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California Gold Rush, Term Paper Example

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Term Paper

The great California Gold rush occurred in 1848 when Sam Brennan a store-keeper from Sutters Creek went around San Francisco showing a bottle filled with gold dust.  He stated it was from the American River in California  and hence the rush was on.  The most immediate significant impact was that all the crews of the ships in San Francisco deserted as they got ‘gold fever’ and rushed off to the California Hills. The two leading newspapers in San Francisco also closed down as the staff also disappeared to the gold rush.  The gold fever hit many of the coastal towns as the news spread and prospectors took off for the hills.  ” The New York Herald printed news of the discovery in August 1848 and the rush for gold accelerated into a stampede. Gold seekers traveled overland across the mountains to California (30,000 assembled at launch points along the plains in the spring of 1849) or took the round-about sea routes: either to Panama or around Cape Horn and then up the Pacific coast to San Francisco”  (Shufelt).

How it all started

It was a Swiss immigrant named John Sutter, who arrived in California during 1839, started this all off.  In the early days such a tainted Mexican citizenship and received a grant of land amounting to 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley.  He built a fort [on the present-day site of Sacramento] and then established other  outbuildings that includes a sawmill.  It was James Marshall who on January  4th  1848, discovered a nugget of gold.  He took this to Sutter for testing who confirmed its authenticity.  Sutter was immediately afraid of a potential gold rush of prospectus onto his land and he told Marshall plus the other  mill workers to keep this a secret.  Nevertheless, the word got out and in December 1848.  The discovery of gold in California became national news.

The Prospectors rush for gold

In 1849, the rush was on and people from all over America headed to California in order to get rich.  Many were disillusioned as they expected to see  rivers overflowing with gold.  Instead, they were greeted with large numbers of miners and prospectors.  The country had become very populated and it was a lawless place.  Many of the immigrants set up trading posts to support the miners, whilst others built farms and ranches to supply food.  By the 1850s, gold started to become scarce, and the most money was being earnt by the trading posts as opposed to the miners.  In 1859 silver  was discovered in Nevada, and the prospectors left for new territory;  as such officially ending the gold rush in California.” Miners still dashed off at the least hint of gold. There was a rush to the Fraser river in British Columbia in 1858; Pike’s Peak, Colorado in 1859; and Boise, Idaho in 1862. None of them produced gold on any scale comparable to California. The richest discovery was the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nevada, in 1859. The Lode contained such high-grade deposits of gold and silver that, ultimately, it yielded $306 million worth of the two metals, including 193 tonnes (6.2 million ounces) of gold. Among those in Virginia City at the height of the rush was Mark Twain. He later wrote about the boom town in Roughing It: ‘Money was as plentiful as dust: every individual considered himself wealthy, and a melancholy countenance was nowhere to be seen.”  (goldavenue.com )

Getting to California

Many people journey to California over land by wagon trains.  They traveled over extremely harsh land and had crossed deserts and mountain passes.  They had only covered wagons, mules and oxen.  The journey took an average of six months and had to leave early enough to avoid the horrific winters in the Sierra Mountains.  The new settlers came well-equipped with food, guns, ammunition and mining tools.  Many of those who set out on this bench died along the way from illness, starvation and drowning.

Another group venture to California by C. travel.  Some took the seven month trip around Cape Horn in South America suffering with these storms and sickness with limited access to fruit and vegetables they quickly developed scurvy.  Another route was by steamship and Panama this was quick and very expensive and only the more affluent could afford it.  The new arrivals did not realize that the gold was a further hundred and fifty miles inland  from the Port of San Francisco.  Many arrived  sick and hungry and were ill-prepared for the remaining part of the journey.  At one point, more than five hundred  of the ships lied deserted as the crews had abandoned them and made off to the hills to search for gold. ” From the original find at Sutter’s Mill, the miners ranged out along the Sacramento river and traced the gold back into the Sierras. There the prospectors soon located a belt of gold-bearing rock over 100 miles long and varying in width from a few hundred feet to 2 miles. They called in the Mother Lode, for it was from this quartz rock that the gold had been scoured over the centuries and washed down the rivers. The mining camps sprang up overnight wherever a promising new find was located”.  (goldavenue.com )

