Gold was first introduced in the United States when it was discovered on Reed Farm, North Carolina in 1799. The California Gold Rush, which is an important factor in the history of the United States, did not begin until 1848. California history tells us that this phenomenal era of extracting gold nuggets from the earth took place in the Sierra Nevada area. Gold was referred to as the “noble metal” and it comes in two forms, that of pure and impure.
Once gold was discovered, people flocked to mining areas by the groves, hoping to become wealthy enough to live a more substantial life. Finding gold was a tedious and dangerous work of labor at times. During this time period, prospecting for the wealthy means also triggered chaos, lawlessness, racism and unsatisfactory conditions and situations among the minors and their communities as people ran to get rich quick. Important names associated with the Gold Rush in the United States are James Sutter, James Marshall and Sam Brannan.
Gold Leading to Western Expansion
When word reached the masses of people that gold had been found in the western states and mainly in California, the number of immigrants fleeing to the gold mines mounted up into the thousands. Homesteaders arrived in California, and set up their makeshift residences or lodging facilities in boomtowns near mining sites. These towns started out as tent camps. With the abundance of these residential tent towns on the rise, the population of California grew and so did the merchant businesses and mining companies popping up all around; establishing excavation companies and general stores where minors could purchase supplies and tools for their gold digging and household goods. The first boomtown was set up in San Francisco. These towns grew as more people arrived and more businesses such as hotels, storekeepers, eating houses and saloons were set up, causing California to expand. These settlers believed that eventually California would expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean; this expansion belief was known as the Manifest Destiny, because it was influenced by economic growth and the location or geography layout of California.
- Migrating to California because of Gold Mining (PDF file)
- Boomers and Boomtowns
- The Shaping of the California Gold Rush
- America’s First Gold Rush
- Prospecting for Gold in the United States
It was James W. Marshall who discovered the first gold nugget in January of 1848. His discovery set the beginning stages of immigrants fleeing to California. These people came from far and wide, from within the United States and from other countries as new opportunity presented itself. They were from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. These immigrating people were known as the 49ers, because this is when they began arriving and when they came, they bought trouble with them. Problems arose that dealt with environmental issues as they blew up mountains to get to the gold. Their presence even forced the Native Americans into starvation, because the 49ers took over their food supply and claimed it for themselves as they began hunting on Indian land, believing that the gold was their natural born rights.
The 49ers, when relocating to California, had no respect toward others and greed caused them to destroy land as they prospected for gold. They bought with them racial divide, discrimination and a nasty attitude toward humanity. But sometimes, even the 49ers themselves got mistreated, for instance, contractors even went as far as scamming some of the miners out of their earnings when their skin was of a different color. According to Malcolm Rohrbough, there were 100,000 49ers at the end of 1849. However, by 1852, the number rose to 250,000.
- The 49ers and Immigrating to the United States
- The Gold Rush and its Aftermath (PDF file)
- The Life of John Augustus
- The Gold Rush and the 49ers
- People of the California Gold Rush (PDF file)
Methods of Gold Mining
After the discovery of gold being found in California, different methods of extracting the goods from the surfaces were also introduced and put into use. One of the first methods used was that of panning. With this method, gold miners used metal pans to scoop up material from river beds. After swishing the sand, stones and dirt around, if there were gold pieces in the pan, they would settle to the bottom because of their weight.
When it came to looking for gold, the method used also depended upon where the search was taking place. When looking for gold in dirt, a three foot wooden box was used. This method was called a rocker, because it took three people to use this technique. On this box, were screens to separate the dirt from the gold. Each person had a specific job to do in this technique. There was the person to shovel the dirt onto the box, another to pour water over the dirt. The third man would shake the box or rock it for the gold to settle. Other methods include dry digging, dredging, sluicing, hard rock mining and hydraulic mining which was introduced in 1850.
- Summary of Gold Mining Techniques
- Gold Mining Methods and Glossary
- About Digging for Gold
- Techniques of Gold Mining in California
- Different Ways to Mine Gold
Gold Mining Equipment
Besides the metal pans and wooden boxes to extract gold pieces, other equipment used were hydraulics; as in the Hydraulic Chief or the Monitor. This equipment was first used by Edward Mattison in 1853. This equipment was used for extracting gold out of the ground and it was both powerful as well as being very destructive and damaging.
Another piece of equipment used was a crushing machine called the Mexican Arrastra, which ground ore and the Vertical Stamp Mill, which was a crusher with hammers.
- Mining History and Equipment
- Mining Tools
- Panning for Gold: The Supplies
- Gold Mining Techniques of Sierra Nevada
- How to Mine for Gold
What Gold Meant Then and Now in Society
When the gold rush exploded in the United States, the 49ers soon found out that their dreams of wealth and fortune turned out to be a nightmare, for most miners went home empty handed and broke, even after their hard labor. History tells us that the ones who benefited the most from this commodity were the merchants and the freighters; even though during this period miners found gold to be plentiful when it came to finding it in ravines, streams and gulches. There were so many minors and mining camps set up that each campsite had to be organized, and governed with rules, regulations and consequences.
The gold rush of the past is what helped make the United States an industrialized nation today. Gold in earlier times was money, and as time went on, it provided the basis of the dollar bill that we have today (since in 1970, there were no gold standards in the United States). Gold back in the gold rush days was used to substantiate a better, wealthier life for struggling individuals; today, gold is often wrapped in jewelry or used as an investment, such as a gold IRA. In today’s modern society, you don’t need gold nuggets to survive. Individuals who seek to dig for gold do so for recreational purposes, but also under rules and regulations that are governed by the law.
- The New Gold Rush (PDF file)
- The Evolution of Gold Mining (PDF file)
- The New Birth of Mining Technology
- Regulations of Recreational Gold Mining in Arizona
- Gold Mining and its Environmental Impact
Gold’s Worth Over Time
Throughout history, gold has been used as currency. Gold coins have been created and traded all over the world, from India’s State coins to Canadian Maple Leaf coins to American Eagle gold coins. The price of gold can remain remarkably stable over fairly long periods of time but does have the ability to fluctuate in price. Currently the price of gold is high but is slowly starting to decrease. History has proven that the price of gold will continue to fluctuate.