California's Natural Resources

The California Gold Rush

In January of 1848, James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at Coloma near Sacramento. The crew was building a saw mill for John Sutter. On the cold, clear morning of January 24, Marshall found a few tiny gold nuggets. Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended upon California in search of instant wealth.

The first printed notice of the discovery was in the March 15 issue of "The Californian" in San Francisco. Shortly after Marshall's discovery, General John Bidwell discovered gold in the Feather River and Major Pearson B. Reading found gold in the Trinity River. The Gold Rush was soon in full sway.

In 1849, quartz mining began at the Mariposa mine in Mariposa County. Gold deposits were often found inside quartz veins. In 1850, California became a state. Also that year, gold-bearing quartz was found at Gold Hill in Grass Valley. This led to the development of the great underground mines in that district and a major industry the continued for more than 100 years.

In 1851, Gold was discovered in Greenhorn Creek, Kern County. This discovery led to the rush to the upper Kern River region. By 1852, California's annual gold production reach a then all-time high of $81 million.


Other important dates and discoveries:

In 1852, hydraulic mining began at American Hill just north of Nevada City and a Yankee Jims in Placer County.

In 1853, the first extensive underground mining of buried river channels commenced in the Forest Hill District, Placer County.

Also in 1853, the placers at Columbia, Tuolomne County, began to yield vast amounts of gold. This continued until the early 1860s. At that time, Columbia was one of the largest cities in the state.

A partial exodus of miners took place in 1853 when gold was discovered on the Fraser River in British Columbia.

In 1854, a 195-pound mass of gold, the largest known to have been discovered in California, was found at Carson Hill in Calaveras County.

By 1855, the rich surface placers were largely exhausted, and river mining accounted for much of the state's output until the early 1860s.

In 1859, the famous 54-pound Willard nugget was found at Magalia in Butte County.

By 1864, California's gold rush had ended. The rich surface and river placers were largely exhausted; hydraulic mines were the chief sources of gold for the next 20 years.


Links to Explore:

Online Gold Rush Exhibits, Museum of the City of San Francisco
'I am bound to stick around awhile longer', The California Gold Rush Experience, UC Berkeley Library
California's Untold Stories: Gold Rush!, The Oakland Museum of California
Gold Rush: The Series, Sacramento Bee
Women in the Gold Rush, JoAnn Levy


Places to Visit:

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
Empire Mine State Historic Park
South Yuba River State Park
Bodie State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park
Sutter's Fort State Historic Park

California's Natural ResourcesCERESComment