Western Life

Effects of the Gold Rush

Recovering the Gold

  1. Panning – There were different methods used during the Gold Rush to remove the metal. Early miners were able to pan for gold, because it was abundant and easily found, using either a pan or their hands to extract the pieces from riverbeds or streams.
  2. Placer Mining – Miners were able to process lots of gravel at the same time using ‘cradles’ and ‘rockers.’ Shafts were dug 20-40ft into placer deposits and tunnels led out in all directions. When the water was diverted into a sluice, the bottom of the river became exposed along with the gold resting there.
  3. Hydraulic Mining – A high-pressure hose was used to focus a water stream on the river beds forcing the gravel and gold to pass over sluices. The gold would then sink to the bottom, where it was recovered. This would cause gravel and heavy metals to enter streams and rivers, as well as affect the ability of plants to grow in the area.
  4. Dredging – Eventually most of the gold dried up and whatever remained was found by dredging, gathering sediments from the bottom of rivers and streams and depositing them elsewhere.
  5. ‘Hard-Rock Mining’ – Rocks in the area (normally quartz) were brought to the surface and demolished and then the gold removed. The majority of the gold found in California was collected in this way, and the owners of mining companies made the biggest profits.

The Distribution of the Gold

  1. Much of the gold was spent near the mines to buy food, supplies and equipment, as well as pay for housing and entertainment including brothels, gambling and drinking. The shop-keepers used it to pay suppliers, who in turn would spend it with their manufacturers.
  2. Foreigners would send, or take, the gold back to their countries.
  3. The Californian Banks would accept it in exchange for bank notes or drafts, and private mints used it to make gold coins.

Gold Mining Laws

At the beginning of the Gold Rush there were no laws or fees charged, as the land was free and public. Miners were able to keep all the gold that they found, and there were frequent altercations about claims. Many of these disagreements became violent and prospectors had to be willing to choose walking away or being faced with death. By 1850, the state began charging the foreign miners taxes of $20/month.

The Californian Gold Rush and the Native American Culture

During the time when gold was first discovered in Sutter’s Mill, much of the surrounding land belonged to the Native Americans. With the increase in the amount of people coming to the area, they were quickly forced out of their territory. Miners began to destroy their homes, take over their land to farm and hunt the animals in the surrounding areas. In addition, gravel and the toxic chemicals used, killed many of the fish which was a major source of nourishment for the Indians. Those that were unable to adapt ended up starving to death.

The American Indians would attempt to defend their property or retaliate with attacks, but were mercilessly killed because of their primitive weapons against the use of guns. In excess of 50 Native Americans were believed to have been killed daily and tribes and entire villages were wiped out. The miners viewed them as obstacles to the expansion of the trade, and lawmen would lead attacks against them as retribution for any killings that they were accused of. On April 22, 1850 The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians stated that settlers could capture them and force them to work as bonded laborers.

The complete disregard for the race led to over 20,000 Native Americans being killed by 1890, and the rest were left to choose between migration and death. The discrimination was not just reserved for indigenous people and 1 in 12 foreign miners was killed by American settlers during the Gold Rush.

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