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California’s 1849 Gold Rush

California’s history is defined by the 1849 Gold Rush and the event is quite possibly one of the most important in the early 19th century. Sparked by the discovery of gold nuggets in Sacramento Valley a year prior to the big rush, thousands of miners and common men alike trekked across the United States in hopes of striking it rich themselves. In 1848, non- native Californians totaled 1,000, and only a year later it rose to 100,000. The peak of the Gold Rush was in 1852, and from start to finish a total of $2 billion worth (or 750,000 pounds) of gold was mined. GoldRush1 The Original Discovery   James Wilson Marshall was the first to discover gold on January 24, 1848. He was originally a carpenter from New Jersey and found flakes of gold in The American River, located at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains. His purpose for being at the river in the first place was that he was working to build a water-powered sawmill owned by a Swiss citizen named John Sutter. Marshall later recalls his historic finding, saying, “It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold”.   Not Secret For Long   As much as Marshall and Sutter tried to keep the big news to themselves, the word still leaked out. At least one newspaper was putting out the news that large amounts of gold were being extracted by mid-April. Most did not believe it, but when a storekeeper from San Francisco rode through the town with a vial of gold found in Sutter’s creek the frenzy began.  The number of miners in the area reached 4,000 the following August, of which was about three-quarters of the men who had been living in San Francisco but uprooted.   The news of fortunes being made and still more to come brought migrants by boat from Oregon, Hawaii, and international migrants from Mexico, Peru, Chile, and China as they somehow got drift of what was happening in northern California. Those on the East Coast arrived a bit later because the press was doubtful at first, but then they too got hit by gold fever and joined the crowds.   The ‘49ers   All throughout 1849, people everywhere, though the majority were men, gave up everything they had, and also what they didn’t have when they went to borrow money, to make the journey to California. They were all caught in the craze and ended up leaving their wives and children behind. Therefore, women began to run the household as the men would (now in charge of farms and businesses) in addition to caring for their children. Thousand of future gold miners, who were given the name ‘49ers, traveled up and down North and South America looking for the riches that only California’s land claimed at the time.   Gold mining towns popped up all over the area in order to house the miners. The overcrowded small towns with saloons, brothels, shops, and other businesses started to run wild with the lack of enforced laws. Meanwhile, San Francisco prospered and became a central city of the new frontier with a booming economy. GoldRush2 The Gold Rush’s Lasting Impression   The Gold Rush definitely sped up the process of California becoming part of the Union. In 1850 California was admitted as a free state. After 1850, the presence of gold in California greatly declined, but new miners still came. Mining in general is dangerous and labor-intensive work. Finding gold required just as much luck as it did skill. With the declension, miners turned to wage labor instead of remaining independent. Hydraulic mining was introduced as a new mining technique in 1853, and although it was very profitable, it destroyed a lot of the region’s landscape.   Gold mining still continued through the 1850s with its peak in 1852 when around $81 million was extracted. After that though, the pull gradually went down to an average of $45 million a year by 1857. People still flooded in and the state’s population by the end of the decade was 380,000.


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