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A Brief History of California Gold Rush

Updated on November 7, 2015


California Gold Rush (1848–1855)

   As the name indicates it was a scuttle for gold, with the mightier gets the most strategy. The California Gold Rush began in January 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill. News of the gold discovery spread like a jungle fire and as a result some 300,000 people moved to California from the rest of the United States and world.

     These early treasure hunters were called "forty-niners". They traveled to California by sailing ship and in roofed wagons from across the continent, often facing extensive hardships on the journey. Majority of people arriving at California were Americans, but the Gold Rush also fascinated thousands from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. In the early years the prospectors were able to retrieve the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple tools and easy techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed over the next few years that were later adopted around the world. Gold Hunters were able to recover gold worth billions of today's dollars was recovered, leading to enormous wealth for a few. Many also returned home unsuccessful with little more than they started with. On the whole California gold rush was a new beginning toward the prosperity of this region.

     According to many historians The Gold Rush started at Sutter's Mill, near Coloma (California Historic Gold Mines), on January 24, 1848. The first piece of gold was found by James W. Marshall, a foreman working for Sacramento pioneer John Sutter. Marshall was building for Sutter, along the AmericanRiver when he accidentally found a shiny metal piece. Marshall silently brought what he found to his employer, and the two of them confidentially tested the findings. Tests came positive proving Marshall's particles to be gold. Sutter was distressed by this discovery, and wanted to keep it all a secret because he feared that his plans for an agricultural empire would be left behind if there were a mass search for gold. However, rumors soon began to spread and were confirmed to be true in March 1848 by San Francisco newspaper publisher and business man Samuel Brannan.

     On August 19, 1848, the “New York Herald” was the foremost main newspaper on the East Coast to publish that there was a gold rush in California; on December 5, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress. This was the time when the actual California gold rush began and soon, waves of immigrants from all over the world, afterward called the forty-niners, overran the Gold Country of California or "Mother Lode. Sutter’s work was cleaned out; his workers left in exploration of gold, and squatters invaded his land and stole his cattle and crops.


Effects of Gold Rush

      California Gold Rush had far-reaching effect on every thing. San Francisco grew from an insignificant settlement of tents to a major town. Infrastructure, churches, schools and other towns were constructed. A structure of government and law was formed, leading to the recognition of California as a major state in 1850. Latest methods of shipping and transportation developed as steam ships came into standard service and railroad was constructed. The business of agriculture emerged as California's next and foremost growth area, was started on an extensive scale throughout the state. However, the California Gold Rush also had some unconstructive effects. Due to a Gold Rush Native Americans were attacked and pushed off traditional lands, and gold mining caused environmental damage.


Immediate Effects

     The influx of hundreds of thousands of new inhabitants within a small number of years, compared to inhabitants of some 15,000 Europeans and Californios beforehand, had numerous theatrical effects.

     First, the individual and ecological costs of the California Gold Rush were significant. Native Americans became the victims of illness, disease, starvation and genocide; the Native American population, estimated at 150,000 in 1845, was less than 30,000 by 1870. Openly racially prejudiced attacks and laws required to drive out Latin American and Chinese immigrants. One in twelve forty-niners perished, as the death and crime rates during the California Gold Rush were unusually high, and the consequential vigilantism also took its toll. In addition, the environment suffered as silt, gravel and poisonous chemicals from businesses killed fish and devastated habitats.

     However, Due to Gold Rush California propelled from a quiet, unknown remote place to a hub of the worldwide imagination and a new destination of hundreds of thousands of new investors and gold hunters. Immigrants repeatedly showed extraordinary resourcefulness and civic-mindedness. For example, in the middle of the California Gold Rush, cities and towns were chartered, a state constitutional conference was convened, a state constitution written, elections held, and representatives sent to Washington, D.C. to negotiate the admission of California as a state. Large-scale agriculture (California's second "Gold Rush") began during this time. Schools, roads, churches, and municipal organizations rapidly came into subsistence. The enormous majority of the immigrants were Americans. Anxiety grew for improved communications and political relations to the rest of the United States, leading to statehood for California on September 9, 1850, in the Compromise of 1850 as the 31st state of the United States.

     The California Gold Rush prosperity and population increase led to considerably enhanced transportation between East Coast and the California. The Panama Railway, straddling the Isthmus of Panama, was finished in 1855.Steamships, including those owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, began service from San Francisco to Panama, where passengers, goods and mail would take the train across the Isthmus and board steamships headed to the East Coast.

     California's name became permanently associated with the Gold Rush, and as an outcome, was connected with what became known as the "California Dream." California was considered as a place of fresh beginnings, where immense riches and prosperity could reward hard work and excellent luck. Historian H. W. Brands observed that right after the Gold Rush, the “California Dream” increased and spread to the remaining United States and later became ingredient of the new "American Dream."

     Many generations of immigrants were attracted by the so called California Dream. California airplane builders, crude oil drillers, film creators, farmers, and entrepreneurs had their great times during decades following the California Gold Rush. Today’s California State Route 49 travels through the Sierra Nevada foothills, connecting a lot of Gold age towns such as Placerville, Auburn, GrassValley, Coloma, Jackson, and Sonora. This state highway also passes incredibly close to ColumbiaStateHistoricPark, a protected area encompassing the remarkable business region of the settlement of Columbia; the park has preserved many Gold Rush infrastructures, which are presently used by tourism related businesses.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I need to know there law and government.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      know of any newspaper articles from that period of time involving the gold rush and it's affect???

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      gooood just need a lot more

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great stuff! helped me w/ my stupid test.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a good article!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      California Gold Rush changed lives of thousands.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      thanks for posting this article

    • Bilaras profile imageAUTHOR

      Edward Happer MSc 

      9 years ago

      Thanks evey one for replying!

    • lelanew55 profile image


      9 years ago

      Very interesting read. The California Gold rush is one of the most interesting part of US history.

    • Jim Bryan profile image

      Jim Bryan 

      9 years ago from Austin, TX

      There there appears to be a few linguistic anomalies, shall we say, I would have to say that it was an interesting and accurate read, overall.


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very interesting hub regarding the history involved with the Gold Rush and then development of California as a state.


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