Growing up I have always heard the term “Golden State.” I remember being taught about the “Gold Rush” and the “forty-niners” and them being called this because of the mining of gold in 1849. I was taught that the Gold Rush had brought many new foreigners to California, in search of the “American Dream.” And who wouldn’t? It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for free gold! After the lectures, readings, and research, I received a more thorough understanding of the Gold Rush and the hardship that came with it. When John Marshall first found the piece of gold half the size of pea on Sutter’s Mill, the news rapidly spread of the abundance of gold available for anyone to take.
The news of the gold strike in California spread, first to “Hawaii, Oregon, and Utah, and then to South America, Australia, China, the eastern seaboard of the US, and Europe (Major Problems, pg.113).” California became inhabited with people from all over the world, and until this day many people still come to California for the same reason “The American Dream.” During this time period, over 100,000 immigrants from all over the world flooded into Northern California. San Francisco was automatically transformed into an international city. By 1860, 39% of the population was foreign born.
When news of the Gold Rush hit, many men took the opportunity to risk their lives in search of free money. They left their wives and children in order to travel with ease, and come back rich. In fact, the Gold Rush was called the “most demographically male event in human history” by Historian Susan Lee Johnson. “By 1850, California men outnumbered women by more than 10 to one. Two years later it was two to one (Competing Visions, pg.118).”
The Indian women that were left in California became subject to jobs such as prostitution in order to make money. Many women did travel with their husbands but it was documented that the ones that did “endured many hardships and sufferings (Competing Visions, pg. 119).” The women were forced in harsh living conditions with traveling by wagon with harsh terrain, weather, diseases, and under nourishment or water.
Many people diedof dehydration on their travel toward gold. The majority of the workers mining the gold were Indians. They were treated unfairly and harshly, getting paid very little. In fact it wasn’t just the Indians were suffering; “For the Mexicans, and the Chinese, the Gold Rush created an inhospitable society that had to be negotiated with great care (Competing Visions, pg.127).” The Chinese were not liked by “Californians” either; they had traveled to California because of the conditions in China such as the Opium War, natural disasters, and unsafe environments.
Like everyone else, they were in hope of achieving the “American Dream.” The negative effects of the Gold Rush, was that not everyone got lucky. Many risked their chances by living their wives and children behind and creating a foundation for their future. It “created broken homes and, for many, the broken lives when their husbands did not return or came back beaten and impoverished (Competing Visions, pg.127).” Although everyone took a risk traveling from afar to hopefully strike it rich with gold; “Some found the quick riches of their dreams. Most faced unending days of monotonous, back-breaking labor (Strike it Rich).”
The long term effects of “Gold Rush” are an important part of California history that needs to be known by every Californian. Even now a day people from all over the world try to come to “Golden State” to live the “American Dream” with the idea of California being the place of opportunity. It’s not surprising that California is now the most populated state in The United States, due to the job opportunities we hold. The idea hasn’t changed since 1848, and it’s all because of what history has done for us. “The Gold Rush influenced the fortunes of millions of men and women from the lowly miners who never struck it rich and who abandoned their families back east, to the fabulously wealthy entrepreneurs such as William Ralston, George Hearst, and Leland Stanford, who helped shape the economic future of the state.
The Gold Rush changed the world’s supply of gold so drastically that the silver quickly became devalued as a currency and the gold standard became the norm of industrialized countries (Competing Visions, pg.127).” Everyone one should be informed about the history of California; people come from all around the world to start a new life here, and we should understand that this has all started from the 1800’s. California truly is a beautiful golden state, filled with opportunities, diversity, resources, and natural beauty for everyone to share, preserve and enjoy for many years to come.
Bibliography: Chan, Sucheng, and Spencer C. Olin. "Chapter 4." Major Problems in California History: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 107. Print. Cherny, Robert W., Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo, and Del Castillo, Richard. Griswold. "Chapter 4." Competing Visions: A History of California. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2014. N. pag. Print. Moore, April. "Native Americans in the Gold Rush." PBS. PBS, 13 Sept. 2006. Web. 10 Aug. 2013. "Strike It Rich." PBS. PBS, 13 Sept. 2006. Web. 10 Aug. 2013.