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The california gold rush

The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848 when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma.   That day Lames Marshall, a foremen working for Sacramento pioneer Kohn Sutter, found pieces of shiny metal in the tailrace of a lumber mill Marshall was building for Sutter, along the American River. Marshall quietly brought what he found to Sutter and the two of them privately tested the findings. The test showed Marshall’s parties to be gold. Sutter was dismayed by this and wanted to keep the news quiet because he feared what would happen to his plans for an agricultural empire if there were a mass search for gold. However rumors soon started to spread and were confirmed in March 1848 by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan. The most famous quote of the California gold rush was by Brannan. Brannan strode through the streets of San Francisco holding a vial of gold shouting ‘Gold! Gold from American river!’. Trappers, Farmers, lowers, preachers, trappers, sailors, soldiers, teachers rushed to California by whatever means they could. There was no easy way to get to Califronia, forty-niners often faced hardship and often death on the way. More that half of people had traveled overland across the American continent. ‘Gold fever’ began to spread. Settlements throughout the United States were deserted Homes, farms and stores were abandoned as everybody raced for California. Many came by sea and in July 1850 more than 500 ships were anchored in San Francisco bay, many of which were deserted by gold-hungry sailors. Each of these routes had its own deadly hazards from shipwreck to typhoid fever and cholera. A few people became fabulously rich, but it was a risky business. Law and order broke down. When the Gold Rush began California was a peculiarly lawless place. On the day when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mil, California was stil technically part of Mexico under American military occupation as the result of the Mexican-American War. With the signing of the treaty ending the war on February 2, 1848, California became a possession of the United States, but it wasn’t a formal ‘territory’ and didn’t became a state till September 9, 1850. California existed in the unusual condition of s region under military control. There was no civil legislature, executive of judicial body for the entire region. Local residents operated under a confusing and changing mixture of Mexican rules, American principles and personal dictates. Even a miner ‘struck in rich’ there were always those who would try to take it away: gamblers, outlaws, thieves, and saloon keepers. Gold was also discovered in Southern California but on a much smaller scale. Gold and silver was an important part of the colonization of the western United States. There were also many women in the Gold Rush. They held various roles including prostitutes, single entrepreneurs, married women, poor wealthy women. The reasons they came varied: some came with their husbands, refusing to be left behind to fend for themselves, some came because their husbands sent for them and others came (singles and widows) for the adventure and economic opportunities. On the trail many people died from accidents, cholera, fever and myriad and other causes and many women became widows before even setting eyes on California. While in California, women were also widowed quite frequently due to mining accidents, disease of mining disputes. While it wasn’t an easy place for anyone life in the west did offer many opportunities for women to break from their typical work. By 1850 most of the easily accessible gold had been collected and attention turned to extracting gold from more difficult locations. Faced with gold increasingly difficult to retrieve, Americans began to drive out foreign miners at the most accessible gold that remained. The new Califronia State Legislature passed a foreign miners tax of 20 dollars per month and American prospectors began organized attacks on foreign miners. The next major gold-rush occurred in 1851 when gold was struck in New South Wales, Australia. This led to another stampede and many rich finds were made. Other discoveries were made in Victoria and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. In some places massive nuggets of gold were found accidentally, just lying about on the ground. The ‘Welcome Stranger’ nugget was found in 1869, weighed 78 kilos. Perhaps the most difficult conditions were experienced by those prospectors who braved the Canadian winters to win gold from the Yukon and Klondike rivers. On August 16th 1896 three prospectors struck gold in Bonanza Creek a tributary of the Klondike river. And then in a second creek which was named ‘Eldorado’. In the Yukon gold was obtained by washing gravel from river-beds, an soon as much as 800$ worth of gold was being taken from a single pan of dirt. Within a year, Dawson had grown from nothing to a town of 30000 people. Every man who entered the country had to carry a year’s supply of food and mining equipment over steep frozen mountain passes. To do this each man had to carry 25 kilos of stores about 10 kilometers leave it there and return for another load . Therefore to move all his stores less than 80 km each man had to walk nearly 1500 km. Horses and donkeys died in the snow and ice, but the men kept going. It is estimated 100000 men who set out for the Klondike fewer than 40000 actually arrived. Only 4000 ever found gold and very few of these became rich. The rising price of gold in the late 1970s started a new rush to the Klondike . Dawson is still there and ‘diamond tooth Gerrtie’s’ the only legal gambling hall in Canada remains in business. Just outside Dawson a mountain is actually being moved to find gold. The whole mountain is washed down for gold-dust. It is believed to contain at least $80 million worth of gold. The old American Dream was the dream of the Puritans of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. This golden dream became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter’s Mill. By the turn of the century gold had been found in South Africa and this laid the foundation for the world’s largest gold mining industry. Today South Africa accounts for 70% of world gold production. Vast sums of money are being invested and modern mining technology is being used to squeeze gold from the rock. New finds were being made in the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The largest single mine in the world was discovered in Uzbekistan, USSR in 1958. However in spite of recent findings modern day ‘gold-rushes’ are usually confined to speculation on the gold markets of Zurich, London and New York. At times of economic uncertainty investors rush hysterically to buy gold, and the prices soars often to fall back again. Gold fever is in many ways irrational, but historically gold has always held its value and it is likely that in an uncertain world it will continue to do so.


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