Miners in the California Gold Rush

By: Bryce Goodwin, Victoria Tacker, Courtney Cook

The Start of the California Gold Rush

On January 24, 1948, a man named James W. Marshall found gold flakes at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He was originally trying to build a water powered sawmill, but when he discovered these flakes, he knew for certain they were gold. This sparked a mass movement of people coming to California to get a piece of the gold. Soon after, large quantities of gold were being found at Sutter’s Mill. The initial reaction to gold left many people to not believe it was true, but when large amounts started to show up, hundreds of thousands of people began to arrive! This began one of the largest movements in United States history due to a mass quantity of minerals.

The Peak of the Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush was one of the most significant events in the early 19th century. Thousands of people, mainly prospective gold miners, traveled from all over to take part in the Gold Rush. California's population increased from 1,000 to approx. 100,000 people in just one year! (1848 to end of 1849). Approximately two billion dollars worth of gold was extracted during this short time frame. Miners extracted more than 750,000 pounds of gold! After 1849, gold became more and more difficult to extract, so hardships began to arrive. Live was already hard enough for miners before 1850, but the difficulty of their jobs took a significant increase when they had to use more dangerous tactics to extract the gold. Although this Gold Rush only lasted a couple of years, it made a significant impact on the U.S, and changed many ways of life.

The Difficult Life of The Miners

Although many miners took part In the California Gold Rush, only a select few received a good pay load. Their jobs were extremely difficult and dangerous, with very long work days. They had to use very dangerous methods such as blowing up parts of rock to reach gold. This caused several miners to die due to explosions or land slides during this time. They risked their life every time they went into caves or mountains to retrieve gold. However, every time miners began to have hardships, they thought of the possibility of striking it rich, which was their overall motivation. Many foreign workers such as the Chinese came to America to mine for gold. They were favored by business owners because they were given less pay than American workers. Overall, the life of the average miner was a very tough, but hope-filled life.

Mining Methods and Tools

In the early days many tools were used for mining, from dynamite to small pans.

While it is true that many miners used pans to sift the rivers for gold as time went on it became increasingly evident that panning was a slow and often ineffective method, so lost its use over time. Another method was the rocker or cradle, that would rock back in forth in the water alowing heavy objects, possibly gold, to sift through the holes for collection. Other methods, such as the long tom, and gold crushing were used as well. All of these processes were slow however and took many workers and lots of time.

Essential Questions

1. Describe two significant economic impacts the California Gold Rush had on the United States.

2. Explain in depth two different tools used during the California Gold Rush.


"Early Gold Mining Methods." Early Gold Mining Methods. Sierra Foothill Magazine. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <http://www.sierrafoothillmagazine.com/goldmethods.html>.

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