|Home| |Pre-American Settlement| |American Settlement--Civil War| |Late Nineteenth Century|
|Early Twentieth Century| |World War II and the Fifties| |Sixties--Present| |City Histories| |About|

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

All That Glitters is Not gold                                 Eric Kim


H.W. Brands (Henry William Brands) was born in Portland, Oregon is an American historian and a historical author. He has written many books that have achieved critical acclaim and many prestigious awards. Along with his occupation as an author and historian, Brands is also an avid book editor. Brands is also a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and graduated from Stanford University.



Gold has been and will be the driving force behind every nation; it is the life blood of the economy and the special something that most humans search for. The history of North America is drenched in the mineral known as Au, or in layman¡¦s terms, gold. Before there was a united nation, before there was a North and a South, before there was a group of thirteen colonies, there were empires of Native Americans who were known to possess vast quantities of gold, quantities so vast that European nations flocked to North America in order to consume the shimmering yellow mineral. This unquenchable thirst for wealth is one of the foundations of the creation of the United States. As America developed into a thriving nation, land was needed and many people began the journey into the West. It was not completely void of inhabitants; in fact the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Native Americans had already staked their claim on California. The Mexican government had a strong foothold in California, but as soon as the words ¡§I have found it,¡¨1 were uttered from James Marshall¡¦s mouth in 1848, it was as if the carpet was ripped from underneath Mexico¡¦s feet.  The discovery of gold in California was the start of a new era, and the start of not only a new United States, but a completely transfigured California.

            President James K. Polk received a message from Lieutenant Loeser that gold had been discovered in California and Polk made ¡§an announcement that is often interpreted as the starting pistol for the Gold Rush,¡¨2 which is a half truth. Although Polk¡¦s announcement to the United States prompted an exodus, the gold rush in essence had already begun. The menagerie of people already living in California began to flock towards the area around Sutter¡¦s Fort where the gold was found. This menagerie that already filled California consisted of Mexicans, Mestizos, Native Americans, and Americans. As soon as the native Californians heard of the newly discovered gold they abandoned their jobs and their homes and flocked toward the hot spot. This massive migration of people resulted in many towns being deserted and towns near the discovery to be filled to near explosion. One such town in particular was Chagres; eventually, Chagres became so overpopulated that people were forced to sleep on the streets and in alleys. The overcrowded conditions of the towns allowed diseases and poor health conditions to spread rapidly and kill off many people, but diseases did not prevent Argonauts (gold hunters) from swarming into the cities. Aware that many people from all over the world were essentially throwing themselves into California, merchants and traders knew that they could make a fortune out of selling their supplies instead of digging for gold themselves. California was not only a land for economic opportunity, but a chance for an adventure that could change lives. One such adventurer was Perez Rosales who was a wealthy philosopher whose ¡§body was hungry for adventure.¡¨3  California was a magnet not only for those who wanted to free themselves from their previous poverty stricken lives, but also to those who wished to leave behind their nonchalant and mundane lives.

            Travel to the west, find a claim, mine for gold, strike it rich, and live the good life; that was the chain of events that many who journeyed to California sought, but that was a dream, a fallacy, an illusion. Only a few were able to experience that rags to riches fantasy.  Life as a miner was not easy, it was hard; it was near impossible. Miners would soon realize that ¡§the yield-per-yard mattered less than the yield-per-day, and that time is money.¡¨4  Essentially, gold could not be obtained without time; in essence, time was gold to the miners. The competition between the miners was so fierce that miners that were unable to procure enough gold as others were forced to quit mining because they had fallen behind and the gold that they had mined was not enough to survive. Gold rush society was very fast-paced and foreshadowed how society would be like today in the twenty first century; cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco during the mid nineteenth century were almost similar to how cities are today. The importation of such a colossal number of miners turned San Francisco into ¡§a wild place¡Ka village fast becoming a city¡Kthat never ceased nor even much slowed.¡¨5  The first effect of the gold rush was that many cities like San Francisco were emptied and turned literally into ghost towns; it was as if the inhabitants were whisked away by some unseen force. Time would change the deserted nature of San Francisco; more and more miners would come to California filling up the once abandoned city. Even though San Francisco was filled once again, it was turned into a town of nomads; a town filled with tents that would move at the first sign of gold. Eventually though, towns became permanent as the earlier Argonauts began to settle down in San Francisco realizing that the search for gold was the search of futility. Those that settled down were smart enough to know that with the number of people constantly flooding into California, goods and tools would be required; businesses and saloons would sprout up faster then weeds. The gold rush had given opportunity to many people of different backgrounds; this menagerie of people was the foundation of California. Although California was settled by more than Americans, Manifest Destiny had been achieved as California began to develop.

