Before gold was discovered, there were very few people who have settled in the newly acquired state. But by 1849, 90,000 newcomers arrived even though the trip was difficult to make because California was then an unchartered territory without any maps to guide miners to their quest. (Uschan 2003, p. 18) These newcomers became known as forty-niners, after the year of their arrival. This term would also become applicable to those who joined later on. The forty-niners couldn’ t just start mining gold wherever they chose. First, they had to stake a claim on a piece of land and register their claim with whatever authority was in charge of the district.
Of course, finding land worth claiming became increasingly difficult after the first months of the Gold Rush because the most obvious and most valuable sites had already been claimed. The forty-niners lived in poor conditions sleeping in shacks or tents near mining camps which became little towns in their own right. In 1849, about ten thousand people died of illnesses caused by bad housing and food and a lack of medicine.
(Uschan p. 31) Nonetheless, people kept on because of the promise of a better life. History tells us that these mining camps had a form of self-government to decide about the size of claims and the procedure for registering them. In the year of 1848, miners were able to pan gold worth about $10 million which is equivalent to $250 million today and that by 1849, this figure will quadruple. (Uschan, p. 34) The gold mining area as shown in fig. 1 continued to increase and rightly so, created its own version of the American Dream. Unarguably, not all west-bound men came just for the lust for riches.
There are writers, for instance, who romantically ascribed purposes those people who, whether consciously or subconsciously, wanted to be “ agents of social comfort, moral progress, expanding civilization and diffused thought, and (noblest of achievements) run high up into the heavens of strange lands, the cross-crowned spire, symbol of a true faith and prophecy of a sure eternity. ” (Durham, p. 6) In the earlier days of the Gold Rush when gold still abounds in the river beds, miners resort to panning gold.
But this was very tedious. Here, the miners must squat or kneel alongside the river all day under the heat of the sun holding a pan in both hands while swirling the sand and the water around and around so as to fish out the gold flakes or if a panner is lucky a gold nugget.
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