Northern California July 05, 2017
These 14 Rare Photos Show Northern California’s Mining History Like Never Before
The California Gold Rush put Northern California on the map when John Marshall discovered gold in 1848 in Coloma. We’ve all heard what happened next – the wild and woeful years of the Gold Rush when miners headed out west in droves to strike it rich, with only a few actually earning their fortunes. It was an unruly place, but eventually families and settlers followed the men and Northern California was developed into the place it is today.
It’s a tale all Northern Californians know and love, but we are still fascinated by images like the ones below from the Gold Rush era.
1. Known colloquially as "forty-niners," the massive rush of miners who came to seek their fortune in the gold fields of California started arriving in 1849. About half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail.
2. As rough as the journey out west was, they definitely did not have it easy once they made it to their final destination. Gold mining and panning was hard, physical labor that only sometimes yielded the result they were looking for.
3. On top of that, the lifestyle in the mining encampments was rough and rowdy. In this 1891 etching, "Miner's Ball," you can see the kind of uncouth lifestyle that these men led.
This famous portrayall of the gold rush by Andre Castaigne imagines a men only ball during the 1849 California Gold rush.
4. Women were rarely present and often had to work just as hard as the men. Most of the early mining camps, such as Nevada City, Grass Valley, Auburn, Coloma, Hangtown (Placerville), Angels Camp, etc. are still around today.
5. These towns and others started out as mining camps that were overcrowded and chaotic. Banditry, gambling, prostitution and violence were a common thing back in the day.
Above is an engraving of a Gold Rush scene published in a New York magazine in 1849.
6. The Gold Rush peaked in 1952. Between then and the time the first piece of gold was discovered in 1848, a total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the hills and rivers.
Seeking gold in California river bottom, mid 1850's.
7. By the end of 1849, the non-native population in the area was around 100,000 (compared with the pre-1848 figure of less than 1,000). Many were international immigrants, such as the Chinese workers pictured here.
8. Praised for their hard work ethic, the Chinese miners worked tirelessly to stake their claims and were a huge part of the gold rush despite the discrimination they faced.
9. Eventually, mining towns replaced the rowdy camps and shops, saloons, brothels and other businesses were established. Many made their fortunes by catering to the miner's needs rather than panning for gold themselves.
Sacramento, California — 1849 California Gold Rush.
10. You'll hardly recognize this San Francisco scene from 1851. It's Portsmouth Square near the San Francisco harbor at the peak of the Gold Rush. Both San Francisco and Sacramento became the major hubs for travel as miners made their way into the hills.
11. Hydrolic mining was introduced in 1853 as surface level gold began disappearing. Pictured here are gold miners excavating an eroded bluff with jets of water at a placer mine in Dutch Flat, California, between 1857 and 1870.
12. Other technology included the Stamp Mills, which crushes rocks and other materials to extract gold veins from hard substances like quartz.
13. And then there were the sluices, which filter gold through running water much faster than an individual could pan it out. Despite the lawless and rough lifestyle, the Gold Rush brought a lot of innovation and people to California. It's hands down the most important historical event that took place in this region of the country and forever changed the state.
14. It still defines the character of much of Northern California, especially in the small towns of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Pictured here is Sutter's Mill in Coloma. Today, you can visit the historic state park where gold was discovered and see the mill's replica.
The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is located at 310 Back St, Coloma, CA 95613.
For more Northern California history, you might like
this article on an abandoned lighthouse near Crescent City.