Discovery of gold by James Marshall and Sutter in the American River on 24 January 1848, unintentionally initiated a set of gold rush events that could later transform California significantly. Despite their attempts to prevent news from spreading, word spread like wild fire far and beyond the U.S.A. This fast spread of information was facilitated by “one of the more successful and enduring results in Bayard Taylor's Eldorado, Adventures in the Path of Empire” (Bayard Taylor, 1846). Because of ‘the gold fever’, some of the cities, such as San Francisco, were deserted as majority rushed for the spoils. (Sara McCleary, Oct. 13 2009). In June 1849, Taylor reported in the New York Tribune about the California goldfields. Since travel reporting at the time was much of an adventure than for news reporting as in the case today, Taylor’s Eldorado immediately hit Europe and New York stores. Its republication and dissemination to rest of the world was marked by mad gold rush to California from rest of the world. (Taylor, 1846).
Among the many promises of the California goldfields, most people migrated with the hopes of making their fortune, panning gold. Get-rich quick was an instant wealth guaranteed to most 49’ers. On their part, farmers hoped to earn a dollar each day for their services, feeding the miners; while on the other hand the miners hoped to earn half as much from the mines. The estimates affirm that the early arrivals to the goldfields made an average of $16 a day. “Chance for such prosperity struck many Americans … as a fulfillment of their rapidly expanding country's promise of economic democracy…. it seemed that average Americans, whatever their previous backgrounds or origins, were reaping nature's bounty. Many would later abandon with their cultural, social and economic norms when the gold rush collapsed, and seek employment in large mining firms. (Rawls, 1999).
The second promise, which California mines guaranteed, included the huge “benefits it could give the U.S government on joining the Union. Though California was a Mexican possession, the excitement created by the discovery of gold, led to complete disregard for prior treaties and land reservations. The land (California) was, ceded to the United States in 1848” (Limerick and Patricia, 1998). It is due to the prosperity it initiated that helped convince those in power to admit California to the Union. The third promise from the gold fields was its capacity to transform California from a sleepy and unpopular country into an excellent stop center since 49’ers as far as from Europe and Australia made deadly sails across the Atlantic to California, in search for the ‘free’ gold. (Sara McCleary, Oct. 13 2009).
However, ‘similar to other events in history, the California Gold Rush had both its positive and negative effects' (Sara McCleary, Oct. 13 2009). Despite its depicted plenty, “Few of the forty-niners got rich. Some went home. While majority stayed on and settled down” (Holliday, 1998). This resulted largely by the fact that, fortune was not only made from gold mines but as well as from the farming activities. “The price of most commodities; from meat, champagne, shovels and explosives depended on the needs and the successes of the miners. As the newspapers and magazines reported, ‘fortunes were not only being made in gold mining alone but also in more familiar endeavors. A hotel, restaurant, fetched profits of $8,000, $10,000 a year, even more. A German near Sacramento sold his melons for $30,000. Besides, women too made indirect fortunes from the mines as exemplified by a widow in Downieville who made $18,000 selling her home-baked pies to the miner’ (Holliday, 1998).
In contrast to the fact that the promise of easy riches attracted many migrants, the reality was the reverse of this expectations. For instance, miners worked for very long hours in remote places, with poor networks, housing, and paying huge sums of money for food, shelter, and clothing. (Holliday, 1998). This is the reason behind their intense preparations before they left for California and when they were expected to be backing home. “As the superficial gold deposits easily accessible ran out, all that remained were buried gold deposits that could be exploited only by well-capitalized ventures employing hydraulic equipment and other expensive machinery. Most miners who remained, were no longer independent prospectors, but rather the employees of large mining companies” (Rohrbough, 1997). In addition, the large number of 49ers who went to California admitted that their hopes of returning home in time with fortunes within a year, as a mere misplaced venture. While some came earlier, others chose to stay longer given the reality of the prospected gold mines and unanticipated fortunes which they had hoped to reap reaches. All this turned to be one of the many ironies of the California mining experience. Some even became gamblers (Rohrbough, 1997).
