Essay About California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush Essay

The California Gold Rush

     The California Gold Rush of 1849 is one of the most interesting and exiting events of the United States. From the wild stories of men striking it big, to the heart wrenching tales of people losing everything, these are what make it so alluring. There are many aspects of the California Gold Rush; effects on California; individual stories of struggle; and effects on the United States as a young country looking for stability.
     San Francisco was a small town of a few hundred people in 1840, but by 1850 it was a huge city whose economy was injected with gold money. This rapid growth and development was brought on by an accidental discovery by James Marshall. “I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another.” Marshall had been working on a lumber mill for John Sutter, when he made his discovery. Early efforts were made in the beginning to keep the discovery quiet, but they soon failed, and lead way to one of the single largest migration of American’s across the continent.
     California saw many changes very fast. Most of these play part in shaping it into what it is today. From Hollywood to San Francisco, today’s lifestyles in California have roots in the Gold Rush. Because the failure rate was so high, it became common to come out to California looking for gold and end up losing it all. California was a state of risk takers and adventurers. Today people still go out to California to find fame and fortune and many fail, as did many of the ‘49’ers. The economy of California is still a major risk taking economy, as it was back in the days of the Gold Rush. Computer companies start and go broke everyday in silicon-valley, producers spend millions of dollars on movies, sometimes hitting it big, and other times going bust. California has gained many of its traits and characteristics from the Gold Rush of 1849, shaping into what it is today.
     What effects did the Gold Rush have on people? Some became forever rich, and some lost everything. In 1849, California was a rather uncivilized place, especially San Francisco. Miner’s came from every where to try to find their fortune, but most fortunes weren’t made mining gold, they were made because of mining. Sam Brannan was one such man who made his fortune this way. Brannan bought every shovel, pan, and every other mining related tool he could in the region. A twenty-cent metal pan now became a fifteen-dollar...

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Gold in California was accidental discovered near an American river that would change the young growing state. All across America, young men made the decision to go to California. People came from Europe, Asia, and South America in search of instant wealth. The new American dream was to get rich, and to make a fortune quickly.( Miller 151)

In 1839, one of the wealthiest people in California came over as an immigrant from Sweden; his name was John Sutter. His purpose of coming to California was to build his own private agricultural empire. In late 1847, James Marshall and about twenty other men were sent to a river by Sutter to build a sawmill. In order to supply enough lumber needed for Sutter’s ranch. On January 24, 1848 the sawmill was almost complete when something caught Marshall’s eye. Marshall picked up what he assumed to be gold, and while studying the gold he saw another piece. After making one of the greatest discovers in the history of the west, Marshall and his worker went back to work, but it wasn’t before long that they kept on finding more gold.( Glass 45-47 ) Even though Marshall was sure that he had found gold, he needed more proof, so Marshall to back some gold to Sutter. In order to test the gold Sutter used an encyclopedia that gave him clues about gold. Sutter made the conclusion that it was gold, but neither Sutter nor Marshall was happy. The reason why was because Sutter thought that gold seekers might bring competition to his empire. Marshall had to finish building a sawmill and knew that gold seekers would just get in his way. The two men thought the way to prevent this from happening was to take an oath to keep the discovery of gold a secret.

However it wasn’t long before the stories of gold discovered in California leaked out into the neighboring states. Unusually there wasn’t a rush to California, because the news of gold was just another tale to unlikely to really happen.( Internet A) Sam Brannan was a San Francisco merchant that would become the richest person in California even though he never mined for gold. Brannan’s plan was to run though the streets of San Francisco shouting the story about Marshall’s discovery of gold, and a proof to the people that there was really gold, Brannan held up a bottle of gold dust. Brannan’s plan worked and sparked the rush for gold. Another part of Brannan’s plan was to use the method of supply and demand. Brannan had bought every pickaxe, pan and shovel in the state. A metal pan that would have sold for twenty cents just a couple of days ago, Brannan now sold it for fifteen dollars. In nine weeks Brannan had made thirty-six thousand dollars.( Internet B)

Most of the world’s gold is deep underground and embedded in hard rock. Unlike anywhere else in the world, gold in California was easy to get and free for anyone with a few tools. However, not only people that mined got rich there were a few people that got luck and didn’t have to mine for gold. One man was Levi Strauss who in 1853, stitched a pair of pants out of canvas. These long lasting pants later became very popular with the miners. These pants were so well made and popular that they are still around today.( Canine 34)

The California gold rush not only brought Americans to California but foreigners such as the Chinese, Mexicans, Irish, Germans, French, and Turks. The foreigners had no intention of staying in California, their only reason for going there was to get gold and go home. However brining gold out of the country was hard because of bandits. As the amount of gold became less, the hatred towards foreigners became more. So the California legislature passed the Foreign Miners Tax in 1850. Which was twenty dollars per month that had to be paid by foreign miners. Once this law was passed many foreigners refused to pay the tax and left the country. African Americans that were brought over to California, as slaves were latter freed because in 1850, California was a free state.

As gold became harder to get, so California had to undergo changes. By the early 1850s, a single worker could no longer work his area alone, so he needed help and technology to find more gold. To begin with miners would work together to dam rivers and reroute water to make the gold more visible. Soon after this happened the group of workers were taken over by corporations. The new corporation developed new ideas for mining gold that would destroy the rivers. One thing that miners would use was mercury. Miners would line their pan with mercury to create a type of magnet for gold. Unfortunetly, miners didn’t know the long term effects of using mercury, because mercury would be washed into the rivers and pollute the rivers as well as any animals that were living in the rivers. The most common way to safely mine gold was to use shallow metal pans, and mix soil from the riverbeds. Then by making circular motions with the pan, the lighter soil washed away, leaving only the gold. A more complex way of mining was the waterwheel that was introduced by the Chinese. The water would move the wheel, thus powering various mining machines.( Internet B) However the worst was yet to come when in 1853, the technique of hydraulic mining was introduced. Hydraulic mining used strong jets of water that tore apart the walls of the riverbeds. These jets of water were so powerful, that it could kill a man who was standing two hundred feet away. Miners would divert streams sending smaller stream off to each side of a river, thus leaving river beds exposed and easier to see gold. Water that was diverted from these jets onto dry land created a boggy mud that destroyed habitats for animals, and flooded the land that farmers used, that lived down stream of the miming. By the 1860s it was becoming aware to the people that hydraulic mining was destroying the landscape. However, little was done to try and stop hydraulic mining because still the only thing people in California thought about was themselves and getting rich. It took over thirty years to ban hydraulic mining. The rivers of northern California would never return to their original shape. Then again no part of California would ever be the same after the gold rush was finally over with.
San Francisco was once a tiny little town within California. Only a few hundred people lived there in the 1840s, but because of the gold rush, it brought a huge population growth. San Francisco soon averaged thirty new houses and two murders each day. A piece of land in San Francisco coasted sixteen dollars in 1847, was then sold for forty five thousand dollars just eighteen months later. In less than two years the city of San Francisco burned to the ground six times. Of coarse there was always enough money to rebuild a bigger and better city. (Glass 48)

Gold was similar to a magnet that brought people from all over the world. San Francisco quickly turned into a city that interested many types of people. California also became a melting pot of cultures due to the fact that so many foreigners came to California during the gold rush.

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