New Perspectives on THE WEST
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Message From Sponsor
The People
Empire Upon The Trails
Speck of the Future
Death Runs Riot
The Grandest Enterprise Under God
Fight No More Forever
The Geography of Hope
One Sky Above Us
Speck of the Future


Gold Fever

My Share of the Rocks


Stay at Home

The Diggings

The Right of Conquest

This Land of Gold & Hope

Emporium of the Pacific


The Day of Forty-nine

THE WEST Speck of the Future

The Diggings

J.S. Holliday"What they had expected was the image that they had received in November, December of 1848, and the story of digging up gold, and all the people succeeding. They were stunned, shocked, dismayed. The realism that struck them above all else was there're so damn many miners. There were forty thousand miners in the mining camps and the mining regions of California by the fall of 1849.... These are people who've been coming... overland... as early as August. They've been coming by ships since December. They've been coming from Hawaii, from Oregon, from Chile, from Sonora. They've been pouring in. The world rushed into California."
J. S. Holliday

Black Hills miner standing in for a Forty-ninerSouth Fork of Feather River

We located a spot favorable for damming and draining the river. We made our claim and then built a house as soon as possible to shelter our heads from the soaking rains. So here we are, snug as schoolmarms, working at our race and dam. If there is no gold, we shall be off to another place, for there is an abundance of gold here, and if we are blessed with health, we are determined to have a share of it.
William Swain

Of the tens of thousands of men who swarmed into California in 1849, more than half of them were in their twenties -- "a grey beard was almost as rare as a petticoat," one man remembered -- and most hurried to one of the small settlements that grew up almost overnight wherever gold was found -- Coyote Diggings and Grizzly Flats and Mad Mule Gulch; Bedbug; Shinbone Peak, Poker Flat and Murderer's Bar; Whiskey Diggings, Delirium Tremens; Slumgullion; Shirt Tail Canyon, Cool, and You Bet.

Roughly two-thirds of the Forty-niners came from the United States and two thirds of them were from New England. But the miners also included slaves, free blacks, even Cherokees, forced out of Georgia twenty years earlier when gold had been found on their land. The rest of the miners, one American wrote, "came from every hole and corner in the world." California now had more immigrants than any other part of the United States.

Chinese miners in CaliforniaOne of the first gold-seekers was a Cantonese man named Chum Ming. He struck it rich near Sutter's Mill and wrote home to say so. Soon more Chinese were setting sail for California. In 1852, twenty thousand Chinese would come -- two thousand in a single day.

Jack Chen"When the gold was first discovered, the Chinese here wrote back to their people in China and told them about this miraculous find, that you can go in the streams of California and pick gold out. Even today they call California or San Francisco, Gum Sanng -- the gold mountain."
Jack Chen

South Fork of Feather River

George, I tell you this mining among the mountain's is a dog's life. A man has to make a jackass of himself packing loads over mountains that God never designed man to climb, a barbarian by foregoing all the comforts of civilized life, and a heathen by depriving himself of all communication with men away from his immediate circle.
William Swain

Digging for gold was hard, monotonous -- and mostly unrewarding. It combined, one miner said,"the various arts of canal-digging, ditching, laying stone walls, ploughing and hoeing potatoes."

"It's called the diggings. That was the word, the diggings. And why, because that's what they were doing. When we think of mining we think of a mine shaft. But that's later. These are river banks, river bars, dried creeks, rocks, rocks, by the millions, and the gold is beneath those rocks. Now this is placer gold, that means that for eons of time, the gold has been abraded, has been separated, by the action of water and rocks, so that the pieces of gold are pure. You pick 'em up, and that is gold. That's all there is, but just plain gold.

