A study of the mining techniques used during the California Gold Rush reveals more than just information of how to extract gold from the earth. The various types of mining techniques also show the cultural melting pot that was then and is now California and they reveal the myth behind the history of the Gold Rush.
The Gold Rush brought many people from all over the globe to the newly American land of California. While most of the Americans who came were Eastern farmers hoping to strike it rich quickly and return home to their families, many foreigners came with previous mining experience. These men (they were mostly men) were needed to educate the ignorant in the ways of mining. Chileans and Mexicans had experience and taught many whites. Chinese miners demonstrated the value of persistence. They did not bring new techniques but they determinedly worked sites previous abandoned by white miners and found new riches through sheer effort. Of course, all these mine sites were not on empty land, but in places occupied by Native Americans. The early miners' lack of experience proved detrimental for Native Americans, as they overran more and more land in search of gold. The California Gold Rush was a multicultural place and without the knowledge of people who knew how to mine, it may have ended much earlier.
The mining techniques used in the Gold Rush evolved over time. This evolution tells a much more complex story than it seems at first glance; the change in mining techniques reveals the myth of the Gold Rush. In legend, the Gold Rush was where a poor farmer from New York or Pennsylvania could go, "strike it rich", and return home a wealthy man. Of course, this rarely happened and most men returned home with less than they had when they began their journey. However, as mining techniques changed, even this possibility was lost. The change in mining techniques is really the story of the evolution of the Gold Rush from an individual to a corporate phenomenon.
A few years after 1849, when hydraulic jets were the main mode of mining, an individual could no longer go to California to "strike it rich." Large corporations essentially ruled the Gold Rush and literally had the power to move mountains - or at least blast water into them and alter their contours. Mining itself changed. No longer was it a risk, a hope, a chance to get rich quick. Mining became just another job, and miners were paid labor. Some corporations made money while others did not, but the risk and reward was now in the clean hands of wealthy businessmen, not in the dirty hands of lone miners who relied on skill, effort, and luck to make a fortune.
- Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1950s. (4.4.2)
- Students analyze the divergent paths of the American people in the West from 1800 to the mid-1800s and the challenges they faced.