1848 - California Gold Rush

       Two coincident events -  the discovery of gold in California's American River, in January of 1848,  and the ascendency of Manifest Destiny as a national doctrine of expansion, combined forces in the American psyche to launch one of the most cataclysmic social movements in American history. 

         In many respects, the Gold Rush was the nation's first large scale media event.  (click here for more)Penny newspapers were published in every neighborhood, and their fantastic tales of sudden fortune enflamed the imaginations of the entire nation.  Young men looking for a way out of the tedium of urban living, or for an alternative to a life of drudgery on the family farm, soon packed their rucksacks and headed west to claim their fortunes.  click here for more on gold rush

Gold Miners

  49'ers on a placer claim in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


          In 1848 there were three ways to get to the gold fields from the East Coast; around Cape Horn on a clipper ship; Overland, by foot, on horseback, or wagon; or across the Isthmus of Panama and up the coast.  Of the three, overland, across two thousand miles of arid and hostile Indian Country, was the most dangerous.

         Nevertheless, by the summer of 1849 (49ers), the tiny seaside fishing village of San Francisco exploded from a few hundred fishermen to a population of 30,000 speculators, entrepreneurs, snake oil salesmen, whores and vagabonds.  By the end of the year, 90,000 immigrants had arrived in the gold fields of the Sierra Madre mountains where they set up rough 'n tumble camps on the banks of every river.   Lynch law ruled in those camps, and Anglo-American immigrants were determined to push out all people of color.   These men wanted one thing: to make their strike and go home.   A few did, but most did not, and as months went by, optimism turned to despair and treachery, and tales of wretched desperation far outnumbered the stories of sudden riches. For more, click here

         The territory was rushed into statehood in 1849.  As one historian commented, California came into the union as a gold nugget dripping blood.  Forty-niners had no use for the peaceful Indians whose civilization had thrived there for thousands of years.  Only one in six Indians survived California's first decade of statehood, and no white man was ever prosecuted for killing an Indian.