The California Gold Rush - Building the Land of Big Dreams


Building the Land of Big Dreams 

In the early 1840's, California was just a huge plot of very pretty land with very few residents. As the East grew more crowded with immigrants, some industrious or perhaps claustrophobic people chose to go West and stake out their plot of land.

However, in January 1848, all of that changed. James Marshall and a crew of about 20 men had been sent to build a sawmill on the banks of the American River by their employer, John Sutter. Marshall spotted something shining in the water, and the first California gold was found. Sutter and Marshall agreed to keep the gold a secret, but the secret was too big for others on the crew and word trickled out.

Not many people believed the rumors, but Sam Brannan did and he saw a "golden" opportunity. He was not interested in mining for gold. Brannan bought up all the digging equipment that he could get his hands on, for pennies. Then he ran through the streets of San Francisco yelling about gold being found and displaying a bottle of gold dust as proof. That was all it took to open the floodgates.

Word spread across the country and around the world. They came in covered wagons, aboard ships and on foot. Many died along the way of thirst, hunger, shipwreck or disease. However, many more made it to seek their fortune and soon California was teeming with people, mostly men, with no form of law and order in sight.

Towns sprang up around camps and men without the desire to break their backs digging for gold, but with strong entrepreneurial spirits found other ways to make their fortunes. Sam Brannan was the king of supply and demand and made a killing by jacking up the prices on everything from pick axes to carpet tacks. Phillip Armour, a butcher from New York, walked to California and started a meat packing plant that became known as the Armour Meat Company. John Studebaker, of the automobile Studebakers, started out building wheelbarrows in California.

The instant riches created a need for banks, a need that was capitalized on by two men in particular: Henry Wells and William Fargo. Who hasn't owned a pair of the pants originally created for the 49ers that needed strong, longwearing clothing for the many hours spent knee deep in rivers and chipping away at stone? Levi Strauss' creation has long been a standard in the clothing industry with its tough, riveted construction.

The gold didn't last forever; in fact, the easiest gold to find dried up rather quickly in 1849 under the hordes of people who came to harvest it. Nevertheless, the people didn't stop coming. Some industrious minors created ways to dig deeper into the earth for gold, and veins were found even into the 1850's. The days of finding gold glinting up at you from the riverbed were over and many gave up and went home. Many more died trying to reach their dreams of easy riches in California

The California Gold Rush - Building the Land of Big Dreams

The California Gold Rush - Building the Land of Big Dreams

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