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In addition, ‘these foreigners transformed California and made it distinct from the migrants various homelands’ (Sara McCleary, Oct. 13 2009). Given diversity of their nationalities, sharp fluctuations in economic prospects, when claims failed, saw the merchants become heavily indebted and went bankrupt. Their services to their customers, based largely on credit, ran out as they went broke along with the mining companies. In the minefields, failure was so much a part of everyday experience that it carried no shame. But the prospect of returning home without one's share kept thousands in the mines and cities for months and even years longer than expected” (Holliday, 1998).
On the other hand, to other gold rushers, the gold rush was an epitome of unforeseen disaster. With increased population, introduction of exotic diseases, and violence that often erupted because of foreigners’ presence, over-whelmed most of the Native Americans; this catalyzed a demographic collapse, which exposed them to the edge of extinction. There was a large-scale white discrimination, as exemplified by heavy taxes on foreign miners. The move kept most Chinese, Latin American, and African American prospectors out of the choice for diggings. Still counting loses, even the rush's originators never profited. Marshall and Sutter were liter overtaken and ruined. Their sawmill was idled by the flight of able-bodied men to the diggings, and squatters occupied much of Sutter's expansive lands, killing most of his livestock and destroying his crops. Both men died in poverty and anonymity (obtained from American History, on 10th May 2010).
The Gold Rush propelled California from a sleepy, little-known backwater to a center of the global imagination and the destination of hundreds of thousands of people as earlier stated. (Starr and Kevin, 2005). For example, in the midst of the Gold Rush, towns and cities were chartered, a state constitutional convention was convened, a state constitution was also drafted, elections held, and representatives sent to the union to negotiate the admission of California as one of U.S states. Modern infrastructures such as Roads, schools, churches, were also constructed. Better communications and political connections became more apparent within California and to the rest of the United States, leading to statehood for California on September 9, 1850, in the. (Rawls (eds.), 1999 ).
In Rawls and (eds) A Golden State, The basic economic activities by the native people were offset with the coming of the 49’ers.They became the victims of starvation and disease, as gravel, and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed their habitats. Intensification of mining also resulted in the disappearance of game and food gathering locales as gold camps and other settlements were built amidst them. Later farming spread to supply the camps, taking more land from the use of Native Americans. Starvation often provoked the Native tribes to steal or take by force food and livestock from the miners, increasing miner hostility and provoking retaliation against them (1999).
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The miners’ claims of getting rich were further a shame of success as witnessed during the rains. The miners had to choose between staying on their claims for weeks in hope that the best would come or heading for town and accepting a job until spring. As miner's log for November 29, 1849, reports: "how the ground was soft miring miners deep rendering them impossible to save them. In Sacramento the city was impassible as it was in a cesspool of mud, offal, garbage, dead animals." (Holliday,1998). In their quest to amass wealth and get ahead, the 49ers left in California, a legacy like no other that marked the end of its Mexican and Spanish eras and the beginning of American history. With the revolution being initiated by a number of factors such as the work of Taylors’ Eldorado, and the 49ers’crusade for ‘get rich quick’ profit and wealth, America was pushed beyond its native traditions, as earlier noted, ‘of European traditions and morality towards the new ethos, unconstrained by privilege or principle and measured only by the democracy of the dollar.’ (Holliday, 1998). Though the great majority abandoned their other activities to search for the precious metal, from the clerk to the cook, Digging for gold was backbreaking work. The hope of "striking it rich" became an obsession with many of the Forty-Niners. A streak of bad luck could always be followed by a rich strike. At the same time, merchants raised the prices of mining tools, clothing, and food to astronomical levels. Nevertheless, it was among the most important eras of migration in American history, which led to statehood for California. (Kathy Weiser, 2010)
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