California Gold Rush

Jenn Sheets
The California Gold Rush (1848-1859)
Pd. 3

It was in early January of 1848, when J. A. Sutter decided he wanted to build a saw mill in California. Little did he know one of the men he hired would make history. James W. Marshall was walking along a ditch on his way to work one afternoon, when he looked down and noticed something odd in the water. It was a piece of gold! He rushed back to share his discovery with Sutter. Of course they wanted to keep the finding a secret. Sam Brannan, a news journalist heard about the finding and wrote an article for his paper, the California Star. The heading read ???Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!??? Soon after more news reporters got hold of his paper and used it in theirs. So much for keeping it a secret, the news was spread from state to state and eventually the world. Soon people ???flooded??? California in hopes of striking it rich, thus beginning the California Gold Rush.

In the summer of 1849, most of those who were arriving in California were men aged 25 to 30. If you asked a prospector what he was before gold was found he might give you the answer of ???I was a ???storekeeper, teacher, farmer, or an immigrant looking for a new life??™.??? The average miner could make about $8 a day panning in the river, which is equivalent to $160 present day. A bucket of dirt ???washed??? could uncover 10? of gold.

What was life like for those involved in the gold rush Life was simple not too busy. You could expect a prospector to live near the rivers. What were their homes like The homes were most likely shacks, tents or even simple blankets lied on the ground. Building a shack from good wood was almost as expensive as the other supplies. To build a ten-room house in an eastern city cost about $2,000. The common use for money was gold dust. ( A dollar was a pinch of gold dust or however much one man could grab in between his thumb and forefinger) It was more likely to find tents and blankets everywhere because wood was so expensive. One man paid $100 for a small packing box to live in. Finding food wasn??™t easy either. Just one slice of bread was a dollar and to butter it cost another. Eggs were anywhere from one to three dollars. Nearly all other basics were sold at extremely low prices and that was only when they were available. Why was food so scarce The answer is quite simple; most farmers had run off in search of gold and left their crops to die. After that no one bothered to replant, and food was now being shipped from long distances. Working was hard too. The miners would wake up at dawn only to find the weather to be cold and wet or snowing. And since there was no plumbing the miners bathed in streams. When it came time for meals the cooked it over an open fire most of the time. The meal would consist of salt pork and bread, sometimes including canned peaches.

As more and more months passed the miners not only started to act like family, but had their families move with them in the little towns. They soon had to come up with ways to entertain themselves. Many of them organized social events so they could make the camps feel more like home. Sometimes the miners would plan dances and different parties. Miners who could play an instrument would occasionally play some tunes such as ???Oh! Susannah!??? and ???Camp town Races??? and everyone would sing along. Singing songs and the occasional celebrations were an easy way of getting the miners??™ minds off of their jobs.

The prospectors chose a back breaking job. At first they chose to work alone. When news of gold first got out miners would stand knee deep in icy-cold waters or ten to twelve hours a day, panning for gold. That was in the early years of the Gold Rush. As times changed materials got better and the miners had found new ways to make the job easier. Panning was the simplest way to finding gold. Dirt and water were mixed together in a pan and swished around a few times or until the water had washed away the lighter dirt. Hopefully what was left at the bottom of the pan was gold. Rockers and cradles were soon adopted into the job of panning. A rocker was a rectangular box mounted on a pair of rockers (like the ones used on rocking chairs) and set on sloped ground. Cleats were placed on the bottom to stop it from slipping. Dirt was then placed on top and water was added to make the dirt go through the box. The miners had found this method easier than panning because more dir t could be washed in the box.

By 1858 the rivers had grown more crowded. Now if you were to go to a river you??™d find yourself with an abundance of other prospectors rather than what you were really looking for, gold. With this becoming the main problem the 49-ers moved on to other mining states. By 1859-60 the new place with gold was Sierra, Nevada. But not all of the 49-ers left California. Some stayed with hopes of still finding gold. However most moved on and left with them, the end of the California Gold Rush.

California had a long, busy twelve years in the Gold Rush. (1848-59) The Gold Rush had expanded small towns and brought many new people from around the world. It also gave California some publicity now and then. The San Fransico Forty-Niners football team got its name because of the mass of miners coming through in 1849. Its nickname is ???The Golden State???. Bodie was designated as the official California State Gold Rush ghost town in 2002. In 1962 it was named a National Historic Site and a California State Historic Park. It once housed a population of 10,000, but now it is preserved in a state of arrested decay. I think we should try to learn as much as we can about this major historical happening in the great land of California.


The California Gold Rush: West with the Forty-niners
By: Elizabeth Van Steenwyk