California Gold Rush
Overview

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 was found by James W. Marshall
James W. Marshall
James Wilson Marshall was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush. The mill property was owned by Johan Sutter who employed Marshall to build his mill...

 at Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill was a sawmill owned by 19th century pioneer John Sutter in partnership with James W. Marshall. It was located in Coloma, California, at the bank of the South Fork American River...

 in Coloma, California
Coloma, California
Coloma is a census-designated place in El Dorado County, California, USA. It is approximately northeast of Sacramento, California. Coloma is most noted for being the site where James W. Marshall first discovered gold in California, at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848, leading to the California...

. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon
History of Oregon
The history of Oregon, a U.S. state, may be considered in five eras: geologic history, inhabitation by native peoples, early exploration by Europeans , settlement by pioneers, and modern development....

, the Sandwich Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

 (Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

), and Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, who were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. All in all, the news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 from the rest of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and abroad. Of the 300,000, approximately half arrived by sea and half came from the east overland on the California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

 and the Gila River
Gila River
The Gila River is a tributary of the Colorado River, 650 miles long, in the southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona.-Description:...

 trail.

The gold-seekers, called "forty-niners" (as a reference to 1849), often faced substantial hardships on the trip.
Encyclopedia

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 was found by James W. Marshall
James W. Marshall
James Wilson Marshall was an American carpenter and sawmill operator, whose discovery of gold in the American River in California on January 24, 1848 set the stage for the California Gold Rush. The mill property was owned by Johan Sutter who employed Marshall to build his mill...

 at Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill was a sawmill owned by 19th century pioneer John Sutter in partnership with James W. Marshall. It was located in Coloma, California, at the bank of the South Fork American River...

 in Coloma, California
Coloma, California
Coloma is a census-designated place in El Dorado County, California, USA. It is approximately northeast of Sacramento, California. Coloma is most noted for being the site where James W. Marshall first discovered gold in California, at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848, leading to the California...

. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon
History of Oregon
The history of Oregon, a U.S. state, may be considered in five eras: geologic history, inhabitation by native peoples, early exploration by Europeans , settlement by pioneers, and modern development....

, the Sandwich Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

 (Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

), and Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, who were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. All in all, the news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 from the rest of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and abroad. Of the 300,000, approximately half arrived by sea and half came from the east overland on the California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

 and the Gila River
Gila River
The Gila River is a tributary of the Colorado River, 650 miles long, in the southwestern states of New Mexico and Arizona.-Description:...

 trail.

The gold-seekers, called "forty-niners" (as a reference to 1849), often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush
Gold rush
A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.In the 19th and early...

 attracted tens of thousands from Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, and China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. At first, the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, gold was recovered from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning
Gold panning
Gold panning, or simply panning, is a form of placer mining that extracts gold from a placer deposit using a pan. The process is one of the simplest ways to extract gold, and is popular with geology enthusiasts because of its cheap cost and the relatively simple and easy process involved. It is the...

. More sophisticated methods were developed and later adopted elsewhere. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today's dollars
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

 was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few. However, many returned home with little more than they had started with.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

 grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown
Boomtown
A boomtown is a community that experiences sudden and rapid population and economic growth. The growth is normally attributed to the nearby discovery of a precious resource such as gold, silver, or oil, although the term can also be applied to communities growing very rapidly for different reasons,...

 of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written, a governor and legislature chosen and California became a state
History of California
The history of California can be divided into several periods: the Native American period; European exploration period from 1542 to 1769; the Spanish colonial period, 1769 to 1821; the Mexican period, 1821 to 1848; and United States statehood, which continues to the present day...

 in 1850 as part of the Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

 which divided possible US territories into free and slave states.

New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869 railroads
California and the railroads
The establishment of America's transcontinental rail lines securely linked California to the rest of the country, and the far-reaching transportation systems that grew out of them during the century that followed contributed to the state’s social, political, and economic development...

 were built across the country from California to the eastern United States. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of "staking claims" was developed. The Gold Rush also had negative effects: Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 were attacked and pushed off their lands and the mining
Gold mining
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.-History:...

 has caused environmental harm. An estimated 100,000 California Indians died between 1848 and 1868 as a result of American immigration.

History

The California Gold Rush began at Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill
Sutter's Mill was a sawmill owned by 19th century pioneer John Sutter in partnership with James W. Marshall. It was located in Coloma, California, at the bank of the South Fork American River...

, near Coloma
Coloma, California
Coloma is a census-designated place in El Dorado County, California, USA. It is approximately northeast of Sacramento, California. Coloma is most noted for being the site where James W. Marshall first discovered gold in California, at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848, leading to the California...

. On January 24, 1848 John Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

 pioneer John Sutter
John Sutter
Johann Augus Sutter was a Swiss pioneer of California known for his association with the California Gold Rush by the discovery of gold by James W. Marshall and the mill making team at Sutter's Mill, and for establishing Sutter's Fort in the area that would eventually become Sacramento, the...

, found shiny metal in the tailrace
Water wheel
A water wheel is a machine for converting the energy of free-flowing or falling water into useful forms of power. A water wheel consists of a large wooden or metal wheel, with a number of blades or buckets arranged on the outside rim forming the driving surface...

 of a lumber mill Marshall was building for Sutter on the American River
American River
The American River is a California watercourse noted as the site of Sutter's Mill, northwest of Placerville, California, where gold was found in 1848, leading to the California Gold Rush...