Mining for the gold

Many of the new prospectors to California thought that they could just pan for gold in the rivers and streams.  They had no idea about the hard work and skills required in order to mine for the gold.  Whilst mining  was the preferred method for looking for the largest seams of gold; nevertheless, many other  techniques were deployed in order to extract gold.  One common method was the “Long Tom’ an 8 to 20 feet rocking device that operated like a giant sieve.  Another method was panning, rivers and creeks by sifting through the sediments and looking for the heavier gold particles that would be left in the pans.  Some miners even constructed dams and divergent rivers and creeks so that they could mine the dried up river beds.  All these techniques proposed a hard amount of work.

In the early part of 1848 /49 some miners were fortunate enough to take $2000 of gold a day.  The average miner  however was more prone to earn only $10 a day.  As time went by, some made fortunes, but many hardly earnt  enough to eat.  In addition, there were other hazards like drowning, disease, rock falls and robbery.  The area was fairly lawless and many prospectors were murdered for their swags of gold.  The winter was extremely harsh and many miners return to San Francisco or other mining towns during the winter months.  The gold mining also increased the cost of supplies and as such had to be supplemented by hunting for local game.  Most miners lived in deplorable conditions and disease was rampant in the mining communities.” The dramatic population boom precipitated by the Gold Rush ensured California’s early admittance into the Union, bypassing completely the territorial phase and becoming the 31st state in 1850. Had the population only been supplemented by a gradual filtration of hardy pioneers, rather than a sudden influx of miners, it’s likely that California’s admittance would have been significantly delayed.”  (California.org)

Law and Order

In the early part of the gold rush days.  All of the miners worked alongside one another.  In the 1850s this all changed and the foreigners were rejected from the mining camps as they were unhappy about foreigners searching for US gold.  The 1850s, also saw the gold mining communities decline in law and order.  There were a lot of small and it’s, claim jumpers, crooks, professional gamblers and others came to pray on the miners and prospectors.  By this time California was a state of the union.  But there was little to no law at all.  Punishment was swift and readily handed out with floggings and hangings for more serious crimes.  Lynching was commonplace — where a mob would seize someone for suspected crimes and hang them without a trial.  With the absence of law, the mining communities also set up vigilante groups to deal with local issues like claim jumping or theft.  Most people apprehended often received summary justice and were hanged on the spot.  This type of environment came as a great shock to many of the new arrivals , who thought it would be a simple case of getting rich quick.

Before and after the gold rush

Before the gold rush to place.  California was largely populated by natives and missionaries.  The population was estimated to be in the 2000 region.  By 1853 the population swelled to over 300,000.  The gold rush can be a tribute to bringing economic prosperity to the state of California.  It witnessed the arrival of many new ranchers, stores, towns, restaurants and a huge supporting business to the mining industry.  After the gold rush, many continue to take advantage of California’s rich agricultural lands and development building a thriving commercial industry. ” The Gold Rush was one of the most significant events in California history. It brought people from all over the United States and the world in search for gold”  (Kidport).

Between 1848-59 it is estimated that miners removed 28.4 million troy[1] ounces of gold from California. This equates at today’s market value to more than $10 billion. A considerable amount of money for that period and as such the gold rush changed the face of California forever. ” By the end of the 19th century, more than 1.2 million people called the Golden State “home.” So, while the rush to the gold fields may have lasted fewer than twenty years, the influx of people continues even today.”  (California.org).

