In January 1848, James Marshall was overseeing the construction of a saw mill for his boss, when he saw an unusual rock glinting in the upturned soil.
He was not certain whether it was gold or not and did not want to get people’s aspirations up. So Marshall tried to break the yellow rock with a hammer. It did not split, but it did dent. just like gold would. The woman who was cooking meals for the saw mill construction crew, tried another test by boiling the rock in lye.
They boiled it all day, but it did not change colour. So, they passed the rock over to the mill’s owner, Mr. John Sutter, who also conducted a few tests. Eventually, everyone agreed that this rock was indeed gold.
It seems that the Sierra Nevada Mountains hid huge hordes of gold, but that over tens of thousands of years, erosion had loosened up gold nuggets and the mountain streams flushed them down to the bottom of the mountains. Sutter’s property was situated between two rivers and so was likely to generate great wealth.
Sutter had ideas to build an agricultural empire on his 39,000 acres of land, so he asked his employees to keep stum about the strike. However, as is to be anticipated, word leaked out. In due course news of the gold strike reached the small town of San Francisco.
There, a newspaper publisher shouted around the streets: “Gold from the American River!” and within three days of the news arriving, 400 of the 600 inhabitants had set out for Sutter’s land. It was a groundswell and by the end of the year, gold prospectors had traveled to California from as far afield as Mexico and Chile.
When word of the gold strike reached the east coast, President Polk confirmed the finding. It was December 1848 and ‘The Gold Rush’ became a national and even a worldwide phenomenon. The gold prospectors of 1849 and later years became known as forty-niners.
What has to be borne in mind is though, that most people, who came from Canada, Mexico and the eastern United States came by wagon train, as there were not locomotive! This meant a arduous trek of between six and nine months
Nevertheless, at least 32,000 people actually walked to California in 1849, and about 44,000 more got there in 1850. Others, such as South Americans, faced an arduous journey by sea. They suffered storms, shipwrecks, hunger and thirst, disease, and overcrowding and after all that, some still had to face mule rides through jungles and deserts! Still, in under a year, about 40,000 people arrived in San Francisco from abroad.
The new arrivals caused a dramatic change in California’s population, because in 1848, California had had about 100,000 residents, most of whom were Native Americans, but within two years, the state population more than doubled but the variety of backgrounds increased tens of fold.
Some prospectors found gold and made a fortune in the Californian riverbeds, but most people did not become rich in the Gold Rush. When gold was found, the cache was usually cleared quickly. James Marshall had little achievement as a miner, and he died impoverished. John Sutter, who had once owned 39,000 acres, left California in serious debt after miners flattened his land.
In fact, it was simpler to make money selling spades and other provisions to the prospectors. Most people lost everything they had, so they stayed to farm the vast expanse called California or to set up businesses. By 1856, San Francisco had a very cosmopolitan population of over 50,000 people and California had become the most exhilarating state in the nation.
Owen Jones, the author of this piece, writes on many topics, but is currently involved with Celtic knot rings. If you have an interest in gold rings, please go to our website now at White Gold Claddagh Ring
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