His quest came to a sudden end when, early in 1848 Jim Marshall, the boss carpenter of a crew of Maidu Indians and transient Mormon settlers, who were building a sawmill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, glimpsed the metallic twinkle of gold. This resulted in profound changes in California, America, and the entire world.
The "gold" word spread eastward, and by 1849 thousands were en route to California and converged on the American River-some 50 miles from Sacramento-where Marshall first saw the shiny metal. The gold-seekers were dubbed "49ers" because most left home in 1849. They were not only Americans. The Gold Rush attracted gold-seekers from nearly every country in the world-people who stayed to form the multi-cultural nucleus of California.
The gold in California was easy to find at first, but it quickly became a difficult enterprise that yielded less and less. Those who did find gold often spent it all on the basic necessities of life. The biggest moneymakers were entrepreneurs who supplied the gold miners with much-needed supplies and services. Success stories of frontier California were those of Levi Strauss and John Studebaker.
The Feb./March 1998 issue of American Heritage, has an extensive article on the Gold Rush. Here is part of it:
Save for the Civil War, what occurred after a carpenter glimpsed a flash of yellow 150 years ago was the biggest story of the Nineteenth century. Richard Reinhardt examines what we think we know (and don't) about the people who made it happen.
All That Glittered
Marshall took it to be the glint of gold, and he was right. From that moment-celebrated and debunked, distorted but unforgettable-Marshall's life and that of his patron, John Sutter, were effectively ruined; the state of California was prematurely delivered; the current of American history, which had been trickling leisurely westward for a couple of hundred years, surged abruptly across the continent to the Pacific Coast; a hundred thousand, men and women left home and went to California to seek a pocketful of gold; and the world was changed.
At the village of Coloma on the south fork of the American River, there are picnic grounds and a replica of John Sutter's mill to mark the spot where Marshall's exclamation (customarily rendered "boys, I believe I've found a gold mine!") set off the greatest of all gold rushes. Busloads of schoolchildren swarm the site. Teachers dredge up everything they know about that chilly afternoon in 1848 and retell the story in all its debatable details; how Marshall took his chips of gleaming yellow gravel to the cabin of his foreman, Peter Wimmer, where Wimmer's wife, Jane (or was here name Jennie?), boiled them in a pot of homemade soap to see if lye would dim their color; how Marshall carried his treasure in a knotted cloth to Sutter, an ambitious immigrant from Switzerland who had obtained a Mexican land grant and was building and fortifying a private empire he called New Helvetia; ... (American Heritage, pp. 43-44.)
Created: 24 August 1999, ARK
Updated: 17 November 2007, BAS
Comments: IUPUI Max Kade German-American Center, firstname.lastname@example.org
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