In 1848 it was reported that the Indian population in California outnumbered the Whites by 10:1 By 1870 some 22 years later it is estimated that there were only 30,000 Indians left living in California. Most of these were killed by the impact of the gold rush. White immigrant workers bringing in alien diseases. It is estimated that some 120,000 Californian Indians were wiped out during this period.  The Indians referred to this as deliberate ethnic cleansing on behalf of the US Government.  The reality though is one of greed and a nation wishing to get rich rather than a deliberate provocative attack on the native people. ” By 1900 it was estimated that less than 16,000 California Indians had survived the invasion of their homelands (some 134,000 California Indians were lost during this 52-year period while the United States Government was in control of California). It is believed the Kumeyaay (Tipay-Iipay-Diegueño) Indians — one of the largest and strongest pre-contact tribal groups in California — had only 1,000 surviving tribal members at the turn of the 20th century (1900).”  (BALLARD).

Summary

There is no doubt that the California Gold Rush was instrumental in the development of the State of California.  Without the Gold Rush it was likely that California would have entered the United States at a much later date.  Many of the people that went out to California in the Gold Rush stayed on , recognising the importance of the land and agriculture of the region, this persuaded them to build a variety of business including farms, ranches, trading posts, industry etc.  Very few prospectors became really rich and most of these were at the early stage of the gold rush.  It was the supporting businesses and towns that helped to establish the infrastructure in California and helped build San Francisco as a major port and trading station.

The Gold rush was not considered a blessing to everybody though. The native Indian population probably viewed this as a curse having thousands of white people invade their land and contaminate them with diseases that they had previously not been exposed to.  In this sense this was viewed as a land grab and displacement of their people.  This was a lawless time and Indians who got in the way were simply moved out or killed.  The Gold Rush changed the land forever  and moved vast tracts of land into ranches and agricultural farms.

It was the California Gold Rush that was instrumental in the improvement of communications in the West. Up to this point mail was being transported by ship from New York through the isthmus of Panama. This took around a month in order to deliver the mail. In 1856 Congress ordered that both rail and land improvements should be made. In 1860 William Russell established the Pony Express and cut the delivery of main down to 10 days from San Francisco to Missouri.  The concept involved 150 relay stations and fast pony riders riding between the stations where they would pass the mail onto the next rider.  This service did not last long as the continental telegraph service came into operation in 1861.  The Civil War saw most of the Federal troops leaving the West to partake in the war mainly in the East.  This gap left the Indian tribes to exact a certain revenge on the settlers that remained behind.  This was mainly the Apaches in Colorado and Arizona and the Navajo in New Mexico but some of this spilled over into California territory.

The lawlessness of the West deteriorated further after the Civil War with many of the hardened bandits and gunslingers moving to the safer protection of the west.  They continued their infamy and path of destruction until the Pinkerton Detective Agency moved out West and began a relentless pursuit of hunting them down and bringing them to justice.  It was Pinkerton who established the “Rogues Gallery” and determined a system for pursuit of  the lawless breed.

Works Cited

Ballard, Gary G. California Gold Rush 1848-1855. 2010. 17 4 2010 <http://www.kumeyaay.info/california_gold/>.

California.org. California Gold Rush, 1848-1864. 2010. 17 4 2010 <http://www.learncalifornia.org/doc.asp?id=118>.

goldavenue.com . California Gold Rush: 1848. 2010. 17 4 2010 <http://info.goldavenue.com/info_site/in_arts/in_civ/in_rush_california.html>.

Kidport. The California Gold Rush (1848 to 1859). 2010 Kidport. 15 4 2010 <http://www.kidport.com/reflib/usahistory/calgoldrush/CalGoldRush.htm#Events>.

Shufelt, S. The California Gold Rush, 1849. 1924. 17 4 2010 <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/californiagoldrush.htm>.

[1] troy ounce: One-twelfth of a pound of 5,760 grains (troy pound), or 480 grains. A troy ounce equals 20 pennyweights, 1.09714 avoirdupois oz, or 31.1035 g. It is used in all assay returns for gold, silver, and platinum-group metals.

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