California Gold Rush

Courtney K.

Boles 2

American West Homepage

A gold rush is a migration of workers into an area where a great quantity of gold was discovered. In January 1848, gold was discovered on Sutter’s Mill, causing 300,000 people to move to California in hopes of becoming rich. These early people were known as the “forty-niners” and traveled by ship or covered wagon to look for gold. Even people from places as far as Australia and Europe were coming in search of a new life. The mass number of people coming to California helped many towns grow. In addition, in 1850 California became a state. The Gold Rush was only helpful for a small number of people, mostly those who started exploring in 1848 before the others moved to California. For the rest of the thousands, they either went home empty handed or stayed to start a new life.
John Sutter was the man who started the gold rush of 1849. He was born on February 15, 1803 in Kanden, Baden to Swiss parents. He married in 1826 but to get out of debt, he abandoned his wife and five children and fled to America in 1834. In 1838, Sutter moved to California by traveling through the Rocky Mountains. There, he was the first non-Indian to settle in Sacramento and built a fort there. The fort became the center of American military operations during the Mexican-American War. After the war, Sutter lost both of his land grants because they were given to him by Mexico, and the land was available now for anyone. In January 1848, James Marshall, one of Sutter’s workers, discovered gold in Sutter’s sawmill. This is what started the gold rush, which caused many miners to move to this region and overrun Sutter’s land. The miners stole livestock and took advantage of his hospitality. By 1865 he lost his property in California and retired to Pennsylvania. Sutter could not keep up with the high-flying financial times in the 1850s. For the majority of people, he is the most visible symbol of the fate suffered by many of the forty-niners.
Conflict that the “forty-niners” experienced was human suffering and disturbing the environment. Because of the great number of people coming to California, many Indians were forced to move off of their land. In addition, the Indians that stayed were infected with new diseases brought there and sometimes starved. The population of Indians went from being 150,000 in 1845 to less than 30,000 in 1870. Crime and death rates increased severely, and one out of twelve forty-niners died violently or from disease. Not only did humans suffer, but the environment did as well. Toxic chemicals associated with mining killed many fish and destroyed parts of their habitat. The people that moved west did not expect these hardships since they only heard the rumors of the beautiful land they would come to.

The forty-niners connected greatly with the theme of Land Use, Natural Resources, and the Environment. The gold associated with the gold rush is the natural resource in the theme. At first, there was an abundance of gold in California, which is why so many people traveled there. Then, since so many people were hunting for gold, it became very scarce and people started to disrupt the environment. They would continue to dig and mine until there was no more land to disturb. They killed fish and destroyed the natural resources around the area where they dug for gold. The forty-niners had no regard for the lasting impact on the world around them; they only focused on finding gold and becoming wealthy.

What I found interesting about the gold rush is how it impacted the growth of the west, especially California. Since many people moved in hopes of becoming rich, a demand for faster and better links East of the Mississippi connecting the East and West were shown. This caused the rapid development of the transcontinental railroad system. Because so many people moved, the gold rush helped develop the remainder of the west in the 19th century and intensive agricultural systems were built for the population. Many different people came to the west causing an ethnic mix of Anglo-German-Scotch/Irish,Chinese, and Hispanics. Miners also increased the demand for lumber and railway ties. All of the advances in the west were helped along greatly because of the gold rush.