•More than 90,000 people made their way toCalifornia in the two years following the discoveryof gold, and more than 300,000 by 1854.•When gold is discovered in 1848, there were onlyseven Chinese in California. By 1852 there were atleast 20,000 Chinese and still many arriving.•John Sutter Jr. was convinced by SamuelBrannan to lay out a new town on the banks ofthe Sacramento River.•Between 1848 and 1856 about $465 million worthof gold is taken out. The first year $10 million worthof gold is found. The remaining years $40 million to$60 million is found.•In 1848 California had fewer than 300,000 headof cattle. By 1860 cattle increased to 3 millionhead.•Merchants and saloon keepers provided the firstbanking service.•The Gold Rush began in 1848 and endedaround 1856.•African Americans were among the first miners.
In 1848, just a few months before the end of the Mexican War, somethinghappened that would change the history of the United States forever. InCalifornia, John Sutter was having a sawmill built on his property. He hired acarpenter named James Marshall to be in charge of the construction. Mr.Marhsall and his crew were building the sawmill on the American River, nearpresent-day Sacramento. It was there, in the muddy waters of the AmericanRiver, that James Marshall found gold nuggets.John Sutter tried to keep James Marshall’s discovery quiet. He did not wantpeople entering his property to search for gold. Within a few months, the secretwas out. Most of Sutter’s workers left him in search of their own fortunes. Sutterwas unable to keep hundreds of prospectors from trampling his land, destroyinghis crops, and killing his cattle. People all around him were “striking it rich,” butJohn Sutter lost everything and died a poor man.
Within a year of James Marshall’s discovery, thousands of people from the UnitedStates and other countries traveled to California to claim a piece of gold forthemselves and hopefully become rich.Gold-seekers from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and China traveled acrossthe ocean by boat. Prospectors from the United States and Mexico arrived onhorseback and in covered wagons. Nearly 100,000 people traveled to Californiaduring that first year. Because the year was 1849, they became known as the“Forty Niners.”
In the beginning of the Gold Rush, miners “panned” for gold by scooping panswith screen bottoms into the muddy waters of California’s rivers and streams.The holes in the screens were big enough to let sand fall through, but smallenough to stop any flakes of gold large enough to have value.Later, the miners used a method known as cradle rocking to search for gold.They scooped up the mud, sand, and water from the bottom of the river anddumped it into a box with a screen bottom. The miners rocked the box backand forth to separate the gold from the mud and sand.
In 1848, before James Marshall’s gold discovery, there were a few hundredpeople living in San Francisco. After gold was discovered, San Franciscobecame the starting place for most miners hoping to strike it rich duringCalifornia’s Gold Rush.Thousands of wagon trains packed the Oregon and California trails. Ships sailedacross the Pacific Ocean. All were loaded with supplies and eager miners whostarted their golden journeys in San Francisco. By 1850, San Francisco’spopulation had grown to 25,000.From San Francisco, miners traveled to the towns of Sacramento or Stockton.These towns became the center of activity for prospectors heading to thenorthern and southern mines. After a long week panning for gold, minersreturned to one of these towns for a hot meal, a warm bed, entertainment, andnew supplies for the next week. Everything could be purchased with goldnuggets or bags of gold dust.
Temporary towns, or mining camps,were built near the mines. Gold minerslived in tents and wooden shackswhere they survived on salt pork,biscuits, and molasses.Hundreds of mining camps werecreated. In just a few short years, morethan 465 million dollars worth of goldwas mined in California. As thesemining camps grew into towns, storeowners with supplieswere needed. Doctors, nurses, lawyers,ministers, and teachers soon arrived inCalifornia’s new towns.
Unfortunately, not everyone found goldin California’s mines. It was dif cultwork that required a lot of patienceand money. When a miner thought hehad discovered gold, he led a claimgiving him the right to mine and take allof the gold he found. It was impossibleto do all of the work by himself, so theclaim holder hired miners to dig holes,lift large stones, and remove the gold.Sometimes it took months or even yearsto actually remove the gold. Duringthis time, the claim holder wasresponsible for paying his workers andsupplying them with food, picks,shovels, pans, and mules. Most of thetime, claim holders went broke beforeany gold was actually found andremoved.
California may have had the mostfamous gold discoveries, but it was notthe only territory in the Westexperiencing a Gold Rush. Manydisappointed miners left Californiawhen they heard the news that goldhad been discovered in the ColoradoRockies, Montana, Oregon, NewMexico, Arizona, Nevada, and theDakotas.