. Marshall brought what he found to John Sutter, and the two privately tested the metal. After the tests showed that it was gold, Sutter expressed dismay: he wanted to keep the news quiet because he feared what would happen to his plans
New Helvetia
New Helvetia , meaning "New Switzerland", was a Mexican-era California settlement.The Swiss pioneer John Sutter arrived in Mexican Alta California with other settlers in August 1839. He established the agricultural and trading colony and stockade Sutter's Fort as "Nueva Helvetia" in 1840...

 for an agricultural empire if there were a mass search for gold. However, rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March 1848 by San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

 newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan was an American settler, businessman, and journalist, who founded the "California Star" newspaper in San Francisco, California...

. 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, Brannan strode through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!"
At the time gold was discovered, California was part of the Mexican
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 territory of Alta California
Alta California
Alta California was a province and territory in the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later a territory and department in independent Mexico. The territory was created in 1769 out of the northern part of the former province of Las Californias, and consisted of the modern American states of California,...

, which was ceded to the U.S. after the end of the Mexican-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is the peace treaty, largely dictated by the United States to the interim government of a militarily occupied Mexico City, that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848...

 on February 2, 1848.

On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald
New York Herald
The New York Herald was a large distribution newspaper based in New York City that existed between May 6, 1835, and 1924.-History:The first issue of the paper was published by James Gordon Bennett, Sr., on May 6, 1835. By 1845 it was the most popular and profitable daily newspaper in the UnitedStates...

was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report the discovery of gold. On December 5, 1848, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

. Soon, waves of immigrants
Immigration to the United States
Immigration to the United States has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States. The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-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
Squatting
Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use....

 took over his land and stole his crops and cattle.

San Francisco had been a tiny settlement before the rush began. When residents learned about the discovery, it at first became a ghost town
Ghost town
A ghost town is an abandoned town or city. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters...

 of abandoned ships and businesses, but then boomed as merchants and new people arrived. The population of San Francisco exploded from perhaps 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 full-time residents by 1850. Miners lived in tents, wood shanties, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships. Wherever gold was discovered, hundreds of miners would collaborate to put up a camp and stake their claims. With names like Rough and Ready and Hangtown (Placerville, California
Placerville, California
Placerville is the county seat of El Dorado County, California. The population was 10,389 at the 2010 census, up from 9,610 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville Metropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:...

), each camp often had its own saloon and gambling house.

In what has been referred to as the "first world-class gold rush", there was no easy way to get to California; forty-niners faced hardship and often death on the way. At first, most Argonaut
Argonaut
Argonaut may refer to:* Argonaut , a kind of octopus in the genus Argonauta* Jason and the Argonauts, sailors in Greek mythology* Argonauts of Saint Nicholas, a military order in Naples...

s, 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, and cover some 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km). An alternative was to sail to the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 side of the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

, take canoe
Canoe
A canoe or Canadian canoe is a small narrow boat, typically human-powered, though it may also be powered by sails or small electric or gas motors. Canoes are usually pointed at both bow and stern and are normally open on top, but can be decked over A canoe (North American English) or Canadian...

s and mule
Mule
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. Of the two F1 hybrids between these two species, a mule is easier to obtain than a hinny...

s for a week through the jungle
Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests
Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests , also known as tropical moist forests, are a tropical and subtropical forest biome....

, and then on the Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 side, wait for a ship sailing for San Francisco. There was also a route
Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is an isthmus in Mexico. It represents the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, and prior to the opening of the Panama Canal was a major shipping route known simply as the Tehuantepec Route...

 across Mexico starting at Veracruz
Veracruz, Veracruz
Veracruz, officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located in the central part of the state. It is located along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most...

. Many gold-seekers took the overland route across the continental United States, particularly along the California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

. Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards, from shipwreck to typhoid fever
Typhoid fever
Typhoid fever, also known as Typhoid, is a common worldwide bacterial disease, transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person, which contain the bacterium Salmonella enterica, serovar Typhi...

 and cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

.

To meet the demands of the arrivals, ships bearing goods from around the world came to San Francisco as well. Ships' captains found that their crews deserted to go 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. Many of these ships were later destroyed and used for landfill
Landfill
A landfill site , is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment...

 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
Northern California
Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area , and Sacramento as well as its metropolitan area are the main population centers...

, specifically into present-day Siskiyou
Siskiyou County, California
Siskiyou County is a county located in the far northernmost part of the U.S. state of California, in the Shasta Cascade region on the Oregon border. Yreka is the county seat. Because of its substantial natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and Gold Rush era history, it is an important...

, Shasta
Shasta County, California
Shasta County is a county located in the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The county occupies the northern reaches of the Sacramento Valley, with portions extending into the southern reaches of the Cascade Range. As of the 2010 census, the population was 177,223, up from 163,256...

 and Trinity Counties
Trinity County, California
Trinity County is a large, rugged and mountainous, heavily forested county located in the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of California, along the Trinity River and within the Salmon/Klamath Mountains. It covers an area of over two million acres , and as of the 2010 census its population...