            Rome was not built in a day, and cities in California most certainly were not. San Francisco was the first city of California and showed that the gold rush life was not at all cut out to what it seemed; in fact, ¡§it was at once urban and a frontier.¡¨6  In a sense, San Francisco was urban because of the ridiculous influx of people, but at the same time San Francisco was no Arcadia, it had its faults and was thus likened to the frontier. San Francisco was a hotbed of moral misconduct, psychological corruption, and putrefied health. With the many people that lived in San Francisco a multitude of establishments developed, such as saloons and restaurants, the latter of which was the more reputable. Saloons in many cities like San Francisco doubled as gambling houses/card houses also known as ¡§hells.¡¨ Even the poorest of the poorest would find themselves frequently visiting the ¡§hells,¡¨ for either the thrill of gambling or the chance to make an extra dollar. The specific and true reason as to why so many people visited the gambling establishments is unknown. Why would so many people visit the gambling houses even when they had barely enough money to survive? The psychological health of many Argonauts was at risk as well as the physical health. They were forced to sleep in close quarters which eliminated not only privacy but also sanitation. Disease and psychological well being were few of the many maledictions that plagued the miners. The West, although as urban is it may have started to appear-was still as wild as it would ever be.

            No issue split the country as much as the issue of slavery did, and California was no exception. California itself ¡§had given the nation¡¦s new antislavery party its first presidential candidate, but California itself was rethinking its opposition to slavery.¡¨7  At first, California had not been effected by gold. For example during the Monterey convention of 1849 Northerners and Southerners were too distracted with the gold to even consider talking about the issue of slavery, but as chances and opportunities for gold diminished, the animosity between the northerners and the southerners increased. During the middle of the 1850s California started to become more sympathetic towards the slave South. The issue of slavery never spawned as much violence as it did back east. Before the Civil War, the South received considerably less gold than the North, the reason being that the South¡¦s lack of large financial goods that the Californians wished to buy. During the beginning of the Civil War, California¡¦s miners were actually able to produce more than six hundred million dollars in gold, and during the four years of the war one hundred thirty million more dollars in gold was produced. Not all of the money found and produced during the gold rush went straight to the East; the money had to be used to build up towns like San Francisco and other developing towns in California requiring more than half a billion dollars worth of gold. Nonetheless, not everyone that traveled to the West achieved riches beyond imagination and ¡§the metaphysics of gold¡Kcaused a quarter million people from all over the planet to abandon their ordinary pursuits and hurry to California,¡¨ yet ¡§the gold of California was corrosive of personal happiness¡Kit slipped through the hands of those who acquired it.¡¨8  The news that gold had been found in California had the power to attract more than a quarter of a million people to the New Frontier; the New Frontier was like a dream, but in the end dreams proved to be false-like a bittersweet sentiment. Truly, it was as if a whole nation had uprooted itself and transplanted itself into California, and of all those people searching for a better life, only a few actually managed to have that fairytale ending.

            In his novel The Age of Gold-The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, H.W. Brands elaborates on the life long concept that: wealth is everything. Brands not only shows that the desire for wealth has the power to destroy, but also expands on how important California was in the scheme of so many things. Brands¡¦ whole scheme of things can be summed up in the words of Horace Greeley: ¡§We are on the brink of the Age of Gold,¡¨ and the words of Brands himself: ¡§No one in California counted the failures¡Kthe age of gold was also the age of speculation, corruption, and consolidation.¡¨9 To Brands, the gold rush was an era of time in which the American Dream of today was fully established, but along with the American Dream the American Nightmare, so to speak, was also established. The Gold Rush had the ability to warp the minds of everyone; the Gold Rush brought out the polarities of both evil and good in everyone. Brands thesis is basically that, although the gold rush had a benevolent impact upon the United States-and most importantly California-it was a double edged sword, as the inner evils of man were witnessed.

