• Category: American History
  • Words: 1329
  • Grade: 100
The Gold Rush

One moment the California creek beds glimmered with gold; the next, the same creeks ran red with the blood of men and women defending their claims or ceding their bags of gold dust to bandits. The "West" was a ruthless territory during the nineteenth century. With more than enough gold dust to go around early in the Gold Rush, crime was rare, but as the stakes rose and the easily panned gold dwindled, robbery and murder became a part of life on the frontier. The "West" consisted of outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen, whores, and vigilantes. There are many stories on how the "West" begun and what persuaded people to come and explore the new frontier, but here, today, we are going to investigate those stories and seek to find what is fact or what is fiction. These stories will send you galloping through the tumultuous California territory of the mid-nineteenth century, where disputes were settled with six shooters and the lines of justice were in a continuous chaos. Where's the West, how and where did the West begin? This is the question that is asked most often and there is never a straight -forward answer. Everyone has their own opinion on the subject: "Oh, it started sometime in the nineteenth century," or "The west is really just considered to be Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas." Whatever happened to California actually being considered the "West?" With all honesty, even into the twentieth century, California is not thought of as being the "West," or the "West" in the manner in which Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are thought of. Cowboys, horses, and cattle are only considered to be in the central states, but what about California? To give a straight- forward answer on where and how the "Real West" or even the "Wild West" began; it began by a millhouse worker named James Marshall. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was working on his mill and looked down in the water and saw a sparkling dust floating along the creek bed (Erodes 116). Assuming it was gold, he told his fellow workers what he had found and they began searching for the mysterious metallic dust as well. Four days later Marshall rode down to Sutter's Fort, in what is now Sacramento, and showed John Sutter what he had found. They weighed and tested the metal and became convinced that it was indeed gold. John Sutter wanted to keep the discovery secret, but that was going to be impossible. The rumor flew and Sutter's mill workers, which were Mormon, caught wind of it and began searching for their own fortune. Shortly after they fled, they too found gold. The site in which they found their fortunes became known as Mormon Island, the first mining camp to be established after the discovery of gold at Marshall's mill (Erodes 119). From that moment on, the west began to boom in population and prosper in every direction. First Blood Gold fever caught on in a hurry, and this attracted many different people to the new frontier. Dreams of gold and success sparkled in the eyes of every cotton picker, farmer, and blue- collar worker west of the Mississippi. Once the fever spread across the nation and throughout the territories, bloodshed was going to be inevitable. Greed takes a toll on the mind of many and convinces people to do things that aren't even logical. People become very protective of their property and are willing to do anything to protect it, even defend it to their death. The violence must have started somewhere and at sometime over something.... But when? On the night of October 1, 1848, eight months after James Marshall's discovery, several men were sleeping in James Marshall's sawmill, originally owned by John Sutter (Erodes 137). Peter Raymond began banging on the door of the mill. Raymond, a twenty- one-year-old sailor from Dublin, Ireland, was drunk and irritated for not striking his fortune as fast as he planned. Raymond staggered in demanding more liquor from the now awakened men. John Von Pfister, arose and as a precaution shoved his knife into his waistband. Von Pfister managed to quiet the drunken sailor down and set him down on a bench to rest. Von Pfister leans over and says "Rest now my friend and we'll be laughing about this in the morning" (Brown 13). Raymond sticks one hand out for a shake and with his other he strips Von Pfister of his knife and buries the blade into his heart. It is ironic that the first murder in the Gold Rush, the first of many that would follow, took place at the very spot where gold was discovered. Raymond fled and was later tracked down and killed near San Francisco. And so let it be written, this drunken episode of ignorance was the "first blood" of the Gold Rush. The Gun Fighting Era Along with the growth in population in the West, violence grew as well. There has always been confusion about when the "Gun Fighting Era" actually began? The Era of the western gunfighter assumingly began at the close of the Civil War. This untruth has been repeated so often since the 1930's that it has become accepted as dogma among historians and "Old West" enthusiasts (Brown 296). People assume that this era began around this time because they only heard of the most infamous cowboys and gunfighters such as Billy the Kid, Pecos Bill, and/or Wyatt Earp. These particular men were wretched killers that had a lot of kills underneath their belts and were noticed more easily than the western gunfighters; those of whom did not go on killing sprees. The age of the gunfighter more correctly began in 1848, when the discovery of gold set off the great migration westward (Brown 297). This coincided with the development of Colt revolvers, most importantly the various .44 caliber Dragoon models, which first appeared in 1848; the .31 caliber pocket model of 1849; as well as many "pepperbox" models made by Allen & Thurber (Brown 297). The weapons were affordable, reliable, easily carried or concealed on the person, and deadly. So with technological development and a need for weapons California became known as the "Wild West." Americans, and just not those on the frontier, understood that they were responsible for their own safety and for settling their own problems. The United States government did not exist in the California Territory. The non-existence of the government was also an even more attraction of why to come to the new frontier. Gamblers, gunfighters, and outlaws could roam freely throughout the territory and take what they wanted. All the more reason for the westerners to arm themselves for protection. When the creek beds of California glimmered with gold, only one thought went through every persons mind....money. When we analyze what took place and what events occurred because of the discovery of gold, we think, "Was it all worth it?" The violence, the greed; was it necessary? Clearly, violence did not occur at all times or in all places during the Gold Rush. It was continuous and relentless. There's no doubt many gold camps and other communities saw low rates of violence. But the point is that overall, violence in the Gold Rush was much more commonplace than anything Americans had ever seen before in peacetime. The California Gold Rush was one of the most important American events of the nineteenth century and its influence on migration, economic development, politics, and culture was deep and lasting. It was the prototype for all gold and silver rushes to follow. From these rushes brought the booming frontiers in mining, cattle, and land, which, within the space of two generations, would settle the west and eventually close the frontier. And so now, when California is thought of and remembered, let it be remembered as the West. The West in which it truly is, has been, and will always remain, in American history.
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