|Although there had been limited contact between the Indigenous
nations and other cultures (such as Russian traders) in northern California
prior to the Gold Rush, it wasn't until gold was discovered in May of 1849 on
the banks of the Trinity River that miners from all over the world began to
flock to the North Coast. Tens of thousands of men from all over the United
States, as well as from countries such as China, Russia, Mexico, Chile, Peru,
Australia and Great Britain came to the land, hoping to strike it rich by
finding gold. These men came from all backgrounds; some were already rich and
hoping to become fabulously wealthy, some owned nothing but the clothes on
their backs, and some would go to any lengths to find their riches.
They brought with them their tools of the trade- the pick-ax, shovel, mining pan, and the gun. The first miners to arrive in the region used pans to find the easy gold. As more miners arrived, they began to use more elaborate devices to find the elusive metal. Rockers, or cradles, were used; miners could sift more dirt with them. Long toms and sluice boxes were the next inventions; these devices could move water and land in huge proportions each day. Mercury was used to find gold within sluice boxes. With these devices, miners found an estimated 3,950,000 troy ounces of gold in all of California by 1852. At today's standards that amount of gold would be worth about $1.5 billion. (1)
Perhaps the most significant device used in the Gold Rush era was the water cannon. Invented in 1852 and used until the 1880s, hydraulic mining was used to break apart entire mountains and created massive environmental changes in northern California. This technology allowed miners to break up huge amounts of earth in a matter of hours that would previously taken weeks working with shovels and picks. The profit from hydraulic mining was high. A mining engineer's estimate in 1867 was made; if wages were $4 a day, the cost of washing one cubic yard of gold-bearing rock with a pan would be $20; with a rocker, $5; with a long tom, $1; and with a hydraulic operation, $.20. (2) Miners soon further developed their technology with the invention of the steam-powered Blatchley diamond rock drill and the "Little Giant" hydraulic monitor in 1870, a device which was similar to a piece of artillery that could force out water at a pressure equal to a 500 foot column of water. These machines were mostly financed by wealthy San Francisco investors and water companies. (3)
Mining had transformed very quickly from the independent, solitary miner to companies of men who worked for powerful interests within California. The railroad and water industries would sell stock in mines to wealthy investors and hire miners at low wages to do the hard work of finding gold.
(1). "Discovery of Gold," Miners Collaborative. Big Bar, Ca. 1998.
(2). "Gold Mining in Siskyou County 1850-1900," Gary D. Stumpf Siskiyou County Historical Society. 1998.
(3). "Gold, Greed and Genocide," Pratap Chatterjee. Inkworks Press, 1998.
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