. Discovery of gold nuggets at the site of present-day Yreka
Yreka, California
Yreka is the county seat of Siskiyou County, California, United States. The population was 7,765 at the 2010 census, up from 7,290 at the 2000 census.- History:...

 in 1851 brought thousands of gold-seekers up the Siskiyou Trail
Siskiyou Trail
The Siskiyou Trail stretched from California's Central Valley to Oregon's Willamette Valley; modern-day Interstate 5 follows this pioneer path...

 and throughout California's northern counties. Settlements of the Gold Rush era, such as Portuguese Flat
Portuguese Flat, California
Portuguese Flat was a California mining camp of the early 1850s during the California Gold Rush, consisting largely of Portuguese miners. It was located about 35 miles north of Redding, California near what is currently now the unincorporated community of Pollard Flat...

 on the Sacramento River
Sacramento River
The Sacramento River is an important watercourse of Northern and Central California in the United States. The largest river in California, it rises on the eastern slopes of the Klamath Mountains, and after a journey south of over , empties into Suisun Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay, and...

, sprang into existence and then faded. The Gold Rush town of Weaverville
Weaverville, California
Weaverville is a census-designated place and the county seat of Trinity County, California. The population was 3,600 at the 2010 census, up from 3,554 at the 2000 census.-History:Founded in 1850, Weaverville is a historic California Gold Rush town...

 on the Trinity River
Trinity River (California)
The Trinity River is the longest tributary of the Klamath River, approximately long, in northwestern California in the United States. It drains an area of the Coast Ranges, including the southern Klamath Mountains, northwest of the Sacramento Valley...

 today retains the oldest continuously used Taoist
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 temple in California, a legacy of Chinese
Chinese immigration to the United States
Chinese American history is the history of Chinese Americans or the history of ethnic Chinese in the United States. Chinese immigration to the U.S. consisted of three major waves, with the first beginning in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked as laborers, particularly...

 miners who came. While there are not many Gold Rush era ghost towns still in existence, the remains of the once-bustling town of Shasta
Shasta, California
Shasta is a census-designated place in Shasta County, California. Shasta sits at an elevation of . The 2010 United States census reported Shasta's population was 1,771....

 have been preserved in a California State Historic Park in Northern California.

Gold was also discovered in Southern California
Southern California
Southern California is a megaregion, or megapolitan area, in the southern area of the U.S. state of California. Large urban areas include Greater Los Angeles and Greater San Diego. The urban area stretches along the coast from Ventura through the Southland and Inland Empire to San Diego...

 but on a much smaller scale. The first discovery of gold, at Rancho San Francisco
Rancho San Francisco
Rancho San Francisco was a land grant in present day northwestern Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County, California. It was of by Governor Juan B. Alvarado to Antonio del Valle, a Spanish army officer, in recognition for his service to the state of Alta California...

 in the mountains north of present-day Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

, had been in 1842, six years before Marshall's discovery, while California was still part of Mexico. 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
California State Legislature
The California State Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of California. It is a bicameral body consisting of the lower house, the California State Assembly, with 80 members, and the upper house, the California State Senate, with 40 members...

 passed a foreign miners tax of twenty dollars per month ($ per month as of ), and American prospectors began organized attacks on foreign miners, particularly Latin Americans and Chinese
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

. In addition, the huge numbers of newcomers were driving Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 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. 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
Joaquin Miller
Joaquin Miller was the pen name of the colorful American poet Cincinnatus Heine Miller , nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras".-Early years and family:...

 vividly captured one such attack in his semi-autobiographical work, Life Amongst the Modocs.

Forty-niners

The first people to rush to the gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 fields, beginning in the spring of 1848, were the residents of California themselves—primarily agriculturally oriented Americans and Europeans living in Northern California
Northern California
Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area , and Sacramento as well as its metropolitan area are the main population centers...

, along with Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 and some Californio
Californio
Californio is a term used to identify a Spanish-speaking Catholic people, regardless of race, born in California before 1848...

s
(Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

-speaking Californians). These first miners tended to be families in which everyone helped in the effort. Women and children of all ethnicities 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.

Word of the Gold Rush spread slowly at first. The earliest gold-seekers 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
Oregon Territory
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 14, 1848, until February 14, 1859, when the southwestern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oregon. Originally claimed by several countries , the region was...

 who came down the Siskiyou Trail
Siskiyou Trail
The Siskiyou Trail stretched from California's Central Valley to Oregon's Willamette Valley; modern-day Interstate 5 follows this pioneer path...

. Next came people from the Sandwich Islands
Hawaiian Islands
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and undersea seamounts in the North Pacific Ocean, extending some 1,500 miles from the island of Hawaii in the south to northernmost Kure Atoll...

, and several thousand Latin Americans, including people from Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, from Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

 and from as far away as Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

, both by ship and overland. 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 the earliest gold-seekers were sometimes called, were able to collect large amounts of easily accessible gold—in some cases, thousands of dollars worth each day. Even ordinary prospectors averaged daily gold finds worth 10 to 15 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. 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 routes (the name "forty-niner" was derived from the year 1849). Many from the East Coast
East Coast of the United States
The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, refers to the easternmost coastal states in the United States, which touch the Atlantic Ocean and stretch up to Canada. The term includes the U.S...

 negotiated a crossing of the Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

, taking to riverboats in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, polling the keelboats to Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 wagon train
Wagon train
A wagon train is a group of wagons traveling together. In the American West, individuals traveling across the plains in covered wagons banded together for mutual assistance, as is reflected in numerous films and television programs about the region, such as Audie Murphy's Tumbleweed and Ward Bond...

 assembly ports, and then travelling in a wagon train along the California Trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

. Many others came by way of the Isthmus of Panama
Isthmus of Panama
The Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien, is the narrow strip of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, linking North and South America. It contains the country of Panama and the Panama Canal...

 and the steamships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Pacific Mail Steamship Company
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company was founded April 18, 1848 as a joint stock company under the laws of the State of New York by a group of New York City merchants, William H. Aspinwall, Edwin Bartlett, Henry Chauncey, Mr. Alsop, G.G. Howland and S.S. Howland...

