American history is a deeply woven story of new discoveries, seemingly endless frontiers and dogged perseverance. Stories of events and movements that shaped our world and helped build our country can be heard from coast to coast and everywhere in between: the Industrial Revolution that sprouted in the northeast and moved outward, tales of revolution and martyrdom in the South. However, it is to the west that we find one the most colorful and truly American sagas of sacrifice and adventure. The California gold rush holds a special place in history as being responsible for the some of the most widespread migration from across the country.
The gold rush began in 1848 when James Marshall first discovered gold at Sutters Mill in Coloma, California. Rumors of the find quickly spread, and within months, the search was on. The earliest treasure seekers would become known as the 49ers, dubbed so for the influx of people drawn to the hunt in 1849. These first 49ers were made up, for the most part, of local farmers and agriculturalists, Native Americans and Hispanic natives. This local atmosphere didnt last long, however, once President Taft announced the find in an address to congress. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children flocked to the hills of California is search of the precious metal. Many of the pioneers faced a dangerous journey by sea, in hopes of traveling faster than their counterpart crossing land. The ocean voyage around the tip of South America was arduous, and many did not survive to seek their fortunes. The overland voyage faced its own hardships, with cholera and typhoid fever claiming many travelers. The city of San Francisco owes its livelihood to the gold rush. Once a tiny, insignificant waypoint, the massive migration brought settlers to the small town. The demand for goods brought traders to port in San Francisco, with countless crews abandoning ship to start their own search for wealth in the mountains of California. Similar situations arose all over California, especially in northern California where gold reserves where greater and much easier to reach. Much of our view on the Wild West came about as a result of the gold rush of 1849. Being so far removed from the seat of government on the east coast, California was a notoriously lawless frontier. Since California was technically still under Mexican control until the end of the Mexican-American War, establishing law and government was particularly challenging. The lack of a local government made it open season for claiming property, and taxes in the West were non-existent. The gold rush is responsible not only for a cultural surge in on the west coast, but also for a dramatic increase in the development of technology necessary to mine the gold locked away in the mountains. Methods varied greatly, from simple panning to dredging and advanced hydraulic mining. Prospectors were faced with new challenges as the amount of easily accessible gold began to dry up. New methods had to be developed to bring the gold up from deep within the hills. The gold rush brought a new culture and new opportunities to what was considered the American frontier. Hardship and sacrifice were as likely to be found in the hills of California has gold, but hundreds of thousands still sought the precious metal, in the hopes of finding a better life.
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