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California. The Gold Rush Of 49

In 1848 gold was discovered in California and within a year of its discovery, emigrants using the California Trail were flooding into the Sierra Nevada Range by the thousands.

It all started when John Sutter who was a Swiss immigrant came to California in 1839 with a dream of building an agricultural empire. When he needed lumber in early 1848, he assigned the task to one of his men, James Marshall. Marshall decided to build a sawmill on the South Fork of the American river, about 40 miles from Sutter's home. Marshall discovered a gold nugget on January 24, 1848, while at the sawmill. He and his men found more gold nearby. Both Marshall and Sutter tried to keep things quiet, but soon word leaked out. Gold fever quickly became an epidemic.

Many who already had arrived in California or Oregon immediately gravitated to the western Sierras. But it wasn't until December of 1848 that President James Polk confirmed the findings to Congress, which meant it was too late to start a trip for easterners. But by the spring of 1849, the largest migration (25,000 that year alone) in American history was already taking place. Better-than-average conditions on the plains and in the desert that spring and summer helped soften the blow of the wave of emigrants. But conditions were harsh at best and many livestock were lost along the way. Grass and clean water became scarcer as the trip wore on, and diseases like cholera took their toll.

Indians in particular suffered from the "Forty-Niners" who streamed across the land. For centuries, Indians had lived in the West without outside competition for resources. But now the pioneers' lust for wealth was threatening to decimate the Indians through the consumption of foods, lands, water and space.

Many new routes were opened into California as a result of the Gold Rush. With an estimated 140,000 emigrants arriving in California via the California Trail between 1849 and 1854, routes were continually modified, tested or even abandoned.

The travelers of the California Trail often quipped that if you had "seen the elephant," then you had hit some hard traveling.Early emigrants once called the California Trail an elephant, due to the difficult journey. If you wanted to get to California in pre-railroad times, you were guaranteed an arduous trek. California emigrants faced the greatest challenges of all the pioneer emigrants of the mid-19th century.

It is estimated that 300,000 people migrated toward California to get into the action and strike it rich. The earliest gold-seekers were people who lived near California or people who heard the news from ships on the fastest sailing routes from California. There were several thousand Latin Americans, including people from Mexico, from Peru and from as far away as Chile. Even Australians and New Zealanders who heard about the news from ships carrying Hawaiian newspapers, boarded ships for California.

At the time of the rush, California was still technically part of Mexico. The area was under American military occupation as the result of the Mexican–American War. After the war ended in February 1848, California became a possession of the United States, but it did not become a state until September 1850. So during this time there was no civil type of government. Of course this led to a confusing and changing mixture of Mexican rules, American principles, and personal dictates, so when disputes broke out over claims and boundaries, miners would settle things out themselves and that settlement was quite often with a gun.

Most of the mining that took place was placer mining. What started out a panning eventually went ot rocker boxes and long toms. Soon creeks were diverted and flumes were built to carry water where it was needed. Modern estimates are that as much as 12 million ounces 370 tons of gold were removed in the first five years of the Gold Rush.

Aound 1853, miners started hydraulic mining on the creek beds and hill sides. Using water from the flumes and having it diverted into water monitors, a miner could blast tons of over burden away in minutes. It is estimated that 11 million ounces 340 tons of gold had been recovered by hydraulic mining.

There was a lot of gravels from these hill sides that were washed into the valleys and of course not all of that was mined or processed through sluice runs. You had vallyes filled with millions of tons of these gravels just sitting there and so by the late 1880's dredging technology started to be used. These large dredges could excavate hindred of tons of gravels every hour running 24 hours a day.It is estimated that more than 20 millio ounces of gold was recovered just by dredging. That's 620 tons of gold.

Soon hard rock mining started to take place from many quarts veins that were in the mountains. Rock was blasted and crushed and the gold was separated over the tables and rns insides the many mills that were scattered throughout Sierra Nevada range. However by the late 1880's, word got out about a big gold stike in Dawson City Yukon and many of the stampeders packed up and headed north.

There is still small scale mining that goes on this area of California today not it is a lot quieter and a whole lot more low key. In fact a lot of people don't even know that gold mining still goes on.