The Gold Rush
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The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Whole indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called \"forty-niners\" (referring to 1849, the peak year for Gold Rush immigration). Outside of California, the first to arrive were from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Latin America in late 1848. Of the approximately 300,000 people who came to California during the Gold Rush, about half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the gold rush attracted thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia and China. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote; the future state's interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September 1850, California became a state.
At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of \"staking claims\" was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although mining caused environmental harm, more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869, railroads were built from California to the eastern United States. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today's US dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few, though many who participated in the California Gold Rush earned little more than they had started with.
Gold was discovered in California as early as March 9, 1842, at Rancho San Francisco, in the mountains north of present-day Los Angeles. Californian native Francisco Lopez was searching for stray horses and stopped on the bank of a small creek (in today's Placerita Canyon), about 3 miles (4.8 km) east of present-day Newhall, California, and about 35 miles (56 km) northwest of L.A. While the horses grazed, Lopez dug up some wild onions and found a small gold nugget in the roots among the bulbs. He looked further and found more gold. Lopez took the gold to authorities who confirmed its worth. Lopez and others began to search for other streambeds with gold deposits in the area. They found several in the northeastern section of the forest, within present-day Ventura County. In November, some of the gold was sent to the U.S. Mint, although otherwise attracted little notice. In 1843, Lopez found gold in San Feliciano Canyon near his first discovery. Mexican miners from Sonora worked the placer deposits until 1846. Minor finds of gold in California were also made by Mission Indians prior to 1848. The friars instructed them to keep its location secret to avoid a gold rush.
Having sworn all concerned at the mill to secrecy, in February 1848, Sutter sent Charles Bennett to Monterey to meet with Colonel Mason, the chief U.S. official in California, to secure the mineral rights of the land where the mill stood. Bennett was not to tell anyone of the discovery of gold, but when he stopped at Benicia, he heard talk about the discovery of coal near Mount Diablo, and he blurted out the discovery of gold. He continued to San Francisco, where again, he could not keep the secret. At Monterey, Mason declined to make any judgement of title to lands and mineral rights, and Bennett for the third time revealed the gold discovery.
By March 1848, rumors of the discovery were confirmed by San Francisco newspaper publisher and merchant Samuel Brannan. Brannan hurriedly set up a store to sell gold prospecting supplies, and he walked through the streets of San Francisco, holding aloft a vial of gold, shouting \"Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!\"
San Francisco had been a tiny settlement before the rush began. When residents learned about the discovery, it at first became a ghost town of abandoned ships and businesses, but then boomed as merchants and new people arrived. The population of San Francisco increased quickly from about 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 full-time residents by 1850. Miners lived in tents, wood shanties, or deck cabins removed from abandoned ships.