I think it’s fun to learn about the area and the time that I read and write about. So here’s just a little sliver of info about California in the mid 1800’s. About the time that the Mexican American war ended, gold was discovered in California. As you can easily imagine, thousands came to California to find their fortunes.
They came from far and wide – they sailed oceans, brought wagon trains, and walked trails to get there. With all these travelers hitting town, the population in San Francisco soared to over 200,000 in 1852.
These new residents had a really hard time finding places to live. Housing was really scarce and very expensive. Come to think of it, is San Francisco that much different today?
Well, the housing situation got so bad that many folks started using abandoned ships in the harbor as a place to live while they waited on a permanent abode. I can’t imagine it, but the harbor was filled with ships that were just left behind when their crews and passengers jumped off to head for the hills and dig for gold. The dream of striking it rich made people ditch possessions that were expensive and necessary. Seems odd to many of us today, but these people were crazed with the hope that they would be set for life and then they’d be able to easily replace anything they’d discarded before.
The living conditions for the ones who were out in the fields searching for their fortunes were bad – terrible, in fact. They were willing to make the sacrifice believing that it would pay off in the end.
Supplies and tools were very expensive and the food was horrid. Whiskey was in high supply, however, and drunkenness was a regular event for many. I’ve heard it said that the people who supplied what the prospectors needed got far richer than most of the ones who bought from them.
Greed drove much of the bad behavior seen at the time. I suppose that’s not so different than today when the worst side of society comes out when there’s a chance to break into some wealth. The difference between then and now, though, is that the people searching for gold were willing to work very hard to get what they wanted. That doesn’t always happen today, does it?
While the gold rush was a time of roudiness and hard work, what happened during that time drastically changed the California economy. It also brought many much needed professionals to the area to service the communities that were building up across
the West as a whole. Doctors, merchants, attorneys, were among the many professionals who migrated to the area because of the opportunity that existed.
After all was said and done, it’s reported that over 250,000 miners found a total of more than $200 million in gold during the five years that was called the “California Gold Rush.” Though thousands came to stake their claim, most of them ended up worn out and broke.
The Gold Rush stories are the prequels to the Wild, Wild West sagas that many of us love.