. Australians and New Zealanders picked up the news from ships carrying Hawaiian newspapers, and thousands, infected with "gold fever", boarded ships for California. Forty-niners came from Latin America, particularly from the Mexican mining districts near Sonora. Gold-seekers and merchants from Asia, primarily from China, began arriving in 1849, at first in modest numbers to Gum San ("Gold Mountain
Gold Mountain
Gold Mountain is the name given by the Chinese to western regions of North America, particularly California, USA and British Columbia, Canada. After gold was first discovered in the state of California in 1848, thousands of Chinese from Toisan in Guangdong , began to travel to California in search...

"), the name given to California in Chinese. The first immigrants from Europe, reeling from the effects of the Revolutions of 1848
Revolutions of 1848
The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It was the first Europe-wide collapse of traditional authority, but within a year reactionary...

 and with a longer distance to travel, began arriving in late 1849, mostly from France, with some Germans
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

, Italians
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, and Britons
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

. Most of these national groups arrived from seafaring, coastal regions.

It is estimated that approximately 90,000 people arrived in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 in 1849—about half by land and half by sea. 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. The largest group continued to be Americans, but there were tens of thousands each of Mexicans, Chinese, Britons, Australians French, and Latin Americans, together with many smaller groups of miners, such as Filipinos
Filipino people
The Filipino people or Filipinos are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the islands of the Philippines. There are about 92 million Filipinos in the Philippines, and about 11 million living outside the Philippines ....

, Basques
Basque people
The Basques as an ethnic group, primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as the Basque Country , a region that is located around the western end of the Pyrenees on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and straddles parts of north-central Spain and south-western France.The Basques are known in the...

 and Turks
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

. People from small villages in the hills near Genova, Italy were among the first to settle permanently in the Sierra foothills; they brought with them traditional agricultural skills, developed to survive cold winters. A modest number of miners of African ancestry (probably less than 4,000) had come from the Southern States
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

, the Caribbean
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 and Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

.

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. Their distinctive dress and appearance was highly recognizable in the gold fields, and created a degree of animosity towards the Chinese.

There were also women in the Gold Rush
Women in the California Gold Rush
Women in California Gold Rush were scarce but played an important role. Some of the first people in the mining fields were wives and families who were already in California. A few women and children worked right alongside the men but most men left their wives and families home...

. They held various roles including prostitutes
Prostitution
Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. The person who receives payment for sexual services is called a prostitute and the person who receives such services is known by a multitude of terms, including a "john". Prostitution is one of...

, single entrepreneur
Entrepreneur
An entrepreneur is an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.The term was originally a loanword from French and was first defined by the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon. Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to a person who is willing to...

s, married women, poor and wealthy women. They were of various ethnicities including Anglo-American, Hispanic
Hispanic
Hispanic is a term that originally denoted a relationship to Hispania, which is to say the Iberian Peninsula: Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain. During the Modern Era, Hispanic sometimes takes on a more limited meaning, particularly in the United States, where the term means a person of ...

, Native
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, European, Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

, and Jewish. 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. On the trail
California Trail
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California...

 many people died from accidents, cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

, fever, and myriad other causes, and many women became widows before even setting eyes on California. While in California, women became widows quite frequently due to mining accidents, disease, or mining disputes of their husbands. Life in the gold fields offered opportunities for women to break from their traditional work.

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
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is the peace treaty, largely dictated by the United States to the interim government of a militarily occupied Mexico City, that ended the Mexican-American War on February 2, 1848...

 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. 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, almost all the goldfields were outside those grants. Instead, the goldfields were primarily on "public land", meaning land formally owned by the United States government. However, there were no legal rules yet in place, and no practical enforcement mechanisms.

The benefit to the forty-niners was that the gold was simply "free for the taking" at first. In the goldfields at the beginning, there was no private property, no licensing fees, and no taxes
Taxation in the United States
The United States is a federal republic with autonomous state and local governments. Taxes are imposed in the United States at each of these levels. These include taxes on income, property, sales, imports, payroll, estates and gifts, as well as various fees.Taxes are imposed on net income of...

. The miners informally adapted Mexican mining law which had existed in California. For example, the rules attempted to balance the rights of early arrivers at a site with later arrivers; a "claim
Land claims
Land claims are a legal declaration of desired control over areas of property including bodies of water. The phrase is usually only used with respect to disputed or unresolved land claims...

" could be "staked" by a prospector, but that claim was valid only as long as it was being actively worked. 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 a better one. In the case where a claim was abandoned or not worked upon, other miners would "claim-jump" the land. "Claim-jumping" meant 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. In some areas the influx of many prospectors could lead to a reduction of the existing claim size by simple pressure.

Development of gold recovery techniques

Because the gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 in the California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 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
Placer mining
Placer mining is the mining of alluvial deposits for minerals. This may be done by open-pit or by various surface excavating equipment or tunneling equipment....

