The Rush for riches Sydney Fisher
Sydney Fisher is a student striving to combine her love of
learning with her love of friends and a social life. Sydney
plays soccer in her spare time and loves to read. Enrolled in high-level
classes and unwilling to miss a school function, it is a wonder she hasn¡¦t died
In 1849, California
hosted the first world-class gold rush, and people from all over the United
States raced to California
in an attempt to make it big. Ships were ¡§loaded with passengers¡¨ and wagon
trains carrying families through the Midwest were a
common sight because anyone who had the money, supplies, and attitude set right
out for California1. Although the rush of
1849 was what skyrocketed California
and the West to fame, gold had been discovered in California
much earlier, and Mary Hill¡¦s book Gold: The
California Story details all the events before, during, and following this
famed gold rush.
Hill begins her book with the discovery of gold before the rush of 1849. In the
chapter ¡§Whodunit¡¨, Hill details how Spaniards, English, Mormons, and Native
Americans all found gold before the American¡¦s discovery of gold at Sutter¡¦s
Mill. Gold was said to have been mined using native labor in the Ben
of Santa Cruz as early as 1780, and
in 1825 trapper Jedediah Strong Smith discovered gold
at Mono Lake
and along the San Joaquin River.
Don Francisco Lopez found the first major gold field in 1841. This gold field
was located forty-five miles west from LA and mined by Mexicans who traveled
north from Sonora, Mexico.
Although other people from across the world found gold before Americans, ¡§the
original discoverer of California
gold¡¨ was probably ¡§an anonymous Native American of long ago¡¨2.
While gold was discovered long before 1848, California
gold was not publicized until James Marshall¡¦s discovery of a gold nugget in
the downstream end of a ditch in January 1848 at Sutter¡¦s Mill. Hill includes
the reason why the gold rush was started in 1849 and not 1848 ¡V most people
thought that the find was an elaborate hoax to get more settlers in the area.
In fact, no one believed Marshall¡¦s
discovery was plausible until eastern newspapers took notice a year later.
After these articles were confirmed as true, the rush was on and men were packing
up their bags, families, and supplies for the trip to California
by land, sea, or both.
uses the next couple chapters to describe the rush of 1849. Hill details the
different modes of transportation such as ships, wagons, horses, mules, and the
different routes: walking across the Isthmus of Panama,
sailing around Cape Horn, and traveling across the
deserts of Midwest America.
All of these transportation methods involved risk of death. The three main
causes of death by land were life threatening diseases, hostile Native
Americans, and hot and barren deserts, especially Death Valley.
By sea, the threatening problems were malaria, dysentery, cholera, and Panama
Fever, and the curable problems were poor food and boredom. While complaining
about the food solved the first problem, boredom was surpassed in a number of
different ways on board the ships. Some passengers kept diaries to cure
boredom, while passengers on board the Edward Everett ¡§formed bands¡¨,
gave lectures, ¡§established newspapers¡¨, and made life on the sea3. Since voyages by sea could take from three
to eight months depending on the weather, some people packed up their necessary
supplies and families, and took off for California
in wagon trains pulled by horses or oxen. The five trails used by wagon trains
to reach California were: the Santa
Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail,
the California Trail, and the Sonora Trail. However, once the miners reached California,
they ¡§were shocked to find thousands there before them and prices sky high¡¨4. After reaching California,
the Forty-Niners still had to find a place to sleep,
food to eat, and supplies to pan gold with. Not only were these necessities
extremely expensive but hotels were also crammed with miners who gave away most
of their day¡¦s fortunes in gambling halls and saloons located nearby the camps.
way gold is prospected is described in Hill¡¦s next few chapters. Hill recounts
the origin of gold, how gold is made in the Earth, and explains how plate
tectonics helped bring gold to California.
For example, the Smartville block is a
forty-kilometer wide plate that is the source of California¡¦s
¡§mother load¡¨5. Without the Smartville block that currently lies below the high Sierra
Nevada Mountains, California
would not have the immense amount of gold it has today. This mother load
located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
was made of strings of veins that lined the hills and mountains with gold.
