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The Impact of the Gold Rush on Western Society

Arrow Image Essay for school on Gold Rush. Not really about western society. Just added "western society" to make it sound more specific. But good Gold Rush info. Please comment. I can expand on it.

The Impact of the Gold Rush on Western Society
By Ranma

The Impact of the Gold Rush on Western Society

Thesis: The Gold Rush provided a cradle for Western towns and societies to grow and flourish in, thus positively impacting America forever.

I. Beginning
A. John Sutter
B. James Marshall

II. Fever
A. Kept secret
B. Few leave for mines
C. Towns left deserted

III. East
A. Mistrustful
B. Samples sent
C. Fever spreads
D. Newspapers spread word

IV. San Francisco
A. Grows from immigrants
B. Shops

V. Inflation
A. Sky-high prices
B. Food costs weight in gold

VI. Infrastructure
A. Buildings and roads
B. Sewage
C. Defense
D. Transportation

VII. Crime
A. Trials
B. Gangs
C. Vigilante groups

VIII. Camps
A. Crime
B. Gambling
C. Health

IX. End
A. Exhausted pay dirt
B. Big companies

The Beginning

The California Gold Rush of 1848, one of the most important events in the history of the United States, started with two men. John Sutter was a Swiss immigrant seeking to escape from bankruptcy. He came to America and tried his luck in several states but succeeded only in one. It was California he came to in 1839. He faked his past and impressed Mexican officials, so they granted him 50,000 acres of land. He decided to start his own small empire called New Helvetia (New Switzerland) (Rhoda, 3). Trappers, pioneers, immigrants, and natives helped him build it. After a few years, it had grown quite big. To keep up with the need for lumber, he ordered James Marshall, a carpenter, to build him a sawmill near the American River. One day, Marshall found something small and shiny. After running tests on it, he concluded it was gold. This tiny gold nugget, no bigger than a dime, started one of the biggest events in American history (Rhoda, 2): The Gold Rush provided a cradle for Western towns and societies to grow and flourish in, thus positively impacting America forever.

The Fever

Marshall immediately went to Sutter to inform him of the discovery. Imagine his reaction. You probably imagined the opposite. Sutter was actually very angry at first. He did not want his workers leaving their jobs to mine gold. He also did not want outsiders coming into his land, destroying everything by digging, and using up all the available resources. He made everyone keep the discovery secret. The workers did as he ordered, and only went looking for gold after their work hours. However, gold has a way of casting its charm over people, and after a few weeks Sutter couldn't help but bragging to a Mexican neighbor. The word started spreading.
People coming back from Sutters dominion brought pouches full of gold. Workers couldn't help but telling their stories to someone. News of the discovery of gold spread to San Francisco. However, few people paid any attention to it. There had been many false rumors before, and they weren't about to fall for another one. Only a couple of people set out to look for gold. Weeks passed, and the adventurers returned, carrying bags full of gold. This attracted everyone's interest. The rumors werent just rumors any more. They were opportunities to strike it rich! People started leaving San Francisco. Butchers, blacksmiths, servants, and even government officials left to seek their fortune. The town was deserted. Not only San Francisco felt the lure of gold, though. Troops posted in California also started deserting. Sailors in the Navy started jumping ship and swimming for the gold fields. Almost everyone in the West who heard of gold went to try his or her luck.

In the East

The East was not very interested in the news of gold coming from the west. It thought that the 'Wild West' was a land of legends and fairy tales and that someone had made up the stories (Rhoda, 9). The East wanted proof. And proof came. The consul of northern California wrote to Buchanan, the Secretary of Sate, telling him of the 'shovelfuls' of gold being dug up (Rhoda, 9). He also sent samples. Easterners still weren't convinced that there was gold. A later report with more samples finally supplied enough proof for them. Polk spoke to Congress and told them of the huge amounts of gold. The East went into an uproar.
Newspapers played an especially important role in spreading the word since all sorts of people read them. They also helped people find ways to reach the West. They had many advertisements for journeys by ships, new time-saving inventions, and planned expeditions across the continent. Because the fever hit the East in the winter, overland journey was impossible. This is why many ship-owning companies were happy. While a journey over snowy mountains and frozen plains was dangerous, a journey by sea could even be enjoyable. Many people decided not to wait and bought tickets. There were a few choices. Either sail to the Gulf of Mexico and travel by foot to California, sail to Panama, travel a little by foot and then sail to California, or sail around Cape Horn. These trips were advertised as getting the average man to the gold mines in just a few weeks.

San Francisco

People started flooding into California by ship. San Francisco, being the largest port city in the West, was the first place on which newcomers set eyes. Its harbor was filled with hundreds of ships, many of them deserted. It had no docks, so the ships were just anchored in the middle of the harbor (Rhoda, 62).
People came to California from many different regions of the world. Eastern U.S., Mexico, Russia, China, Hawaii, France, and Britain were only some of the locations. France had one of the biggest lotteries, which gave one lucky winner a free trip to the 'Wild West' with a pre-made house (Rhoda, 19). Some immigrants had houses built that could be transported and set up in a day, complete with furniture traditional to the country they came from.
With the enormous rush of people pouring into a region comes an enormous economic opportunity. These people needed supplies, housing, and entertainment. Many merchants and businessmen realized this and took advantage of the situation. They set up new businesses: bars, saloons, gambling houses, hotels, food shops, and mining supplies shops. Miners needed food and drinks after a hard day of work. They also needed places to sleeep. A lot were depressed that they did not strike it rich in California and needed a place to let out their sorrow. Clever businessmen found out that gambling, in some mysterious way, helped them do just that.