. 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" to process larger volumes of gravel. In the most complex placer mining, groups of prospectors would divert the water from an entire river into a sluice
Sluice
A sluice is a water channel that is controlled at its head by a gate . For example, a millrace is a sluice that channels water toward a water mill...

 alongside the river, and then dig for gold in the newly exposed river bottom. Modern estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey
The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology,...

 are that some 12 million ounces (370 t) of gold were removed in the first five years of the Gold Rush (worth over US$
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

16 billion at December 2010 prices).

In the next stage, by 1853, hydraulic mining
Hydraulic mining
Hydraulic mining, or hydraulicking, is a form of mining that uses high-pressure jets of water to dislodge rock material or move sediment. In the placer mining of gold or tin, the resulting water-sediment slurry is directed through sluice boxes to remove the gold.-Precursor - ground...

 was used on ancient gold-bearing gravel beds that were on hillsides and bluffs in the gold fields. In a modern style of hydraulic mining first developed in California, a high-pressure hose directed a powerful stream or jet of water at gold-bearing gravel beds. The loosened gravel and gold would then pass over sluices, with the gold settling to the bottom where it was collected. By the mid-1880s, it is estimated that 11 million ounces (340 t) of gold (worth approximately US$15 billion at December 2010 prices) had been recovered by "hydraulicking". This style of hydraulic mining later spread around the world. An alternative to "hydraulicking" was "coyoteing". This method involved digging a shaft 6 to 13 meters (20 to 40 feet) deep into bedrock along the shore of a stream. Tunnels were then dug in all directions to reach the richest veins of pay dirt.

A byproduct of these extraction methods was that large amounts of gravel, silt
Silt
Silt is granular material of a size somewhere between sand and clay whose mineral origin is quartz and feldspar. Silt may occur as a soil or as suspended sediment in a surface water body...

, heavy metals, and other pollutants went into streams and rivers. Many areas still bear the scars of hydraulic mining since the resulting exposed earth and downstream gravel deposits are unable to support plant life.

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
California Central Valley
California's Central Valley is a large, flat valley that dominates the central portion of California. It is home to California's most productive agricultural efforts. The valley stretches approximately from northwest to southeast inland and parallel to the Pacific Ocean coast. Its northern half is...

 and other gold-bearing areas of California (such as Scott Valley
Scott Valley
Scott Valley is a large, scenic rural area of western Siskiyou County, California, known for its vistas of the Marble Mountains, cattle and dairy ranches, and its historic background as a gold mining area, dating back to the days of the California Gold Rush...

 in Siskiyou County). By the late 1890s, dredging technology (which was also invented in California) had become economical, and it is estimated that more than 20 million ounces (620 t) were recovered by dredging (worth approximately US$28 billion at December 2010 prices).

Both during the Gold Rush and in the decades that followed, gold-seekers also engaged in "hard-rock" mining
Mining
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

, that is, extracting the gold directly from the rock that contained it (typically quartz
Quartz
Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

), usually by digging and blasting to follow and remove veins of the gold-bearing quartz. By 1851, quartz mining had become the major industry of Coloma. 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
Arsenic
Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As, atomic number 33 and relative atomic mass 74.92. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in conjunction with sulfur and metals, and also as a pure elemental crystal. It was first documented by Albertus Magnus in 1250.Arsenic is a metalloid...

 or mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

 (another source of environmental contamination). Eventually, hard-rock mining wound up being the single largest source of gold produced in the Gold Country
Gold Country
Gold Country is a region in the central and northeastern part of California, United States. It is famed for the mineral deposits and gold mines that attracted waves of immigrants, known as the 49ers, during the 1849 California Gold Rush.-Geography:State Route 49 was built through the Gold Country,...

.

Profits

Recent scholarship confirms that merchants made far more money than miners during the Gold Rush. The wealthiest man in California during the early years of the Gold Rush was Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan
Samuel Brannan was an American settler, businessman, and journalist, who founded the "California Star" newspaper in San Francisco, California...

, the tireless self-promoter, shopkeeper and newspaper publisher. Brannan 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 some gold-seekers as well. For example, within a few months, one small group of prospectors, working on the Feather River
Feather River
The Feather River is the principal tributary of the Sacramento River, in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California. The river's main stem is about long. Its length to its most distant headwater tributary is about . Its drainage basin is about...

 in 1848, retrieved a sum of gold worth more than $3 million by 2010 prices.

On average, half the gold-seekers made a modest profit, after all expenses were taken into account. Most, however, especially those arriving later, made little or wound up losing money. 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. By contrast, a businessman who went on to great success was Levi Strauss
Levi Strauss
Levi Strauss was a German-Jewish immigrant to the United States who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans. His firm, Levi Strauss & Co., began in 1853 in San Francisco, California.-Origins:...

, who first began selling denim overalls in San Francisco in 1853. Other businessmen, through good fortune and hard work, reaped great rewards in retail, shipping, entertainment, lodging, or transportation. 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 and gaming houses.

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. 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.

