The California Gold Rush (1848 – 1855)

1850 Woman and Men in California Gold Rush.jpg

Prospectors working California gold placer deposits in 1850

 

The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native peoples were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called “forty-niners” (referring to 1849).

Of the 300,000 people who came to America during the Gold Rush, approximately half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip.

While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the gold rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China.

Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote, and the future state’s interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September, 1850, California became a state.

Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California

“Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California”, circa 1850. The gold hunter is loaded down with every conceivable appliance.

At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of “staking claims” was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although the mining caused environmental harm, more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world.

Some people became rich but most did not. Besides trying to find gold, some people started selling things. This gave them benefits and popularity. Sometimes a woman could earn more than her mining husband. Men like Levi Strauss also sold things. He invented and sold jeans made from denim. The California Gold Rush ended in 1855. At that time many gold miners went back home because gold was harder to find.

By the time the Gold Rush ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to the home state of the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.

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