Mining for gold in the mountains was different from mining for gold in the
rivers, requiring different tools. Miners crowded into the mountains with pans,
rockers, long toms, sluice boxes, steam dredges, or simple shovels. In order to
get the largest amount of gold in the mountains, most miners worked together
since the better techniques required more than one person. While the pan
requires only one person, the use of a long tom requires three plus men,
depending on the size.
book concludes with life in California
after the excitement of the 1849 gold rush died down. After the initial rush
for gold and eighty years of mining, most of the easily won gold on the land
was exhausted. Without the competition of intense mining, a new sport developed
¡Vrecreational mining. The invention of the metal detector only helped to
increase the popularity of recreational mining and by the 1960s; metal
detectors ¡§could detect gold nuggets smaller than a dime¡¨6.
Until the 1970s, recreational gold mining accounted for a good percentage of
the gold mined in California.
However, gold has other uses than just for recreational purposes, and the use
of gold for industrial purposes has been growing. Gold does not react with its environment; therefore, it can be
relied on to maintain its integrity in space. This is why gold is used in space
satellites and on space aircrafts. The superior electrical conductivity of gold
makes it vital to the electronics industry for switch contacts in lamps. Gold
also has many scientific uses, including enhancing fingerprints at crime
scenes. Mainly, gold is used for jewelry all over the world.
purpose was to show who, what, when, where, why, and how the gold rush began.
¡§Who¡¨ started the gold rush is answered in her beginning chapters when Hill
states that although it was an anonymous Native American who first discovered
Californian gold; it was the publicity of James Marshall¡¦s find that brought
people to this state. Since Marshall
advertised gold so heavily and the response was so great, California
became a state without ever being a territory. This finding was an accident - Marshall
was working one day and noticed a speck of light on the ground. Little did he
know that his find would change the future of California.
After hearing about Marshall¡¦s
discovery of gold, people believed that they could strike it rich at any random
moment, in any river in this large western state. Marshall¡¦s
find, or the ¡§what¡¨, was a gold nugget found in Sutter¡¦s Mill. ¡§Where¡¨ Sutter¡¦s
Mill was located was conveniently in a highly rocky area, rich with minerals,
in Sacramento. ¡§Why¡¨ it was found
there and publicized is because Marshall
cried ¡§Gold! Gold!¡¨ at the corner of Portsmouth Square in San Francisco. If Marshall
had not publicized his findings, he would not have aroused such an interest in
the otherwise barren land of California.
¡§How¡¨ the gold came to California
is explained midway through Hill¡¦s book in her description of how ¡§erosion
stripped off much of the volcanic rocks and the remaining older rocks from the
crest¡¨, leaving gold in the tectonic plates7.
The explanation of who, what, when, where, why, and how the gold rush began
helps to provide a background for the immense number of people that arrived in
California in search for gold and the treasures of a new land.
Hill is an educated woman who
studied the gold rush and its effect on California
and the United States,
as well as gold and its occurrence in America
in general. Not only did Hill research this topic, but because of her high
education level and research experience, Hill is a credible source. To make her
thought processes clearer and flow better for the reader, Hill includes
sub-headings in her chapters to make the topics more accessible to the readers.
She also has the point of view of an author writing a history, but does not
include herself in the book at all. This book is about the gold rush, not about
Hill¡¦s opinion on the topic and she sticks to the facts. As a geologist, Hill
understands the process of making gold from nothing, and she is able to explain
the ¡§topography¡¨ of California in
relation to the ¡§level of gold found¡¨ in that region8.
Hill explains these facts with the help of maps, graphs, and timetables.
C. Chandler of Historical Services praised Hill for her book, Gold: The California Story. As a worker in the San Franciscan
Historical Services, he is a reliable source to review this book and its
relevancy to actual history. He states that Hill ¡§enlivens [her book] with
well-chosen illustrations and sidebar vignettes and songs¡¨ to show that this
book is not only a historical background on the discovery of gold in
California, but also a portrait of America at the time of that important discovery9. Chandler
knows that the maps Hill portrays help to show the amount of gold discovered.
Some of the images in Hill¡¦s book include maps of gold discovery sites before
James Marshall¡¦s discovery, diagrams of how to pan gold, and illustrations
showing the different methods used to find all the gold in the California
rivers and mountain sides. Chandler
states that Hill ¡§shines¡¨ in her book, especially when she discusses geology10. According to Chandler,
Hill occasionally stumbles because she covers such a wide range of topics. For
instance, Wells, Fargo, and Company opened in San
Francisco and Sacramento
in July of 1842, not ¡§the winter of 1851¡¨ as Hill sates11.