Path of the gold

Once extracted, the gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 itself took many paths. First, much of the gold was used locally to purchase food, supplies and lodging for the miner
Miner
A miner is a person whose work or business is to extract ore or minerals from the earth. Mining is one of the most dangerous trades in the world. In some countries miners lack social guarantees and in case of injury may be left to cope without assistance....

s. It also went towards entertainment, which consisted of anything from a traveling theater to alcohol, gambling, and prostitutes. These transactions often took place using the recently recovered gold, carefully weighed out. These merchant
Merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

s and vendors, in turn, used the gold to purchase supplies from ship captains or packers bringing goods to California. 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$
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

80 million worth of California gold was sent to France by French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 prospectors and merchants. As the Gold Rush progressed, local banks and gold dealers issued "banknotes" or "drafts"—locally accepted paper currency—in exchange for gold, and private mints created private gold coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s. With the building of the San Francisco Mint
San Francisco Mint
The San Francisco Mint is a branch of the United States Mint, and was opened in 1854 to serve the gold mines of the California Gold Rush. It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new one in 1874. This building, the Old United States Mint, also known affectionately as The Granite Lady,...

 in 1854, gold bullion
Gold as an investment
Of all the precious metals, gold is the most popular as an investment. Investors generally buy gold as a hedge or harbor against economic, political, or social fiat currency crises...

 was turned into official United States gold coins
California gold coinage
California gold coinage was produced from the early 1850s until 1882. In the early period, from roughly 1852 through 1856, the coins were made for actual use due to a lack of familiar small denomination currency in the California gold fields. This shortage eased around 1856 and the gold coins made...

 for circulation. The gold was also later sent by California banks to U.S. national banks in exchange for national paper currency
Currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...

 to be used in the booming California economy
Economy of California
California's economy is the eighth largest economy in the world, if the states of the U.S. were compared with other countries. As of 2010, the gross state product is about $1.9 trillion, which is 13% of the United States gross domestic product...

.

Near-term 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, had many dramatic effects.

Development of government and commerce

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
Constitutional convention (political meeting)
A constitutional convention is now a gathering for the purpose of writing a new constitution or revising an existing constitution. A general constitutional convention is called to create the first constitution of a political unit or to entirely replace an existing constitution...

 was convened, a state constitution
California Constitution
The document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of California. The original constitution, adopted in November 1849 in advance of California attaining U.S. statehood in 1850, was superseded by the current constitution, which...

 written, elections held, and representatives sent to Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 to negotiate the admission of California as a state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

. Large-scale agriculture (California's second "Gold Rush") began during this time. Roads, schools, churches, 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
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

 as the 31st state of the United States.

Between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000. The Gold Rush wealth and population increase led to significantly improved transportation between California and the East Coast. The Panama Railway
Panama Railway
The Panama Canal Railway Company is a railway line that links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean across Panama in Central America. It is jointly owned by the Kansas City Southern Railway and Mi-Jack Products...

, spanning the Isthmus of Panama, was finished in 1855. Steamships, including those owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Pacific Mail Steamship Company
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company was founded April 18, 1848 as a joint stock company under the laws of the State of New York by a group of New York City merchants, William H. Aspinwall, Edwin Bartlett, Henry Chauncey, Mr. Alsop, G.G. Howland and S.S. Howland...

, began regular service from San Francisco to Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

, 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
SS Central America
SS Central America, sometimes called the Ship of Gold, was a 280-foot sidewheel steamer that operated between Central America and the eastern coast of the United States during the 1850s. She was originally named the SS George Law, after Mr. George Law of New York...

, ended in disaster as the ship sank in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas in 1857, with approximately three tons of California gold aboard.

Within California, the first steamship, the SS California (1848)
SS California (1848)
The SS California was one of the first steamships, to steam in the Pacific Ocean and the first steamship to travel from Central America to North America. She was built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company which was founded April 18, 1848 as a joint stock company in the State of New York by a...

, showed up on February 28, 1849. Soon steamships were carrying miners the 125 miles (201.2 km) up the Sacramento River
Sacramento River
The Sacramento River is an important watercourse of Northern and Central California in the United States. The largest river in California, it rises on the eastern slopes of the Klamath Mountains, and after a journey south of over , empties into Suisun Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay, and...

 to Sacramento, California
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

.

Negative impact

The human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

, dependent on traditional hunting, gathering and agriculture, became the victims of starvation, as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats. The surge in the mining population also resulted in the disappearance of game and food gathering locales as gold camps and other settlements were built amidst them. Later farming spread to supply the camps, taking more land from the use of Native Americans. Starvation often provoked the Native tribes to steal or take by force food and livestock from the miners, increasing miner hostility and provoking retaliation against them.

Native Americans also succumbed in large numbers to introduced diseases such as smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

, influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

 and measles
Measles
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus, specifically a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. Morbilliviruses, like other paramyxoviruses, are enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses...

. Some estimates indicate case fatality rates of 80–90% in Native American populations during smallpox epidemics.

By far the most destructive element of the Gold Rush on California Indians was the violence practiced on them by miners and settlers. Miners often saw Native Americans as competition for finding gold or as impediments to their mining activities. Far from women of their own and free from their own justice system, sexual assaults on Native women were quite common. Retribution attacks on solitary miners would result in large scale massacres of Indian populaitons without regard for age or sex by fearful or outraged miners such as the Bloody Island Massacre
Bloody Island Massacre
The Bloody Island Massacre occurred on an island called in the Pomo language, Bo-no-po-ti or Badon-napo-ti , at the north end of Clear Lake, Lake County, California on May 15, 1850. It was a place where the Pomo had traditionally gathered for ceremonies...

