The California Gold Rush

Ch. 3: Charlie’s Gold Rush
Los Angeles, California

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Our Story:

Young Charlie and his mother, struggling to survive in the rugged backwoods of the Sierra Nevada, have seen many men ― including Charlie’s own father ― lose their heads to gold fever. But Charlie still dreams of striking it rich and of giving his mother the life she deserves. Is Charlie’s mother right to be concerned that the glitter of gold will blind the boy to the way the world really is? Or is Charlie really able to see something that everyone else has missed?

The Real Story behind the California Gold Rush

Kicked off by the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848, the California Gold Rush drew nearly 300,000 people to the Sierra Nevada region over a seven-year period. The prospectors were known as the Forty-Niners because the gold fever reached its highest pitch in 1849; while some hailed from other continents, most were intrepid Americans seeking quick profits. Enough gold was found in the early years to stimulate the economies of San Francisco and the many boom towns scattered through the Sierra foothills, but unfortunately, few struck it rich, and even fewer maintained their wealth for any length of time. The wealthiest Californian of the time, Samuel Brennan, actually was a shrewd supplies reseller, not a prospector.
While it was possible in the early years to earn several times the average daily wage of the time by prospecting, most Forty-Niners returned home with nothing to show for their efforts. Sometimes entire families worked together to pan for gold, and women also worked in secondary industries like retail, dining, and prostitution. The most successful prospectors gave up merely panning for gold and instead diverted entire bodies of water so that they could sift through exposed stream beds and river bottoms. By 1855, the most accessible gold sources had been exhausted, and any remaining ore had to be extracted by labor- and capital-intensive means such as hydraulics, dredging, blasting, and leaching, which could not be done by individuals working alone. Thus the California Gold Rush ended, though much more gold was recovered in later years using more sophisticated techniques.
The Gold Rush changed the history of California and the American West in both good and bad ways: it expedited the state’s admission to the Union in 1850, and the influx of settlers required a new infrastructure for transportation and agriculture; but it also permanently displaced the Native peoples who previously had lived in the area, and the environment suffered irreversible harm.

The Chapters: 12 Lost Treasures

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