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A History Of The California Gold Rush

1569 words - 6 pages

"The California Gold Rush was the significant national event of its time" ("California Gold Rush: A Look to the Past"). This legendary story begins with one man. John Sutter, one of the richest people in the area, moved to California 1839 with the intent on building his own private empire. Sutter welcomed newcomers to the area because he viewed them as subjects for his self-styled kingdom. In the late 1840s, James Marshall and about 20 men were sent to the river by Sutter to build a sawmill ("The Gold Rush"). It took him a while to find the right spot because, "nothing but a mule could climb the hills; and when I would find a spot where the hills were not steep, there was no timber to be had" (Holliday). Marshall had finally found an area where he could build a sawmill, and managed to get his team through the steep hills of California. The sawmill was almost complete when Marshall caught a glimpse of something shiny out of the corner of his eye. He took samples back to Sutter and after testing discovered it was gold. Neither of the men was happy about the discovery. Sutter viewed it as competition from gold-seekers, and Marshall viewed the potential gold hunters as an obstacle in building his sawmill. Both decided to keep this discovery a secret.

It was not long before news started to make its way to the east. Many were skeptical about this gossip, but a man by the same of Sam Brannan was this new discovery as a way to make money. Brannan ran through the streets yelling, "gold is in the River." Instead of becoming wealthy by digging for gold, he purchased every tool necessary for gold mining at pennies and sold them at more than triple the cost; within "just nine weeks he made thirty-six thousand dollars" ("The Gold Rush"). To put an end to the skepticism in the communities and newspapers about rumors of the gold discovery, President James Polk confirmed the findings of gold in his State of the Union Address on December 5, 1848 ("Photographing the California Gold Rush"). By early 1849, gold fever was an epidemic.

Gold-seekers who made the decision to travel to California had limited options for their journey. There were very few roads and transportation methods at the time. The choice was to take either the sea route or a 2,000-mile walk across the outback. The sea voyage took four to six months forcing the ships to travel from the east coast of the United States around the Cape Horn in South America to California. Seasickness was rampant; food was full of bugs, or worse - rancid. Water stored for months in a ship's hold was almost impossible to drink ("The Gold Rush"). The risk of malaria and cholera was evident when passengers got sick through the food and water that was provided. There were also times when passengers were stranded because ferries in the Pacific were very rare, so they had to wait for weeks, even months, for a ferry up to San Francisco (Upham). Other than the sea route, gold-seekers could...

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