The discovery of gold in California on 24 January 1848 by James W. Marshall at Coloma on the south fork of the American River, about fifty miles from present-day Sacramento, triggered off the greatest gold rush in history. Marshall was building a sawmill for John A. SUTTER when he found nuggets of gold in the water of the millrace1; Sutter wanted the find kept secret for fear that his land would be ruined by a stampede of gold seekers. But the hot news got out and the rush was on. In 1848 the rush was a local one but in the following years thousands of Forty-Niners from all parts of the U.S. and the world flooded into California in a mass search for gold. They came by sea to San Francisco, transforming the tiny coastal settlement into a booming port, and they came by long overland routes across the United States. Between 1848 and 1852 the population of California increased from an estimated 15,000 to 250,000. The major gold belt was called the Mother Lode2, that stretched for 150 miles along the western flank of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in which any steam, canyon, or ancient gravel bed might conceal gold in the form of nuggets, flakes, or dust. The Mother Lode gave birth to many bawling mining camps dubbed with colourful names such as Rough and Ready, Roaring Camp, Fiddletown, Angels Camp, EI Dorado, Dry Diggings, Hangtown, Jackass Hill, Bed Bug, Squabbletown, and Slumgullion. At first the gold came relatively easy, in surface diggings or on stream beds. A prospector would 'pan' for gold particles by using a simple wash pan; he would fill the pan with 'pay dirt', then swirl it around in the water, washing out the lighter sand and gravel to leave the heavier gold particles at the bottom. To make the tedious job easier a device called a 'cradle' or 'rocker' was made of wood and rocked by hand to separate the gold from the dirt; the 'long tom' and the sluice3 were other simple contraptions4 used for parting the gold from the gravel. In 1849 Califonia yielded 10 million dollars in gold; this increased annually until the peak year of 1852 in which 81 million dollars' worth was extracted. Then the gold rush went into decline, the easy pickings had gone and the individual prospector5 gave way to the big mining companies with the mechanized equipment to rip up the earth in huge quantities. Many prospectors found their fortunes in the great California gold rush, but both James W. Marshall and John A. Sutter died poor and ruined by the wild stampede. The gold rush hurried California (acquired from Mexico in February 1848) into the Union as the thirty-first State in 1850, and proved an important catalyst in the development of the Far West.

The 'Forty-Niners' were the eager fortune seekers who came in their thousands to California during the great GOLD RUSH of 1849. They came from all parts of America, and the world, and by the end of 1849 the population of California had increased by an estimated 80,000. They came by sea to the little settlement of San Francisco, quickly transforming it into one of the world's busiest ports, and they came by the overland routes across the United States. Both journeys were long and arduous and many died en route of scurvy6, cholera and other diseases and misfortunes. Of the 30,000 who travelled overland in 1849 some 5,000 died on the way. All classes and conditions of people flocked to the gold diggings; gentlemen adventurers laboured side by side with ruffians7, farmers, sailors, deserters from the army, French peasants, Chinese coolies, and almost every nationality under the sun. It was the greatest gold rush of all time. Virtually all the Forty-Niners came ill-prepared and unequipped only to discover that the cost of simple tools and supplies were skyhigh. Some found fortunes in the gold fields but few managed to keep their riches from the gamblers, robbers, and other unscrupulous opportunists who preyed on the great mass of humanity in the rough and lawless mining camps. Some Forty-Niners gave up digging or washing for gold and waxed rich as merchants and traders, selling goods and services to the miners in exchange for the yellow metal. In 1849 California yielded ten million dollars worth of gold, and hopeful prospectors continued to flood into the land for the next two years.

1. millrace - Mühlgraben
2. Mother Lode - Hauptader
3. sluice - Waschrinne
4. contraptions - Vorrichtungen
5. prospector - Goldsucher
6. scurvy - Skorbut
7. ruffians - Rabauken

Assignments: (single choice questions)
1. It was John A. Sutter who found gold first in the American River.
--------RIGHT - FALSE

2. Between 1848 and 1852 the population of California increases by more than 16 times.
--------RIGHT - FALSE
3. Smaller pieces of gold are called 'flakes'.
--------RIGHT - FALSE
4. A sluice was a contraption that was used to dig the gold ore from the riverbed.
--------RIGHT - FALSE
5. Sutter and Marshall became the richest persons in California.
--------RIGHT - FALSE
6. A sixth of the 30,000 prospectors who wanted to make their fortunes in California died on the way to their destination.
--------RIGHT - FALSE
7. Most of the Forty-Niners were well-prepared and knew exactly what to expect.
--------RIGHT - FALSE

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