. As seen in events like the Bridge Gulch Massacre
Bridge Gulch Massacre
The Bridge Gulch Massacre or Hayfork Massacre occurred on April 23, 1852, when more than 150 Wintu people were killed by about 70 American men led by William H. Dixon, the Trinity County sheriff...

 these "attacks of reprisal" often targeted tribes or villages completely innocent of the original act.

The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, passed on April 22, 1850 by the California Legislature, allowed settlers to continue the Californio
Californio
Californio is a term used to identify a Spanish-speaking Catholic people, regardless of race, born in California before 1848...

 practice of capturing and using Native people as bonded workers. It also provided the basis for the enslavement and trafficking in Native American labor, particularly that of young women and children, which was carried on as a legal business enterprise. Native American villages were regularly raided to supply the demand, and young women and children were carried off to be sold, the men and remaining people often being killed in genocidal attacks. According to the government of California, some 4,500 Native Americans suffered violent deaths between 1849 and 1870.

The Gold Rush thus turned into a virtual "reign of terror" against tribespeople in or near mining districts. Despite resistance in various conflicts, the Native American population in California
Population of Native California
Estimates of the Native Californian population have varied substantially, both with respect to California's pre-contact count and for changes during subsequent periods. Pre-contact estimates range from 133,000 to 705,000 with some recent scholars concluding that these estimates are low...

, estimated at 150,000 in 1845, had dropped to less than 30,000 by 1870. (The pre-European population of Native Americans, estimated at 310,000, had already been decimated by Spanish colonization and colonial mission practices, including diseases carried by the European settlers.)

The factors of disease, however does not minimize the tone of racial violence directed towards California Indians. Peter Burnett, California's first governor declared that California was a battleground between the races and that there were only two options towards California Indians, extinction or removal. California, apart from legalizing slavery for Native Americans also directly paid out $25,000 in bounties for Indian scalps with varying prices for adult male, adult female and child sizes. California with a consortium of other new Western states stood in opposition of ratifying the eighteen treaties signed between tribal leaders and federal agents in 1851.

After the initial boom had ended, explicitly anti-foreign and racist attacks, laws, and confiscatory taxes sought to drive out foreigners from the mines, especially the Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

 and Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

n immigrants mostly from Sonora, Mexico and Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

.

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.

World-wide economic stimulation

The Gold Rush stimulated economies around the world as well. Farmers in Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

, Australia, and Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

 found a huge new market for their food; British manufactured goods were in high demand; clothing and even prefabricated houses arrived from China. 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. Australian prospector Edward Hargraves
Edward Hargraves
Edward Hammond Hargraves was a gold prospector who claimed to have found gold in Australia in 1851, starting the Australian gold rush....

, noting similarities between the geography of California and his home, returned to Australia to discover gold and spark the Australian gold rushes
Australian gold rushes
The Australian gold rush started in 1851 when prospector Edward Hammond Hargraves claimed the discovery of payable gold near Bathurst, New South Wales, at a site Edward Hargraves called Ophir.Eight months later, gold was found in Victoria...

.

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
First Transcontinental Railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

 was held in Sacramento. The line's completion, some six years later, financed in part with Gold Rush money, united California with the central and eastern United States. Travel that had taken weeks or even months could now be accomplished in days.

Longer-term effects

California's name became indelibly connected with the Gold Rush, and fast success in a new world 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 across the nation:


Overnight California gained the international reputation as the "golden state". Generations of immigrants have been attracted by the California Dream. California farmers, oil drillers, movie makers, airplane builders, and "dot-com" entrepreneurs
Dot-com bubble
The dot-com bubble was a speculative bubble covering roughly 1995–2000 during which stock markets in industrialized nations saw their equity value rise rapidly from growth in the more...

 have each had their boom times in the decades after the Gold Rush.

The literary history of the Gold Rush is reflected in the works of Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 (The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is an 1865 short story by Mark Twain, his first great success as a writer, bringing him national attention. The story has also been published as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" and "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"...

), Bret Harte
Bret Harte
Francis Bret Harte was an American author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering life in California.- Life and career :...

 (A Millionaire of Rough-and-Ready), Joaquin Miller
Joaquin Miller
Joaquin Miller was the pen name of the colorful American poet Cincinnatus Heine Miller , nicknamed the "Poet of the Sierras".-Early years and family:...

 (Life Amongst the Modocs), and many others.

Included among the modern legacies of the California Gold Rush are the California state motto, "Eureka
Eureka (word)
"Eureka" is an interjection used to celebrate a discovery, a transliteration of a word attributed to Archimedes.-Etymology:The word comes from ancient Greek εὕρηκα heúrēka "I have found ", which is the 1st person singular perfect indicative active of the verb heuriskō "I find"...

" ("I have found it"), Gold Rush images on the California State Seal
Seal of California
The Great Seal of the State of California was adopted at the California state Constitutional Convention of 1849 and has undergone minor design changes since then, the last being the standardization of the seal in 1937...

, and the state nickname, "The Golden State", as well as place names, such as Placer County
Placer County, California
Placer County is a county located in both the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada regions of the U.S. state of California, in what is known as the Gold Country. It stretches from the suburbs of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border. Because of the expansion of the Greater Sacramento,...

, Rough and Ready
Rough and Ready, California
Rough and Ready is a census-designated place in Nevada County, California, United States. It is located west of Grass Valley, California, approximately 62 miles from Sacramento...

, Placerville
Placerville, California
Placerville is the county seat of El Dorado County, California. The population was 10,389 at the 2010 census, up from 9,610 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Sacramento–Arden-Arcade–Roseville Metropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:...

