They called it the “Gold Rush of ’49,” but it really started 175 years ago today, on January 24, 1848, when a huge gold ingot was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill, in the American River near Caloma, California. John Sutter was trying to build an agricultural empire and tried to keep the news of the gold strike a secret, but you can’t keep gold a secret. They might as well have been firing a starter pistol for a race to the West Coast, as 300,000 wannabe millionaires descended on California the following year with pans, shovels, shaky land claims and every vice known to man, making today
NATIONAL CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH DAY!
This was not such good news for California’s Native Americans, an estimated 100,000 of whom died in the ensuing 20 year melee, 4,500 of them by murder, with countless more displaced. Nor was it optimal for Sutter’s planned farming Eden. Much of the land was gouged and polluted, its waterways fouled by mining waste.
Some few fortunes were made, but most of the miners went broke and abandoned prospecting for homesteading and town building.
Next thing you know the place was full of surfers, movie stars, lowriders, plastic surgeons and serial killers, with their very own vegetable police guarding their vast borders from contraband cucumbers.
The Gold Rush changed California forever. For one thing, it was part of Mexico when the gold was discovered but, courtesy of the Mexican-American War, was a brand new US Territory by the time 1849 rolled around, for the most part a sparsely populated wilderness.
Then the New York Herald newspaper spilled the beans about the gold in August of 1848, President James Polk confirmed it to Congress in December of that year, and that was that. California became the go-to destination for restless Americans and went on to become the most populous and eccentric US State.
•Suggested Activities: Screenwriting, avocado eating, stealing sports teams from other states