California Gold Rush Essay, Research Paper
It lasted just a decade, but the California gold rush was a gigantic adventure for a generation of fragile young men, most of them citizens of a fragile young nation. They took their name the forty-niners from the year that the gold rush began. In 1849 the East was dazzled by the news that across the continent, on land that was just given to the U.S. by Mexico, golden nuggets were lying around loose on the ground. Abandoning farms and apprenticeships, deserting their families, the forty-niners swarmed West by the thousands. In California, they heard that a man could make a fortune by simply digging in hills with just a little more equipment than a shovel, a tin pan and a wooden, box like thing called a cradle. If the man did not get rich from digging, who cared? For most of the forty-niners the adventure alone was enough treasure to last a lifetime.1
The gold rush all started in 1848 when James W. Marshall found gold nuggets at Sutter s Mill. He rushed down to the nearest town and yelled that he had found gold. People from the near shanty towns rushed to El Derado to claim their fortune from Sutter s Mill. By 1949, President Polk released
this information to the rest of the country. People from all over the continent came to California in search for money.
Most of the people that came to California for gold did not get what they were looking for. Most of the Argonauts (forty-niners) died on the way to California. It was a long hard journey to California. Many people left their own family on the Oregon Trail to go get their fortune from California. This caused many wives and their children to die. A typical day for the forty-niners was not very fun. There was a lot of work and people would fight a lot for other people s tools. A lot of people would get killed that had gold with them. The people would then get their gold stolen.
In the next few years people from Europe, Asia, and South America joined the Americans in their search for gold. Many of the people took what was called the water route, traveled by ship around Cape Horn, the southern most point in South America. Other people made their way overland by the Panama and Nicaragua route. About 100,000 people participated in the gold rush. Most of the men involved in the gold rush just wanted their gold. After that, they wanted to head back east, because life was dangerous and violent there. In the mining camps lynch law took the place of justice.2 The men lived in rugged camps with names like Hell s Half Acre, Rough and Ready, and Hangtown. The lack of medicine and medical help caused an estimated number of deaths of about 10,000 persons from dysentery. Criminals also contributed to these deaths.
The early camps did not have so much crime, but as more miners arrived, the simple pan miner was now being replaced by partnerships and even companies who used heavy equipment to clean their gold. This meant that the gold had to be left over night. Now, there was a greater need for protection from thieves. The Miners set up local unofficial courts or vigilantes. Thieves often whipped or sent home, and murderers were hung or lynched on the spot. In San Francisco, the population grew so quickly that it was hard to keep justice. A group of volunteers from the East, fresh from the Mexican war, called themselves the Hounds. They were the first serious group of trouble in San Francisco. The citizens of San Francisco grew so fearful that a police group of 230 people was formed and disbanded the Hounds. In 1850, a group of Australian immigrants posed an even greater threat that made the Hounds look tame in comparison. Many of them were deported from Britain and some were convicts. These immigrants were called the Sydney Ducks, and became the main target of the vigilantes. Many of them were executed or sent back to Sydney. After a while, law agencies were established and the mining camps were shut down. The majority of the forty-niners reaped little benefit in their searches, and the mines went into other hands.
The California gold rush was a very important event in American history. If there had been no gold rush, California would have grown more slowly, and the gigantic international migration would never have occurred. If the gold rush had not have occurred, then California might not have stayed an American state. Since Texas was already an independent state, people thought that California would become independent too. The gold rush made sure that this thought was out of the question. Gold rushes have happened in many other countries, but none of them were as great as the California gold rush. That is what made it such a great historical event.