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Impacts of the Gold Rush on California and its People

Deanna Garcia
LBS 375: M 4:00
CSUDH
October 19, 2015

In 1848 James Marshall, a carpenter, found the first piece of gold near the American

River in California. Marshalls discovery of gold was the catalyst to what is now known as the
California Gold Rush. News of Marshalls discovery spread, and thousands of men, and some

women, traveled to California to find gold. Some of the first men to mine in California included

residents from the San Francisco area, Oregon territory, and Sonora, Mexico.1 The gold rush left

many major impacts on California and its people. These impacts include an influx of Chinese

immigrants, a population influx, and negative environmental impacts.

The news of gold in California eventually led to a global phenomenon. Residents from

other countries immigrated to California with the hope to strike it big. In 1851, there was an

influx of Chinese men, who immigrated by boat, from a post-war China. Most of the Chinese

miners were peasant farmers who fled from a region that had suffered several crop failures. By

the end of 1851, one of every ten immigrants was Chinese in California.2 Many Chinese men

took jobs as miners, and earned a living by working claims abandoned by other miners.3

Others took jobs as cooks, launderers, merchants, and herbalists to make a living. However, even

in the midst of the gold rush, it was difficult for Chinese immigrants to maintain a living salary.

Chinese men in California were subject to low paying jobs, discriminatory hiring practices, and a

monthly foreign miners' license tax.4

The arrival of Immigrants from foreign countries, and U.S residents from other states,

increased the California population census dramatically. In San Francisco alone, the population

grew from 1,000 in 1848 to over 20,000 by 1850.5 By the mid 1850s, the population of the state

1 "News of Gold in California."


2 "The California Gold Rush." CSU Northridge. Accessed October 15, 2015.
http://www.csun.edu/~ae11859/documents/pdf/textbook/86_412-419.pdf.
3 Paddison, Joshua. "1848-1865: Gold Rush, Statehood, and the Western Movement."
Calisphere. 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.
http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/calcultures/eras/era4.html.
4 Ibid
5 "California Gold Rush." Harvard University Library. Accessed October 1, 2015.
http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/goldrush.html.

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of California grew, with an arrival of about 300,000 immigrants.6 Eventually, one in every 90

people in the United States was living in California.7 The surge in population fast tracked

California into statehood, and on September 9th, 1850 California was incorporated into the Union

as the 31st state.

The gold mining technology used during the Gold Rush left a lasting negative environmental

impact on California. Gold miners used hydraulic mining, which is a form of mining that uses

high-pressure jets of water to dislodge rock material from a mountainside, to retrieve gold. The

high-pressured jets of water blasted the side of mountains, like the Sierras Nevada, removing the

sediment permanently, causing physical damage to mountainsides. The dislodged sediment

clogged riverbeds and lakes, threatening agriculture throughout the Central Valley.8 In 1891, a

group of government engineers estimated that hydraulic mining had deposited 210,746,100 cubic

yards of debris along the basins of three rivers alone -- the Yuba, American, and Bear.9 To

support hydraulic mining, dams were constructed to help supply water, which destroyed the

natural courses of rivers and streams. The diverted water caused animals to flee from their

homes because of the loss of water and change in habitat.10 Eventually, the negative impacts of

hydraulic mining became unavoidable, and hydraulic mining came to an end in the Sierra

6 Olson-Raymer, Gayle. "The California Gold Rush and the Contoversy over the State
Constitution." Accessed October 1, 2015.
http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist383/GoldRush.html.
7 Ibid
8 Paddison, Joshua. "Environmental Impact." Calisphere. 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.
http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/themed_collections/subtopic1d.html.
9 "Mining Techniques of the Sierra Nevada and Gold Country." Sierra College. 2009. Accessed
October 1, 2015. http://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jsnhb/v2n1/miningtechniques.html.
10 "The Effects of the Gold Rush." Warrensburg K-12. Accessed October 1, 2015.
http://warrensburg.k12.mo.us/soc/goldrush/lindsey.html.

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Nevada area. In 1884 legislation passed the Sawyer Decision, which abruptly ended hydraulic

mining in Gold Country.11

Gold mining brought both largely positive and negative impacts to California and its people. The

influx of immigrants from both other countries, and other parts of the United States, were the

catalyst that pushed California into statehood. Immigrants also diversified California, and added

a new mixture of cultures and languages. Chinese immigrants were a prominent group who took

jobs other miners overlooked. However, getting rich in America wasnt an easy feat, due to the

heavy taxes and low wages Chinese immigrants endured. Still, traveling to California was

worthwhile decision, since post-war China offered unproductive farming prospects. For many,

the gold rush was a life changer, giving many the chance to obtain wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, the gold rush was also a landscape changer, and led to enormous negative

environmental impacts that can never be reversed.

Footnotes

1. "News of Gold in California."

11 "North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company." Wikipedia. 2015. Accessed October 13,
2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Bloomfield_Mining_and_Gravel_Company.

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2. "The California Gold Rush." CSU Northridge. Accessed October 15, 2015.

http://www.csun.edu/~ae11859/documents/pdf/textbook/86_412-419.pdf.
3. Paddison, Joshua. "1848-1865: Gold Rush, Statehood, and the Western Movement."

Calisphere. 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.

http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/calcultures/eras/era4.html.
4. Ibid
5. "California Gold Rush." Harvard University Library. Accessed October 1, 2015.

http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/goldrush.html.
6. Olson-Raymer, Gayle. "The California Gold Rush and the Contoversy over the State

Constitution." Accessed October 1, 2015.

http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist383/GoldRush.html.
7. Ibid
8. Paddison, Joshua. "Environmental Impact." Calisphere. 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.

http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/themed_collections/subtopic1d.html.
9. "Mining Techniques of the Sierra Nevada and Gold Country." Sierra College. 2009. Accessed

October 1, 2015. http://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jsnhb/v2n1/miningtechniques.html.


10. "The Effects of the Gold Rush." Warrensburg K-12. Accessed October 1, 2015.

http://warrensburg.k12.mo.us/soc/goldrush/lindsey.html.
11. "North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company." Wikipedia. 2015. Accessed October 13,

2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Bloomfield_Mining_and_Gravel_Company.