A frenzy seized my soul... Piles of gold
rose up before me... castles of marble, thousands of slaves... myriads
of fair virgins contending with each other for my love -- were among the
fancies of my fevered imagination....In short, I had a very violent attack
of the gold fever.
The first gold had been found on the land of a Swiss-born adventurer named John Sutter, who had already created a 50,000-acre empire for himself in California. If he could keep the discovery quiet, he believed, it would make him rich beyond his wildest imaginings. But rumors began to spread.
One person who heard them was a Mormon elder named Sam Brannan. He had been sent to California to establish a colony for the church, but the rumors of gold led him to Sutter's Mill. There he saw an easier path to riches than working the streams: he opened a store next to Sutter's sawmill, fully stocked with picks, pans and shovels to cater to the needs of the treasure-seekers he knew would rush to the gold fields once word got out.
Brannan gathered together enough gold dust from various sources to put
into a vial, took the next boat down to San Francisco, landed in San Francisco,
still called Yerba Buena in those days, and strode up and down then-Montgomery
street waiving the vial of gold over his head crying, 'Gold! Gold from
the American River!' It worked perfectly. People spilled out of the saloons.
They pass the vial around, hold it in their hands, feel its weight, look
at it, and it absolutely entranced them."
The Gold Rush had begun. By the middle of June, three quarters of the men living in San Francisco had left town to dig for gold. From Mexico -- where the Spanish had been mining gold for three centuries -- so many men headed north, one American reported, that "it seems as if the entire state of Sonora is on the move." Thousands more set sail from every port in South America. And as word spread across the Pacific, Hawaiians and Chinese came to work the streams.
For those who got there early, gold seemed to be everywhere -- lodged among rocks, glittering in sandbars, swirling in pools and eddies, there for the taking. Some made fortunes using nothing but spoons or jackknives to scoop it up. Others hired Indians to do the work: seven miners employing 50 Indians dug out 273 pounds of gold in just two months.
Prospectors liked to say that the name "California," came from a combination of the Indian word kali, which meant "gold" and fornia, which meant, "wouldn't you like some?"
tremendous success of that summer of 1848 spread by way of letters and
government reports. The President in his State of the Union speech announces
that the astonishing news from Sacramento is true. So the news is coming
not only from the President, but most of all from these people who are
writing these vivid reports. A guy writes home and he says, he says, 'You
remember Dickson? He used to work for Ebeneezer?' He says, 'He has dug
enough gold to weigh down a mule.' Now, that means something to people.
"Everyone knew California was valuable, but nobody could have imagined that it would be a place of such immense riches, and riches to be harvested so quickly and seemingly so easily. It's an incredible boon, an incredible stroke of good fortune, and it just is one of those senses in which to the rest of the world it must have seemed that everything was just falling in the path of Americans, all they had to do was stoop and pick it up.
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