On this date in 1848, James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California starting the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the US economy, and the sudden population increase allowed California to proceed rapidly to statehood, in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush had severe effects on indigenous Californians and accelerated the Native American population’s decline from disease, starvation, and the California Genocide (massacres by settlers and gold hunters). By the time it ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to having one of its first two U.S. Senators, John C. Frémont, selected to be the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.
The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Whole indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called “forty-niners” (referring to 1849, the peak year for Gold Rush immigration). Outside of California, the first to arrive were from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Latin America in late 1848. Of the approximately 300,000 people who came to California during the Gold Rush, about half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were from the US, the gold rush attracted thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools, and towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote, and the future state’s interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September 1850, California became a state.
At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of “staking claims” was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although the mining caused great environmental harm, sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869, railroads were built from California to the eastern United States. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today’s US dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few, though many who participated in the California Gold Rush earned little more than they had started with.
Recent scholarship confirms that merchants made far more money than miners during the Gold Rush. The wealthiest man in California during the early years of the rush was Samuel Brannan, a tireless self-promoter, shopkeeper and newspaper publisher. Brannan opened the first supply stores in Sacramento, Coloma, and other spots in the goldfields. Just as the rush began he bought up all the prospecting supplies available in San Francisco and re-sold them at a substantial profit. A businessman who went on to great success was Jacob Davis who teamed up with Levi Strauss to produce and sell studded denim overalls in San Francisco in 1853.
Some gold-seekers made a significant amount of money. On average, half the gold-seekers made a modest profit, after taking all expenses into account; economic historians have suggested that White miners were more successful than Black, Indian, or Chinese miners. However, taxes such as the California foreign miners tax passed in 1851, targeted mainly Latino miners and kept them from making as much money as Whites, who did not have any taxes imposed on them. In California most late arrivals made little or wound up losing money. Similarly, many unlucky merchants set up in settlements which disappeared, or which succumbed to one of the calamitous fires that swept the towns that sprang up.
The human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans, dependent on traditional hunting, gathering and agriculture, became the victims of starvation and disease, as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats. The surge in the mining population also resulted in the disappearance of game and food gathering locales as gold camps and other settlements were built amidst them. Later farming spread to supply the settlers’ camps, taking more land away from the Native Americans. In some areas, systematic attacks against Native Americans in or near mining districts occurred. Various conflicts were fought between indigenous people and settlers. Miners often saw Native Americans as impediments to their mining activities. Ed Allen, interpretive lead for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, reported that there were times when miners would kill up to 50 or more Native Americans in one day. Historian Benjamin Madley recorded the numbers of killings of California Indians between 1846 and 1873 and estimated that during this period at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians, mostly occurring in more than 370 massacres.
Flapjacks were a great staple of California mining camps leading to them often being referred to as 49er flapjacks. They are a cross between English pancakes (crepes) and US breakfast pancakes – somewhat resembling Scandinavian pancakes.
1 tsp dry yeast
2 cups milk
1 ½ tbsp melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ tbsp sugar
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
The night before you wish to make the pancakes, warm the milk in a small saucepan to about body heat. Remove from the heat and dissolve in the yeast. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the salt, sugar, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter to the milk mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until fully combined. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 1 hour, then beat down with a wooden spoon to deflate. Cover with a cloth and let stand overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
In the morning, deflate the mix again and whisk in the beaten eggs and vanilla. At this point it should be a runny batter that can spread easily.
Heat a well-greased, heavy, 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Make one large flapjack at a time by lifting the skillet off the heat while you pour ½ cup of batter, tilt the pan to cover the bottom surface completely. The top surface will bubble a little as the bottom cooks Wait until all the top bubbles burst and the top itself is not moist. Flip and cook until golden.
Flapjacks can be served as part of a full breakfast or on their own with your choice of accompaniments – syrup, fruit, preserves, etc.