a ceasefire when the Fort Laramie treaty of 1851 was proposed. The treaty gave Indians tribes reserved land of 8.5 million acres with the United States permitted to establish roads through the reservations (events 1850-1860). Eventually, the gold California hills and rivers diminished. The gold rush was subsiding, and many unfortunate miners returned home to their previous lives and occupations. Most of the unmarried men who mined gold stayed in the fast developing state California, and started a new life (the gold rush as 1849 noe3). However, something had to be done quickly to transport more people from the east to California and help develop the state.
Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Carlos Huntington, four merchants who benefited greatly from the gold rush, requested a railroad to bend the country together. Then, in 1862, the construction for the trans-continental railroad began. The railroad was completed in 1869 and was known as the central pacific railroad (TEN DAYS VID). Most participants in the California gold rush of 1840 only found disappointment. The years of hard work and enduring hardships only paid off for a few. American writer Henry Davis Thoreau described the gold rush as the greatest disgrace to humanity. Nevertheless, the gold rush resulted in many people finding opportunity and new life.