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Vigilantism During The California Gold Rush

2949 words - 12 pages

Vigilantism is the black eye on the history of the American frontier. During the 19th century due to a lack of trust, competence, or unreliable law enforcement, the settlers on the frontiers took it upon themselves to provide security and safety for their newly progressing cities. Life in the developing American west was difficult and created many problems for everyone involved. Texas’ history is riddled with skirmishes, wars, and feuds that called upon the local civilians to turn to vigilantism. So to, Arizona and New Mexico, while struggling to gain their statehood, saw instances of civilian uprisings to quell local violence. Of course, however, neither Texas nor the American Southwest saw the hotbed of violence and destruction that was seen in San Francisco following the introduction of the Gold Rush. The descriptions that were used to describe the excitement that the discovery of gold created could also be just as easily applied to the ways it affected the peoples mentality. “In 1848 and 1849 it was usually known as the ‘Gold Fever,’ the ‘California Fever,’ the ‘Yellow Fever,’ the ‘California Mania,’ and the ‘Gold Mania.” People from all over the globe were abandoning their responsibilities and duties for the chance of striking it rich and making a big splash. This dramatic influx of people, cultures, and beliefs into one location created the right mix of hope, frustration, anger, and pride that would lead to chaos and even though “San Francisco had the most efficient, most professional police department in the United States [during the 19th century]” it could not quell the need for vigilantes to rise up and provide order amongst lawlessness.
Types of Prospectors
John Marshall ushered in the Gold Rush when he discovered it while building a lumber mill in 1848. Unlike emigration prior and after this event, the brief zenith between 1849 and 1852 saw a wave of citizens and foreigners converge together in one location at one time. “At the time of the discovery, the population of California totaled around 15,000, excluding native Indians. By the end of 1849, after the international gold rush had been under way for nearly six months, the total population had passed 90,000. By 1852, it had reached well over 220,000.” Between the time periods of 1848-1852, “as many as 25,000 Mexicans migrated to the mining regions of California.” During this same span, over 2,000 African Americans had made their way into California, and by 1855 “as many as 50,000 Chinese sought wealth in California.” In addition, Chilean and French comprised two more large groups of immigrants, with estimates of 20,000 French by 1851 and somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 Chilean by 1850. Moreover, it was not only the privileged, wealthy individuals who were the ones moving in search of gold; on the contrary, it was people from all avenues and walks of life. Individuals with nothing to lose and those with everything to lose boarded wagon trains, ships, and boats and...

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