A Brief History of The Gold Rush

There’s Gold in them there Hills….

Picture yourself in 1830’s America living on the west coast. It is a peaceful time and way of life for Native Americans and Mexicans; until, that is, small nuggets of gold were found in Sacramento Valley in 1848. It would be these small nuggets of gold, which would completely transform the environment and demography in western American, forever. When the news spread about this discovery of vast amounts of gold waiting to be brought to the surface had emerged, many people travelled from all over the world to mine this treasure and become rich off the back of it.

Where did it all begin?

It all started with a lonely carpenter, James Wilson Marshall, originally from New Jersey. Marshall found fleck of gold when at Sutter’s Mill, where he was working at the time. Shortly after his discovery, the treaty that ended the Mexican-American war was signed and over with, leaving California to America, however, it still had a large population of Native Americans, and people of Spanish and Mexican descent. That is, until news of his discovery spread. By the end of 1849, the population on ‘non-Native Americans’ had risen from a mere 20,000 people to 100,000 and by the end of the 1860’s; the overall population had risen from 157,000 (a combination of Native Americans, Mexicans and Spaniards) to almost 400,000.

The Transformation

Not only was it foreign people overseas, even lot’s of men from around America uprooted their family or saved up money in order to settle in California in pursuit of the gold mining dream and the wealth that came with it. This completely transformed California from its rural and peaceful surroundings to accommodate the needs of the masses of people. This included towns springing up all over the place equipped with saloons, shops and brothels, which ultimately created communities and micro-cultures forming around those who were involved with the gold mining. The new job prospects and wealth for many people from across the world may sound very appealing, however, due to the nature of this heavily labored work, there were many poorer native folk who were subjected to slavery and being taken advantage of in order to create wealth for the settlers.

Pro’s and Con’s

There are many benefits and disadvantages that have plagued this state since the ‘Gold Rush’; due to the population increasing drastically within the space of a couple years, the bustling economy helped the state to become a very wealthy place. However, it came at the cost of many Native and ‘Californios’ (Americans of Spanish and Mexican descent) losing their homes and their freedom, along with the demolition of the countryside in the process. In just over two years, almost the entire surface gold had been already mined and there were many people still arriving to this state in pursuit of gold mining but had no luck. Due to this downfall of gold mining, many people turned to hydraulic mining, which helped to grow the industrialization of California vastly, although it came at a cost of extremely hard labour and completely destroying the landscape of a once very beautiful peace of land.

A brutal battleground

The effect that the Gold Rush had on the United States was substantial as there was no law regarding the ownership of this gold being mined until a state constitution was signed claiming the land was owned by America.  The greedy nature of humans and money had led to a crime increase and racial attacks that would seek to drive out the ‘foreigners’. The violence was returned on the internal migrants with roughly 1 in 12 perishing, which had resulted vigilantism. The need for the settlers to turn this into a ‘new state’ with a high influx of Europeans and Americans arriving caused the first governor of California, Peter Burnett, to declare that this was a battle between the native and new colonisation of people, and would result in the Native-Americans being ultimately enslaved, removed or killed in order to benefit the new settlement.

It didn’t stop there

Gold mining reached it’s peak of wealth in 1852 where around $80 million dollars worth of gold was pulled from the earth, but due to the decline it leveled off to just over $40 million per year by 1857. Although, the downfall of the industry didn’t have too much of a negative impact on the people who still wanted to settle for the appealing way of life in California. It was a bustling new state, filled with the idea of wealth, hopes and dreams, which is how it is often perceived as today, however, with its bleak and greedy past is often forgotten about.

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