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The Gold Rush established California as a place for life in the fast lane. It has been 150 years since that most significant event in California and the nation’s history. In 1848 a cry rang out that uprooted homes the world over and sent ships to the sea, wagons to the Northwest and hopes and dreams skyward. The cry was GOLD and the California Gold Rush was on. The Gold Rush had a profound impact on the settling of California. Hundreds of thousands came to find gold, and many of them stayed. San Francisco became the great emporium of the Pacific. The Gold Rush also had a tremendous impact on the culture.
It spawned such words as pay dirt, prospector, lucky strike and bonanza that became popular during that time. Hollywood capitalized on it by making a movie, Paint Your Wagon, starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Mark Twain and Bret Harte wrote about the Gold Rush after it was over and turned it into a mythic history. But Kowalewski and a team of researchers from the UC Berkeley used reports, letters, journals and diaries, instead of the usual fiction and poetry for the anthology. During his research he found in the journal of Henry David Thoreau, that leaving families to run off to the Gold Rush was thought to be disgraceful and going to California was “3,000 miles closer to Hell.”
Immigrants came from everywhere, but the majorities was from New England and were young white Protestants. No one was over 35 and there were virtually no women. The 49ers’ dreams were not always realized. Prospectors were known to eat rats and their boots for lack of food. One story told of miners tying a piece of pork to a string and eating it then pulling it out of their mouth and letting another starving miner eat it. The adventurers had to have money to get there, and some stayed because they failed and the stigma of failure was too great to allow them to return home. But after the Gold Rush, 90,000 others left California by ships to return to their homes.