The history of the California Gold Rush



The American population of the pacific west was but sparse in 1848, the year that California became a part of the United States, as a result of the Mexican War. Emigration thither now proceeded more rapidly, while the neighboring territory of Utah became the land of refuge of the strange sect of Mormons who had made their way thither in 1846 and founded Salt Lake City in 1847. The settlement of the Pacific region, however, must have taken place very slowly had it not been for the discovery of gold in the mountain region of that territory. The cry of "Gold," that rang far and wide throughout the land in the summer and autumn of 1848 gave rise to such a fever of emigration as the world has seldom known. Over land and over sea thousands of eager treasurer-seekers flocked to this new land of promise, and within one year of American occupation the land filled up more than it had done in three centuries of the drowsy Spanish rule.



On January 19, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered the glittering yellow fragments, which gave rise to this furore of emigration, in a mill-race which he was excavating for Captain Sutter, at Coloma. Investigation proved that gold existed in great abundance throughout a broad region, and as a year had passed thousands of fortune-seekers were already actively at work, washing treasure out of the sands of ancient rivers, whose waters had ceased to flow ages before. The story of the "gold rush" to California is one of extraordinary interest, and the scenes to which it gave rise are almost without example in the annals of mankind, except in the closely similar case of the Australian gold discovery. A few years, however, began to exhaust the "placer," or surface, diggings of California, and new methods of mining, requiring considerable capital, had to be resorted to. The "hydraulic process" was invented in 1852, the "high gravels" being broken down by the force of powerful jets of water, conducted through pipes from mountain streams and lakes. Quartz mining also came into vogue, the metallic veins being worked and the gold extracted by difficult and costly processes. Rich deposits of silver were also discovered, particularly in Nevada and Colorado. The era of individual fortune-hunting was over, but enormous wealth still lay buried in the rocks of the region, and emigration proceeded with unexampled rapidity, peopling the Pacific Territories in a ratio far exceeding anything ever experienced in the settlement of the Atlantic slope. Agriculture slowly succeeded the mining fever, the rich soil of California proving to hold a wealth more valuable than that contained within its rocks. The vast forests of the Pacific coast ranges also proved treasure-mines. In consequence of these various inducements to population the Far West has, within forty years, become the home of an extensive and flourishing population. State after State has been added to the Union in that distant region, railroads and telegraphs have been stretched across the continent, and in response to the magic cry of "Gold" an immense and thickly-peopled domain has been added to the territory of the United States of America.





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