The Gold Rush
It was Jan 24, 1848. James Marshall was checking out an asset at the sawmill of John Sutter. He was looking in the riverbed when he saw a golden gleam. He eagerly panned some golden dust out. He kept it a secret. But the following night, he woke Sutter up and they tested it again and again. It was pure gold! But Sutter tried to keep the word from spreading. But it leaked out slowly.
By the time of this discovery, “the hard times of the Forties had blanketed America with mortgages”(White, 1920, p. 55). But even in the immediate vicinity of the discovery people did not take the news eagerly. Some people said that “the gold talk was only a Yankee trick”(Life,Feb 2,1948, p. 44).
But a guy named Sam Brannan had other ideas. He believed the stories of gold and went to the place where James Marshall had discovered the gold dust. He found several nuggets and one day went to town and showed them around. “With such a start, this new interest brought about a stampede that nearly depopulated the city”(White, 1920, p. 57). The news spread. Soon all over the country people “dropped their tools, left their farms and tra pding posts, deserted ships in the harbors and stampeded toward Sutter’s Mill”(Life,Feb 2,1948, p. 44). All they needed was a trowel and a kind of pan (Rohrbough, 1997, p.12).
The pan most commonly used for panning gold from rivers, streams, and ducts is just a large but shallow basin. Panning gold was done by taking some dirt, typically from a streambed, then pouring water in and gently swishing the water around and out of the pan, until all that remains are the sediment and possibly gold dust, nuggets or precious stones.
Some people died on the way. Some got there but got nothing. Some got rich. But very few came back. “They stayed in California and made a thriving territory and then a state out of a remote area which might have remained empty for many years”(Life,Feb 2,1948, p. 44).
“The Gold Country.”In Life, Feb. 2, 1948, p.44
Rohrbough, Malcolm J. Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation. Berkely, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997.
White, Stewart Edward. The Forty Niners: A Chronicle of the California Trail and El Dorado. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920.