History of California Gold Rush and The Forty-Niners
The California Gold Rush was one of the most influential events in California's history and equally significant to the country as a whole. It caused hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to make the long, dangerous journey to California in hopes of striking gold. However, the impact of the California Gold Rush goes much much deeper than this. If you're interested in learning more about this historic event and the "forty-niners" who left everything behind for a shot at finding gold, keep reading.
How The California Gold Rush Started
You might be surprised to hear that the California Gold Rush all started as the result of a single man who found a few small gold flakes. As the story goes, on January 24, 1848 a foreman by the name of James Marshall was working on a mill for his boss James Sutter when he discovered some shiny flakes on the banks of the nearby American River. Marshall instinctively knew he was onto something and took his new finds to Sutter where the duo tested it to find out that it was in fact gold. Originally, Sutter didn't want news of the discovery to get out, as he believed it was spurr a rush of hopeful prospectors that would destroy his land in search of gold. Of course rumors soon began to spread around the nearby town of Columa where it leaked to other parts of California, and before long people everywhere were rushing to the lands around the now-famous "Sutter's Mill" with their pickaxes and pans.
The people who left their homes in search of gold were later referred to as the "forty-niners," simply because the year was 1849. Although the exact numbers are unknown, it's believed that around 300,000 people migrated to California during the Gold Rush. While most of these people had intentions of finding huge gold nuggets, others took a different approach to the situation. After hearing news about the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, a merchant named Samuel Brannan purchased all the pickaxes, pans, waders and other prospecting gear he could find and stashed it away in a shed where he sold them to hopeful prospectors. Brannan then walked up and down the streets of San Fransisco saying "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"
Although some people were lucky enough to strike it rich by finding huge valuable gold nuggets in the streams of California, most forty-niners never found any significant amount of gold. It was business-savvy individuals like Samuel Brannan who were the most successful during the California Gold Rush. Instead of rolling the dice in hopes of finding gold, Brannan built a business that catered to the hundreds of thousands of people who came to California in search of gold. Banks, tailors and equipment stores were also huge successes during the California Gold Rush.
The California Gold Rush still made many people rich overnight. In today's value, the amount of gold that was uncovered during this time was the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars. It's said that there was so much gold around the mountains of California that you could walk around and pick up nuggets on the ground. This gold was quickly scooped up, however, and prospectors then looked towards panning to extract gold out of the nearby streams and rivers. In the following years, several other techniques were invented to extract gold from paydirt faster and more efficiently.
Making The Journey
Back in 1849, traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles across sea, rivers, mountains, swamps, deserts and other harsh terrain wasn't exactly an easy task. The forty-niners who made this arduous journey were faced with faced with a variety of hardships, only one of which was the unforgiving landscape. You have to remember that some of these hopeful prospectors were coming as far away as China and other parts of Asia; therefore, they were forced to travel across the Pacific Ocean where high seas and starvation was a real threat.
It's believed that as many as 1 out of every 3 miners who died did so as a result of a disease like cholera. Back then, there medical knowledge and practice was limited at best, and most of the people who suffered from a chronic disease were left without a real treatment option. Their symptoms were masked using old folk remedies and the individual was made as comfortable as possible.
Impact of The California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush did more than just make hundreds of people rich overnight. It had a long-lasting impact that was felt throughout not only California, but the entire U.S. as well. Back in 1849, California was a lawless territory with thieves, robbers and other criminals running rampant. As you can expect, this made made it even more difficult for the forty-niners to come in and take a shot at gold prospecting. Thankfully, this all changed and a legal system with enforcement was set in place as a result of the Gold Rush.
In 1848, a treaty was signed between the U.S. and Mexico which allowed the U.S. to claim California as their own. However, it didn't officially become a recognized state until September 9, 1850, and this was in part due to the California Gold Rush.
Before the California Gold Rush, land transportation to and from California was primarily limited to horse and carriage. Once the gold fever struck and more money was put into the economy, the development of a transcontinental railroad began. It was intended to link the east and west coast and was finished in the 1869. As a result, people were then able to travel to California from the east coast safely and quickly.
Although James Sutter is ultimately the man responsible for spawning an entire global movement, he didn't actually strike it rich like several others did. When the California Gold Rush hit, people from all over swarmed his land where they illegally prospected for gold. Unfortunately, Sutter had trouble obtaining legal rights to his land, as the U.S. government did not recognize his land that was offered by the Mexican government. Sutter continued to fight for compensation over the use of his land and the gold it contained but was never awarded anything.