With all the gold flooding into the economy, the inflation was right through the roof. Vegetables were one dollar each. Eggs were ten dollars per dozen. Meat was worth its weight in gold. Drinks cost a handful of gold. Laundry was so expensive it was allegedly sent to Hawaii and cost $8 per dozen clothes (Rhoda, 65). Shovels that would usually cost one to three dollars cost $10 to $50. Hotels were very expensive, so most prospectors slept in tents at camps.

The Infrastructure

Besides the bad effect of bringing too much gold into the local economy, the prospectors had some good impact on San Francisco. In 1848, San Francisco was a small town with a few hundred houses and a few shops. The incoming immigrants increased the number of shops and made the infrastructure of the city change. Better plans for positioning of houses were made by skilled architects who came to the West. The garbage disposal system had to be improved because trash was beginning to fill up some streets. The sewage system also had to be improved. Dirty water threatened the town with diseases.
Commodities for citizens inside of the town were not the only upgrades going on in San Francisco. Defense against Native Americans was improved. The fortifications were improved. The town elected a sheriff. Native Americans sometimes attacked cities.
Besides inner workings of the city and defense improvements, transportation to the cities improved. Railroads linking the other parts of the country to the West were built. These railroads not only helped transport people to the gold diggings faster, but also helped merchants from the East send resources to the West. These resources further helped the West grow by helping it build new buildings and systems of acquiring raw materials.


Despite the improvements in fighting crime in California, murder was a daily occurrence. Fights were common when two groups of miners met and had a dispute (Rhoda, 88). Most of the crime was caused by people who were already criminals before coming to California. The public blamed the lawlessness on the military governor who hadn't been able to control violence. In 1849, Californians selected 48 delegates to write up a state constitution and to outlaw slavery (Rhoda, 88). Even after being added as a state in 1850, crime continued. Juries were rigged and judges were bribed. The verdict was usually reached by popular vote of a mob gathered around the criminal. The usual punishments were banishment, cutting off ears, branding, flogging, or hanging (Rhoda, 91). Many times the punishments were unjustly given.
Crime control was needed very much. Gangs started forming in San Francisco. The 'Regulators' had drunken parades, they stole, and murdered (Rhoda, 94). The Sydney Ducks' were known for arson (Rhoda, 94). Vigilante groups, people who took the law into their own hands, started forming. They helped turn crime down a notch.


Cities weren't the only places where crime thrived. Camps where prospectors lived while mining were also full of crime. Drunken miners always found problems with each other. Disputes over property were common. At one point miners were allowed only a small plot of land to dig in for gold. Sometimes people fought over who had rights to a piece of land. Gambling also started a lot of brawls. Prospectors who were caught cheating were carried away by small mobs. Crime wasn't the only factor accounting for the death of miners. Bad health conditions also aided the human roughness. Many miners did not take any showers. One out of twelve miners who joined the Gold Rush died (Rhoda, 75).

The End

The end of the Gold Rush wasn't due to the death of miners, however. It was because the miners had exhausted the supply of surface gold. Most had only relied on 'pay dirt', or dirt which had flecks of gold in it (Rhoda, 116). Now that an enormous amount of people had filtered the banks of the rivers, the flecks were gone. The disappointed miners left the camps and settled in the surrounding cities because they had no money to return to their homes. Big companies later came in with heavy machinery to dig up the gold hidden deep underground.
The Gold Rush helped change the West from a little known and uninhabited far-off land to a buzzing center of trade. It nursed it with manpower, resources, and attention from other parts of the world. The great change in the West was to become a great change in America and the rest of the world in the future. The upgrades in technology and culture helped California in turn upgrade the world later on. If it weren't for the Gold Rush, we might not have Silicon Valley. If we don't have Silicon Valley, we don't have Photoshop, iPods, Gmail, eBay, and Yahoo!. The positive impact of the Gold Rush will continue to show itself forever.


1. Buchman, Francesco. Creating America. Evanston: McDougall Littell, 2001.

2. Blumberg, Rhoda. The Great American Gold Rush. New York: Bradbury Press, 1989.

3. Friedman, Christine. 'List of Works Cited'. MSN Encarta. Microsoft. May 25, 2008.


ynori7on June 17 2009 - 18:14:39
Looks like you've got some text wrapping issues. You should fix that.
ranmaon June 17 2009 - 19:17:38
Yeah. I saw that. That's why I said I would update it. Guess now is as good a time to fix it as any.
spywareon June 17 2009 - 20:24:15
Western != American. Rephrase shit or prepare for flames.
spywareon June 17 2009 - 20:28:23
Also (sorry for the double post), stop taking facts and making a story from it. Americans tend to novelize their heritage, this is something that bothers me much. Also also; discretion.
ranmaon June 17 2009 - 23:24:44
Mkay. TO address your concerns. 1. Western!= American. What exactly do you mean? Can you give me an example? 2. lol, I'm not American nor born in America 3. "Also also; discretion." <-- What? If you explain I could fix it.
ynori7on June 18 2009 - 01:00:48
In your title you mention "Western Society". Europe is considered "west" as well.
korgon June 18 2009 - 07:42:13
Interesting theory but I find it a bit far fetched.
ranmaon June 18 2009 - 20:46:46
OOOkay. Let me explain. Sorry. I guess when I picked the word "Western" in the title I was just thinking of Western US. This is meant to be about the effect of the Gold Rush on the society of Western US. And @korg, do you mean about how the Gold Rush was what brought us our advancements in technology? Lol, if that's what you mean, I added that bit in only to make it sound more grandiose. That wasn't really my topic Pfft
hellboundhackersokon June 19 2009 - 08:54:19
Weird article to have on a hacking-related site. Rated good for effort.
ranmaon June 19 2009 - 16:13:19
Haha. Well, I noticed that there were other articles besides hacker-related ones, so I decided to submit my essay in. If someone finds it useful, great Smile
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