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Gold Rush Essay, Research Paper

Imagine yourself building a sawmill and all of a sudden you see something shiny in the ground. You pick up the shiny pieces and determine that you just found gold. You go tell your foreman what just occurred. Soon, the news spreads that gold was found. Millions from all around pour into a place they had never seen before. These young white men were in a pursuit for happiness not realizing the hardships they would encounter on the way to California.

In January of 1848, James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at coloma. The crew was building a saw mill for John Sutter. On the morning of January 24, James Marshall found a few tiny nuggets of yellow metal. Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended to California in search of instant wealth(gold rush p1).

Gold fever-an obessive, insane desire to find and squirrel away the precious yellow metal-soon swept California. The fever spread to the eastern United States, and then to Europe and Asia. Gold fever triggered the great California Gold Rush, the largest and wildest mass movements of people the world had ever seen(Stein p.42).

Although Marshall’s discovery occurred in 1848, the news did not reach the East Coast and other parts of the world until a year later when President James K. Polk confirmed that gold had been found. This triggered the Gold Rush of 49, the greatest stampede of gold seekers in history(gold rush 1849 p.1).

In Buffalo, New York, gold fever struck thrity-year-old merchant seaman William Downie, who wrote: “Some of the tales were fabulous, and reports of treasures found were enough to challenge and man of grit and derring-do. Many, even, who had neither quality, ventured upon the search for gold, prompted merely by the lust for grain.”(Stein p.43).

Downie was a forty-niner, one of thousands who set out for California in 1849. Most forty-niners were young, unmarried men from middle-class families who had at least a basic education. Few women joined the army of gold- seekers because in 1849, traveling across the continent chasing and adventurer’s dream was not considered to be a ladylike activity(Stein p43).

Forty-niners from the eastern United States could choose one of the three routes to get to California. They could travel by sea, travel overland, or travel by a combined land-sea route, which meant crossing the Isthmus of Panama. Each route was filled with hazards, but most forty-niners chose to trek overland on foot or as members of a wagon train J. L. Stephens, a forty niner from Marietta, Ohio, survived the rugged hike west. Later he wrote: “The hardships of the overland route to Califronia are beyond conception. Care and suspense, pained anxiety, fear of losing animals, fear of being left in the mountains to strarve to death, and a thousand other things which no one thinks of until on the way, are things of which I may write and you read, but they are nothing compared to reality.”(Stein p.44).

Yet they came. By ship, horse, wagon, and on foot, ninety thousand gold seekers spilles into California during 1849. Though they suffered tremendous hardships along the way, these were young men who looked upon the journey as an adventure too exciting to miss(Stein p.44).

Newcomers to the gold fields faced many surprises. First among these were the shocking prices for food and supplies. The mining area had few stores and thousands of customers. Storekeepers earned far more than did the gold miners. A loaf of bread cost $2.00, potatoes were $1.25 a pound, a pair of boots that went for $2.00 in New York sold for as much as $20.00 in San Francisco. The practice of chargimg sky-high prices for goods was called “mining the miners”(Stein p.45).

Early in the Gold Rush days, panning was the common method for extracting gold. To pan, a miner put a small amount of sand and gravel in a pan (kitchen fry pans were often used), dipped the pan into a stream to add a little water, and then swirled the pan carefully. The swiriling action washed the dirt away, but the heavier gold remained in the pan. Panning meant a miner had to squat in a cramped positon for hours at a time while working with his hands submerged in icy water(Stein p.46).

Miners lucky enough to find a new vein of the yellow metal made princely sums-almost overnight. John Sullivan, a former oxcart driver, took $26,000 worth of gold out of a stream he called sullivan Creek. One miner found $1,500 woth in a single panful of dirt. A boy named Davenport who said he was twelve years old, but looked even younger, found $2,700 worth of gold in only tow days(Steinp.46).

Fortunes came to some men who never panned or dug for gold. John Studebaked, a carpenter, hammered together wheelbarrows and sold them to miners. Years later, the company he founded became a multimillion-dollar automobile maker. Philip Armour was barely out of his teens when he walked from stockbridge, New York to California. Believing beef to be more important than gold, he set up a butcher shop that grew into one og the nation’s largest food supply enterprises. Levi Strauss stepped from a ship in San Francisco woth dreams of making a pair of pants tough enough to withstand the rigors of a gold miner’s working routine. The company he later formed now makes the popular pants the entire world calls levis(Stein p46).

In the camps, the young miners grew desperately homesick. Most had dreamed of earning a quick fortune and returning home rich men. But as the months went by, they hungered for their sweethearts and home. Many turned to drinking, reckless gambling, and fighting with other miners(Stein p.46-47).


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