California Gold Rush of 1849

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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 an abrupt 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 only a handful of miners, but provided Americans as well as many foreigners a new homeland and life.

At the start of the 1830 decade, about 500 people resided in California. One of these settlers was John Sutter (Boyer 336). Sutter was a Swiss immigrant who came to California in 1839 intending to build his own private empire. On 24 January 1848, James Marshall, an employee of Sutter, was assisting with the construction of a lumber mill on the American River in the Sacramento Valley. A bright glint in the river caught Marshall’s 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 covert due to the fact that gold hunters will get in the way of constructing the lumber mill. However, the promise was broken and the word was leaked out to the public (“The Gold Rush” 2).

The word of a gold discovery eventually reached the ears of Sam Brannan, a San Francisco merchant. Brannan set the Gold Rush into motion by planning hype. He ran through the streets of San Francisco with a bottle of gold dust shouting about Marshall’s discovery. However, just before he did this, Brannan had purchased every pick, axe, pan, and shovel in the region. A metal pan that was available for twenty cents from a general store was sold for fifteen dollars from Brannan. In just nine weeks alone, Brannan had made $36,000 and would soon become the richest man to benefit from the Gold Rush (“The Gold Rush” 3). News spread rapidly along the West Coast including Mexico and Hawaii of the discovery of gold (“The Gold Rush of 1849” 1). Whispers of a gold strike had progressed eastward. However, most of these “rumors” were disregarded. The gold discovery needed validation. In late December 1848, President James Polk confirmed the accounts of gold to Congress and the nation (4).

After the confirmation of gold by President Polk, the subject of gold was discussed in every household. Large flocks of people including farmers, merchants, soldiers, and many others left their current occupation and made way to California. These adventurers were called “forty-niners” due to the departure year of 1849 (“The Gold Rush” 4). 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 (6). Those who took the sea route departed from ports 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 1500 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 a $100 per drink. Adventurers with little or no money were left to die (“The Gold Rush” 8).

Once in California, there was a diverse set of forty-niners. The ethnics of miners included 80% Americans, 4,000 African Americans, and 8% from Australia, China, Europe, and South America (Boyer 338). 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....
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