California MinerYou're working in freezing water up to your waist for hours at a time.You're reaching down, moving rocks, bringing in the rock and the gravel and working it all the time, with your hands, with the shovels. Moving always this debris, to get rid of the debris, to pull out the little tiny samples of your future, the little tiny pieces that are going to make everything possible for you. Going to buy you the means to get rid of your mortgage, that are going to make it possible to buy some more land in Iowa, in order to move, and then pack up and go to some new place. All of that is built into every effort you're making, every single day."
J. S. Holliday

But everything in the diggings cost too much: a dollar a pound for potatoes, eggs at fifty cents apiece, twenty dollars for a bottle of rum. John Sutter peddled wheat to hungry miners at $36 a barrel. At his store, the Mormon Sam Brannan, was clearing $2,000 a day in profits exchanging tools for gold dust.

Youngstown, New York

My dear William,
How often -- O! how often -- I think of various temptations you are surrounded with and how many men of good morals at home -- yes, and professed Christians, too -- that have been led into all kinds of vice. O my dear you cannot be too cautious -- not that I distrust you, but rather on the contrary, perhaps, I place too much confidence, knowing that we are all fallible creatures.

"California was the Golgotha of sin. California, from its earliest times, was seen in homes and cities, in traditional places of America, as a sinful place. In these mining camps, there are gambling halls. Sometimes they're tents, sometimes they're buildings, sometimes they're just a table under a tree. They're ubiquitous. And these gambling halls were places where the men by the hundreds and the thousands went to escape their haunting fears that maybe they'll fail. This is where you can make a fortune, having failed on the turn of hundreds and hundreds of shovels, maybe on the turn of a card, you can make what you failed to make up there in those dirty canyons, in those hot or cold canyons, where you poured your heart out.

Forty-niners on a frolicAnd they walk into these great big places, and there's excitement, and there's hope, and there's a sense of sin. 'Mother wouldn't want me to be here. What if Louise knew that I was here?' A lot of men, you know, would write home and talk about what was going on as if they hadn't seen it. I've been told what goes on in these gambling halls."
J. S. Holliday

South Fork of Feather River

Last fall I was proud of the miners as a body, both for their honesty and their sobriety, but the rapidity with which they have retrograded only proves more clearly the necessity of religious restraint and the great influence of well-organized and moral society. Drinking has become very prevalent, swearing a habitual custom, and gambling has no equal in the annals of history. It has already reached as far as Feather River, and some of the boys who came across the plains in our train are at it, though they professed to be Christians when home.
William Swain

Forty-niners lined up to visit the prostitutes who appeared in the camps within weeks of every major gold strike.

Patricia Nelson Limerick "They look so charming in the movies. The dancehall girls, the borderline prostitutes wearing those colorful clothes. The stories seem to be close to pure misery: miserable living conditions, risk of physical violence every working moment, wretched rate of pay, drug addiction, alcoholism. Suicide was a common way for a prostitute's life to end. It's a very grim, stark pushed-to-the-edge kind of life."
Patricia Nelson Limerick

Women who were not prostitutes were so rare in the goldfields that the Forty-niners stood for hours just to gaze upon one. Miners called them "petticoated astonishments."

A woman in the diggingsGot nearer to a female this evening than I have been for six months. Came near to fainting.
Joseph Crackbon

Even I had men come forty miles over the mountains, just to look at me, and I never was called a handsome woman in my best days.
Luzena Stanley Wilson

Luzena Wilson arrived in Nevada City, California, with her husband and set up camp under some trees. He failed to find gold, but she found her own way to strike it rich.

I bought provisions at a neighboring store and when my husband came back at night he found... twenty miners eating at my table. Each man as he rose put a dollar in my hand and said I might count on him as a permanent customer.
Luzena Stanley Wilson

Soon, she was serving 200 boarders at twenty-five dollars a week each. She built an inn, hired a cook and waiters, even became a banker, handling gold dust for the men she fed.

A smart woman can do very well in this country -- true, there are not many comforts and one must work all the time and work hard, but there is plenty to do and good pay... It is the only country I ever was in where a woman received anything like a just compensation for work.

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