Harsh Realities

The “adventure” of California became much more difficult and complex than it was expected to be. Gold was not as available as it was thought and the miners were not gaining as much wealth as they thought they would have either. (3) Nearly 100,000 people traveled west for Gold but not many actually found gold and of those that did, keeping it was even harder. Those who made money in the first years of the gold rush watched their gains end up turning into losses. Some men had their gold stolen by other miners while others lost their fortune by gambling. (2) Mining was best early 1850 and opportunities decreased as time went on; miners saw the change in the summer and fall of 1850 Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 8.55.12 PMand that left them uneasy and worrying about what was going to come. By the end of 1850 all the good claims were scarce, it was surprising how long the gold rush lasted considering gold was already becoming scarce at the end of the first year (1) Many immigrants started immigrating to California for the gold rush which decreased the opportunities even more for Americans. For some miners California did not meet their expectations and that left them feeling very homesick and missing their life back home. (3) One miner had said that mining is the hardest work a man could do, even the man who were most accustom to physical labor still found mining to be draining. The demanding physical condition of California aged the miners tremendously, the hair of the miners began turning grey, their teeth started to fall out, their backs were left in poor conditions, their skin was overexposed to the California sun. As gold became harder to mine new technologies were needed which were more dangerous as the earlier techniques and put the miners more in danger of injury. Gold miners focused mostly on mining that they did not Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 5.51.52 PMput much effort into finding nice living conditions. (1) Miners lived in shacks that they built themselves, they were poorly constructed and all fairly close to one another. Gold seekers went to California not knowing where or what they were going to eat. (1) Due to supply and demand prices of food increased greatly, many miners did not want to spend their new wealth on food so they starved. The miner’s diet was very repetitive, which lacked lacked fruits and vegetables and made them very susceptible of scurvy. Miners also found themselves not eating enough so many miners Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 5.53.51 PMbecame very weak and incapable to fight off any diseases. Along with poor living conditions, these mining camps also had poor sanitation. Miners did not have enough clothes to change regularly and they did not have access to bathe every day. Cholera, from unclean drinking water, killed many miners whereas other miners died from diseases spread from living so close to one another. Small pox epidemics spread throughout the mining camps every season. (2) The lack of women was one of the biggest shocks of their new lifestyle. This new gold rush society was nearly entirely men, women were even more rare than gold; the federal census in 1850 reflected that the male population was 92.5. The miners started to realize how they took women for granted back home; they missed the labor of the women they now had to do all their cooking and cleaning. After a long day of mining they had to make their own dinner instead of their wife making it for them. The lack of women caused them to start valuing women more. Men didn’t just miss women for their labor, then generally missed the presence of them. The men instantly missed having women in their lives, they missed their wives, mothers, sisters, and even daughters. Men wrote letters back home to the women in their life to cope with the loss (1)

Pictures from: Jean F. Blashfield, The California Gold Rush. (Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2001)