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The California Gold Rush was a major event in California history in which hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world descended upon the United States territory to seek their fortunes after newspapers issued reports that gold had been found in the California hills. The Gold Rush certainly made California's fortune, ensuring that the territory would be accepted as a state in 1850 and establishing new communities up and down the mineral rich state in addition to attracting an influx of migrants who contributed immensely to the state's political, social, and cultural history.
Events started in 1848, when John Marshall was building a mill and discovered some gold nuggets. His discovery triggered a media frenzy, with newspapers all over the world reporting the event, along with exaggerated claims that gold nuggets could be picked up right off the ground. The ensuing California Gold Rush brought an estimated 300,000-500,000 migrants who viewed the gold discoveries as their window to opportunity.
The participants in the California Gold Rush came to be known as the forty-niners, in reference to 1849, when gold frenzy peaked. Life for these migrants was extremely difficult. Although some managed to find gold deposits, stake a claim, and make a fair amount of money, many more struggled to pick up scraps from bigger mining operators, and gold became increasingly hard to find as surface deposits were exhausted. California was also essentially lawless, and it could be a very dangerous place to live and work.
The natural environment suffered during the California Gold Rush, as people used very unscrupulous techniques to access desirable deposits of gold, and acts of violence were extremely common in many mining communities. The small settlement of San Francisco ballooned into a large city, with accompanying explosions of violence, and it also found itself becoming an economic and cultural hub, as much of the gold shipped from California went through San Francisco, and the goods sold to the miners came into the same port. Sacramento also became a major power player, eventually developing into the state capital, because it was so close to the gold fields.
By 1853, only advanced mining techniques could be used to extract gold. Many of the forty-niners were left destitute. Some returned to the regions they came from, while others attempted to stick it out in the new state, in some cases establishing family dynasties who went on to become major players in California. One population in California suffered more than others as a result of the California Gold Rush: Chinese immigrants were not legally allowed to hold property, and many of them were exploited for their labor by unscrupulous miners and companies. Despite this, the population of Chinese in California grew exponentially during the Gold Rush, and legacies of this can be seen today in California's large Chinatowns in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
At the time, gold was valued anywhere from $12.00 to $35.00 an ounce. California was where the world’s second largest gold nugget was found. It was in Calaveras County at Carson Hill in 1854 and weighed in at 160 pounds. It is the largest of the California gold nuggets so far.
The world’s largest gold nugget, known as the “welcome stranger” weighed a whopping 200 pounds and was found in Australia.