Although Hill made a mistake in accuracy, Chandler
believes she explains all in her ¡§readable, pleasantly-written, well
illustrated volume¡¨ and praises Hill for her attributes and knowledge about the
Ridge from the Huntington Library
also praises Hill for her remarkable synthesis in building this historical
book. According to Ridge, Hill ¡§skillfully weaves¡¨ the different aspects of the
gold rush together such as the geology, the facts and the figures, and the
¡§romance¡¨ with a style unlike other historical books13.
This book has life and brings readers into the time period with its content and
style. According to Ridge, Hill combines her ¡§scientific training¡¨ with a
¡§flair for storytelling¡¨ to present the history of gold in California14.
As a person working for the Huntington Library, Ridge is able to critically
read Hill¡¦s book in relation with the other books found in the Huntington
Library relating to this topic. Both of these literary critiques commend Hill
for her work on Gold: The California Story.
was influenced by the events occurring in the eastern United
States (expanding immigrant population,
etc.), because if newspapers in the East did not report the finding of gold in California,
the rush of 1849 would not have started. While the gold rush could have started
in January of 1848, it wasn¡¦t until August
19, 1849 that the New York
Herald took notice of the discovery of gold in California,
and eastern newspapers began publishing articles about California
gold. Without the East¡¦s heavy advertisement, settlers would not have flocked
in such enormous numbers to California.
Furthermore, the main reason why the United
States pushed to quicken the process of
annexation was because of the gold rush and its heavy migration of the eastern
population into California and
the West. The settlers had to come from somewhere, and they came from the
eastern United States
in hopes of finding a new beginning full of riches According to Hill, the
events that occurred in California
were distinctive from the rest of the United
States, because California
provided an alternate way of life. California
promised opportunity for the people living in the eastern United
States, and stories of big finds came thick
and fast. However, even a remarkably rich spot could not make everyone wealthy15.
The discovery of gold in California
helped to stimulate the United State¡¦s
economy. Hill includes the story of the sinking of the ship, Central
America, in 1857 to help give a broader impact of California
gold on the country. The total
amount of gold said to be on the ship was about 2.5 million dollars worth and
most of this gold was headed for New York
banks. This loss ¡§shook the (American) financial world¡¨ and ¡§helped turn the
nation¡¦s economic depression into a panic¡¨16.
Although the amount of gold was substantial, Hill declares that lives and gold
were not the only losses in the sinking of the Central America. Drawings, notes, paintings,
manuscripts, and other irreplaceable memorabilia were lost in this tragic
disaster, all of which caused the United States
difficulties. Railroad companies were bankrupt, cotton mills stopped, ironworks
were sold ¡V the entire industrial complex felt the blow. However, the Central America was only
one of a countless number of ships coming from California
to the eastern United States
carrying gold, most of which did not result in a sinking.
Mary Hill¡¦s book Gold: The California Story describes the immense impact of
gold on the popularity of California.
Without gold, California might
not have become a state; the land might not have been completely populated for
another hundred years. Hill states that ¡§gold is the reflector of our dreams¡¨
and that is why so many people flocked to California,
in hopes of ¡§striking it rich¡¨ and making their dreams come true17.
The gold rush of 1849 had such a great relevance to California¡¦s
history because it is what drove thousands of Americans from their homes and
families in the East Coast to follow their dreams of prosperity, and populate
the West. Hill¡¦s book includes the relevant history of California
gold beginning with the Earth¡¦s manufacturing of gold from tectonic plates and
ending with the many uses of gold today. Hill uses factual evidence and
relevant stories to enliven this non-fiction book and bring the reader in with
her enthusiasm and the effects that the gold rush had on the life and history
of, not only California, but the
whole of America.
Gold opened up California to the
rest of America,
and the discovery of gold brought an influx of people to the west coast of America,
which at long last established the entirety of the United
1. Hill, Mary. Gold: The California
Story. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1999. 7.
2. Hill, Mary.
3. Hill, Mary.
4. Hill, Mary.
5. Hill, Mary. 168
6. Hill, Mary.
7. Hill, Mary.
8. Hill, Mary.
Robert. "Gold for Dummies." H-Net. July 2000. 26 May 2008 <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=27643963435447>.
Robert. "Gold for Dummies." H-Net. July 2000. 26 May 2008 <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=27643963435447>.
13. Ridge, Martin. 4.
14. Ridge, Martin. 1.
15. Hill, Mary.
16. Hill, Mary.
17. Hill, Mary. 256.