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Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Malcolm R. Eiseler
Back in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in the heart of the Mother Lode, lies Tuolumne County, whose history is rich with memories of the days of forty-nine. It was in this country of yesterdays, during those frenzied days of gold, that men fought and toiled and died for that precious metal. Miners in search of this precious substance penetrated into its forests, prospected up and down its canyons, and climbed its steep and rugged mountains. Towns sprang up overnight and disappeared almost as quickly. The miners were forever moving on to richer diggings in search of the “El Dorado.”
The gold rush days found Tuolumne a wild and rough country, with the most varied population of any country in the whole region. Yankees, Mexicans, Englishmen, “Sidney Ducks”, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Chinese, Negroes, Irishmen, and Chileans rubbed elbows and occasionally fists with each other. The region was full of gamblers, drunkards, fast women and lumps of gold.
Before the great rush for gold, California was a quiet, peaceful, sparsely settled land. In 1842, the population was about 5,000, not including the Indians. There were about 4,000 native Californians, 90 Mexicans, 80 Spaniards, 80 Frenchmen, 360 Scotchment, Irishmen and Englishmen, 90 Germans, Italians, and Portuguese. There was little immigration, and by 1847 the population had increased to only 7,000 or 8,000. The pueblos of Monterey, San Jose and Yorba Buena were the principal centers of trade. San Diego, Los Angeles, Sonoma and New Helvetia (now Sacramento) also contained a small population. Then came the discovery of gold. It took a little while for the news to travel, and at first people thought the reports were exaggerated, but as more and more reports were carried back to the pueblos, the excitement increased. On the first of April, 1848, the California Star printed “We are happy to be able to say that California continues to be perfectly quiet…. For more than a year no disorders have occurred, -the native Californians are beginning to mingle with our people, and are gradually turning their attention to agriculture. No further difficulties are apprehended.” Little did the writer of this article dream what was to take place before very long.
BY the end of May only about 300 men were in the gold fields. So rapidly did the gold-fever take hold, however, that by the tenth of June, the same newspaper was fearing that every town would be depopulated. It reported that “every seaport south to San Diego and every interior town is drained of human beings.” As yet, of course, the news had not had time to reach the Atlantic states, so the gold rush was purely local, and there were relatively few digging for gold. The Star estimated that there were “1,000 souls washing gold”, and that about $100,000 had been taken from the mines since the first of May from an area about 100 miles in length and 200 miles wide.
Tremain, Harry C.. (1947). The history of Tuolumne County during the gold rush. University of the Pacific, Thesis. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/335
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