            H.W. Brands¡¦ The Age of Gold-The California Gold Rush and the new American Dream focuses on the impact that the gold rush had on the world, the country, the state, the city, and ultimately the individual. Brands does not seem to take any bias or one sided opinion, in his novel; he writes as if he were an omniscient narrator taking no one¡¦s side. The novel itself is not a historical tome filled completely with facts, it contains anecdotes of many different individuals as well as the important, and not dreary monotonous facts. Brands proves to be a Progressive historiographer, one reason being that he seems to always delve into the other side, he never states only one side. According to Brands, ¡§Americans from every region of the country¡Kmanufacturers, southern planters, western farmers, lawyers, doctors¡K¡¨ flocked toward California; Brands does not focus on one group and its entirety, Brands chooses to illuminate the journey of all types of classes.10  Brands also notes the psychological and economic impact that the Gold Rush had on its attendees. He explores how the economy of California was affected and how the mental stability of the miners was also effected. In its entirety Brands novel does not take a biased opinion and clearly examines both sides when two sides are present.

            The gold rush, to many, redefined the American Dream into what it is now today. Brands has crafted a novel that talks of both the social and economical ramifications of the Gold Rush and Martin Padget describes  Brands¡¦ book as making society feel ¡§uncomfortably aware of what it means to live in a global environment in which the forces of materialism and commodification¡K [Making society] dictate the exploitation of ever-diminishing natural resources, with potentially hugely damaging consequences.¡¨11 Brands also, according to Charles L. Lumpkins puts a light to the fact that ¡§gold gave material promise to the American Dream and made gold the lubricant of the world economy.¡¨Although Brands intended to tell the story of the past, the result of his novel was that society became aware that the Gold Rush of the eighteen fifties is very similar to contemporary society.

            Brands¡¦ novel, The Age of Gold, is a historical novel unlike many others. Besides deluging the reader with facts, it provides many anecdotes and first person experiences that allow the reader to actually relive what it would have felt like to be an Argonaut during the mid-eighteen fifties. One such story involves a Miss Jessie the future Mrs. Fremont Brands¡¦ describes her as being ¡§extremely intelligent, [but] lacks the docility of a model student.¡¨12 Although the side stories prove to be entertaining at times, the stories over powered the important facts that Brands tries to convey. Overall, Brands¡¦ novel provided enough factual information paired with anecdotes that the history of the gold rush became bearable, even to an average person.

            Many claim that Polk¡¦s official announcement that gold was found in California was the starting point of the entire gold rush, but that is simply false. Brands reveals that ¡§every country that bordered the Pacific Ocean was closer to California than were the states of the American union.¡¨13 Also, the gold rush had already started in California, as soon as the word got out that gold, the most precious metal in the civilized world, had been discovered, Californians, South Americans, and Native Americans immediately dropped what they were doing to search for instant wealth.  Because the Gold Rush took place in California, the state itself was completely changed by the effects of the Gold Rush. The United States as a whole was not as significantly changed as California; in fact the whole social and economic makeup of California was altered by the Gold Rush.

            Brands believes that California was the most important area of the Gold Rush, because it was in California where the gold was found, it was in California where riches were made, it was in California that dreams were crushed, and it was in California where ¡§the gold rush established a new template for the American dream.¡¨14 Out of the entire United States, Brands just sees California as a regular state, but in the scheme of the Gold Rush, Brands makes it clear that California was the start and the most important factor.

            H.W. Brands¡¦ novel tells the facts of the Gold Rush, how it changed the world, the countries, the states, the cities, and the people involved. Brands also destroys the glamorization of the gold rush, he sheds a light as to what the real cause of the gold rush was, the real events that occurred in the gold rush, and the real ramifications that resulted from the Gold Rush. Brands, although he may not have intended to, forces society to open their eyes to the fact that it is destroying the limited amount of resources left on the planet. Like the gold rush, if society continues its path of wanton destruction a brand new society might be born, or that society will crack and be destroyed by the loss of natural resources. There was no political purpose behind the gold rush, in fact ¡§the gold rush shaped history profoundly because it harnessed the most basic of human desires, the desire for happiness. None of the gold-seekers went to California to build a new state¡Kthey went to California to seek individual happiness.¡¨15


1. Brands, H.W... The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. First. New York: Random House, 2002. 16

2. Brands 47

3. Brands 49

4. Brands 201

5. Brands 203

6. Brands 247

7. Brands 371

8. Brands 485

9. Brands 443

10. Brands 70

11. Padget, Martin. Rev. of The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, by. H.W. Brands. Powell¡¦s Books 31 May 2008 < http://www.powells.com/review/2005_05_15.html> Paragraph 5

12. Lumpkins, Charles. Rev. of The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, by. H.W. Brands. Library Journal  31 May 2008< http://www.libraryjournal.com/> Paragraph 1

13. Brands 65

14. Brands  47

15. Brands 489

16. Brands 491