 (formerly named "Dry Diggings" and then "Hangtown" during rush time), Whiskeytown
Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area
The Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area is a United States National Recreation Area in northern California. It has a total of of land, which is divided into three units, Whiskeytown, Shasta and Trinity. The recreation area was established in 1965 by the United States Congress. The...

, Drytown
Drytown, California
Drytown is a census-designated place in Amador County, California. It is located south of Plymouth on Dry Creek, at an elevation of 646 feet . The current population is 167. The town is registered as California Historical Landmark #31. The community is in ZIP code 95699 and area code 209...

, Angels Camp
Angels Camp, California
Angels Camp, also known as City of Angels and formerly Angel's Camp, Angels, Angels City, Carson's Creek, and Clearlake, is the only incorporated city in Calaveras County, California, United States. The population was 3,835 at the 2010 census, up from 3,004 at the 2000 census...

, Happy Camp
Happy Camp, California
Happy Camp is a census-designated place in Siskiyou County, California in the United States. The population was 1,190 at the 2010 census....

, and Sawyers Bar. The San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are a professional American football team based in San Francisco, California, playing in the West Division of the National Football Conference in the National Football League . The team was founded in 1946 as a charter member of the All-America Football Conference and...

 National Football League
National Football League
The National Football League is the highest level of professional American football in the United States, and is considered the top professional American football league in the world. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing...

 team, and the similarly named athletic teams of California State University, Long Beach
California State University, Long Beach
California State University, Long Beach is the second largest campus of the California State University system and the third largest university in the state of California by enrollment...

, are named for the prospectors of the California Gold Rush.

Today, aptly named State Route 49
California State Route 49
State Route 49 is a north–south state highway in the U.S. state of California that passes through many historic mining communities of the 1849 California gold rush. Highway 49 is numbered after the "49ers", the waves of immigrants who swept into the area looking for gold, and a portion of it...

 travels through the Sierra Nevada foothills, connecting many Gold Rush-era towns such as Placerville, Auburn
Auburn, California
Auburn is the county seat of Placer County, California. Its population at the 2010 census was 13,330. Auburn is known for its California Gold Rush history.Auburn is part of the Greater Sacramento area.- History :...

, Grass Valley
Grass Valley, California
-2010:The 2010 United States Census reported that Grass Valley had a population of 12,860. The population density was 2,711.3 people per square mile . The racial makeup of Grass Valley was 11,493 White, 46 African American, 208 Native American, 188 Asian, 9 Pacific Islander, 419 from other...

, Nevada City
Nevada City, California
-2010:The 2010 United States Census reported that Nevada City had a population of 3,068. The population density was 1,399.7 people per square mile . The racial makeup of Nevada City was 2,837 White, 26 African American, 28 Native American, 46 Asian, 0 Pacific Islander, 40 from other races,...

, Coloma, Jackson
Jackson, California
Jackson is the county seat of Amador County, California. The population was 4,651 at the 2010 census, up from 3,989 at the 2000 census...

, and Sonora
Sonora, California
Sonora is the county seat of Tuolumne County, California. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 4,903, up from 4,423 at the 2000 census. Sonora is the only incorporated community in Tuolumne County.-Geography:...

. This state highway also passes very near Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park, also known as Columbia Historic District, is a California state park and National Historic Landmark District located in Columbia, California. It includes almost 30 buildings built during the California Gold Rush, most of which remain today...

, a protected area encompassing the historic business district of the town of Columbia
Columbia, California
Columbia is a former California Gold Rush boomtown located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The central portion of the town is preserved as a California state historic park and a National Historic Landmark that preserves the original, gold-rush-town flavor of the town, once dubbed the "Gem of the...

; the park has preserved many Gold Rush-era buildings, which are presently occupied by tourist-oriented businesses.

Geology


Global forces operating over hundreds of millions of years resulted in the large concentration of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. Only concentration makes gold economically recoverable.

Some 400 million years ago, California lay at the bottom of a large sea; underwater volcano
Volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

es deposited lava
Lava
Lava refers both to molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption and the resulting rock after solidification and cooling. This molten rock is formed in the interior of some planets, including Earth, and some of their satellites. When first erupted from a volcanic vent, lava is a liquid at...

 and minerals (including gold) onto the sea floor. Beginning about 200 million years ago, tectonic pressure
Tectonic Plates
Tectonic Plates is a 1992 independent Canadian film directed by Peter Mettler. Mettler also wrote the screenplay based on the play by Robert Lepage. The film stars Marie Gignac, Céline Bonnier and Robert Lepage.-Plot summary:...

 forced the sea floor beneath the American continental mass. As it sank, or subducted
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

, below today's California, the sea floor melted into very large molten masses (magma
Magma
Magma is a mixture of molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and is expected to exist on other terrestrial planets. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and dissolved gas and sometimes also gas bubbles. Magma often collects in...

). This hot magma forced its way upward under the future California, cooling as it rose, and as it solidified, veins of gold formed within fields of quartz
Quartz
Quartz is the second-most-abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, after feldspar. It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2. There are many different varieties of quartz,...

. These minerals and rocks came to the surface of the Sierra Nevada, and eroded
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

. Water carried the exposed gold downstream and deposited it in quiet gravel beds along the sides of old rivers and streams. 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.

See also

External links

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