Book Review

‘Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation’ by Fred Rosen

g tsot1848grahisan frSTORY: On January 24, 1848, as carpenter James Marshall worked on building a sawmill at John Sutter’s Fort, east of Sacramento, California, he accidentally discovered a pea-sized nugget of gold in a ditch.

Just like that, the scope of the American myth changed. From 1848 to 1850, 90,000 people trekked across the continent; by 1854, that figure had risen to 300,000. Representing every ethnic group, more than ten percent of the American population migrated to California’s gold fields in six years. Defying disease, crime, the depredations of nature, and each other, fortune hunters risked all for the slim chance of riches.

The Gold Rush marked the moment when people stopped believing that hard work leads to a good life, which then leads to a good afterlife. They started believing, instead, that anyone could strike it rich. Americans thus began their phantom pursuit of wealth, a pursuit that continues to this day.

REVIEW: When the California Gold Rush began in 1848, people from all over the world came to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to seek their fortune. Very few actually succeeded.

This book documents many historical facts. Some of which I will touch on here.

Colonel John Sutter built Sutter’s Fort which served as a piece of civilization in the middle of the Gold Rush wilderness area. An enthusiastic entrepreneur, Sutter offered stores, hotels, and places to eat for weary travelers. When gold was found by Sutter’s Mill, they tried to keep it secret but, of course, it leaked out.

James Marshall arrived at the fort possessing the rate talent of being a wheel right and worked with Sutter. Even though Marshall had discover gold in January 1848 in California, it had already been discovered in North Carolina and Georgia in the 1820’s and 1839, respectively.

The Donnor Party and its horrors were a group of people headed for the Gold Rush in their determined trek through hazardous snow.

The start of the Mormon Church began during this time period. They blazed the trail that the gold seekers would soon follow upon.

McNeil’s Travels was printed in 1849 and became one of the best accounts of what it took to join the Gold Rush and was available nationally and internationally. People in this group were known as the 49ers but, sadly, many succumbed to cholera.

Convicts from Australia and the penal colonies of Great Britain began arriving and crime became rampant. In response, a Vigilante Committee was formed and resolutions passed that those caught thieving would get a swift and fair trial. If found guilty, they would be hanged. That got their attention and soon crime began to abate.

The California Rangers were formed to provide some sort of law and order.

Placerville, the center of the Gold Rush became known as Hangtown. Slavery was not tolerated in the Gold Rush area. Most blacks were well liked and respected but the same was not true of the Chinese mostly because they were simply hard workers. The Mexicans were hated even more. Cholera was rampant in the mining camps due to a lack of any sewage system.

Of those people who left for the Gold Rush, one in four never made it back, thus making it a 25 percent mortality rate.

Those of you with an interest or fascination with the Gold Rush, I highly recommend this historical documentation. Originally published in 2006, this is a reprint.

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Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

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