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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

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 of exhaustion.



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.

            Mary 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 Lomand Mountains 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.

            Hill 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.

            The 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.

            This 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.

            Hill¡¦s 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.

            Robert 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 subject12.

            Martin 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.

            California 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 States.


1. Hill, Mary. Gold: The California Story. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. 7.

2. Hill, Mary.  20.

3. Hill, Mary.  40.

4. Hill, Mary.  52.

5. Hill, Mary.  168

6. Hill, Mary.  222.

7. Hill, Mary.  171.

8. Hill, Mary.  107.

9. Chandler, Robert. "Gold for Dummies." H-Net. July 2000. 26 May 2008 <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=27643963435447>. 2.

10. Chandler, Robert. 184.

12. Chandler, Robert. "Gold for Dummies." H-Net. July 2000. 26 May 2008 <http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=27643963435447>. 1.

13. Ridge, Martin. 4.

14. Ridge, Martin. 1.

15. Hill, Mary.  206.

16. Hill, Mary.  196.

17. Hill, Mary. 256.