In the early 1848
In early 1848, few had dared to venture to California to seek gold. In fact, few had traveled to California for any reason. Mexicans and Native Americans mostly occupied the lands. But then something funny happened; gold was found at John Sutter’s Sawmill in Sacramento, California. By the summer of 1848, the Gold Rush was in full swing. Over 80,000 people headed west to see if they could be the next person to find gold.
It is estimated that about half of the adventurers traveled west by foot on trails and the other half traveled by ship. If traveling by ship, you had to go around South America or sail through the Isthmus of Panama. They would then land in San Francisco and take the rest of the route via trails. One of these famous participants who traveled to the Yukon was the author Jack London. Unfortunately, he contracted scurvy and spent much of his time holed up in a cabin taking notes on the adventures others around him were having. His famous tale Call of the Wild was culled from his experience in the gold country.
Those seeking gold were called Forty-Niners. Even men from as far as Chinese heard of the Rush and traveled to California in order to make their fortune. Unfortunately, the Chinese were not welcomed with warm arms. The Chinese were often abused or chased off of their claim lands. Men from Peru and also from Chile came to the California and Yukon area in search of gold. In 1847, there were 14,000 California citizens, but after the Gold Rush in 1852, there were 225,000 people living in California.
The miners would first use picks, metal pans, and shovels as their tools. The act of scooping up sand and debris from the bottom of a stream and then shaking the pan to find gold was called placer mining. Very few people actually made it rich from placer mining for gold. Many people made more money from selling food, firewood, shelter, clothes, and land to those looking for gold. Levis Strauss and Wells Fargo Bank first began business during the Gold Rush time.
Later men began to develop more efficient ways to mine for gold. One method was to use a dam to divert streams and rivers and then seek gold in those waters. Hydraulic mining was also used for finding gold. This is when streams and jets of water wore away hills and then they ran into sluices in order to catch the flecks and bits of gold. This method was harsh on the environment.
Along with scurvy, other diseases such as cholera and dysentery ran rampant. Hundreds died from disease. In addition to illness, there was much crime with little presence of the law. Often miners acted as the judge, juror, sheriff, and executioner. Also many Mexicans and Native Americnas lost their land to white men seeking gold. While the Gold Rush was an important time in American history, it was no an excursion for the faint of heart.