With the many images portraying California as place with endless coasts, oceanic ports, mountain ranges with fields of agriculture, and a new frontier with opportunities to strike it rich with the swing of a pick ax - California Dream introduction. These images and stories inspired people to take a chance and risk everything, making California a beacon of hope for a new life. As people flocked to California, from around the globe, they found that there was not much truth to the notion of living the California Dream. Instead, they returned home with little or nothing to show for their time, some never made it home at all.
Although, the many images of California were exaggerated and romanced, the hardships and struggles of the miners in pursuit of the California dream founded and shaped this state, allowing for a continued legacy of that dream. The discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill in January of 1848 brought a vast change to the territory and set the stage for era of the California dream. Prior to the news of the gold rush the American creed was more along the lines of working hard every day, plugging away to achieve success.
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With many American’s settling for tending to the family farm, or traditional occupations carried on through generations. News of gold free for the taking inspired many to risk everything for a shot at instant wealth. According to an unnamed author of, Going to California: “Forty-Niners and the Gold Rush” word quickly spread through California, the rest of America, and eventually the world flocked to California to make their fortune. (Ukn Abt) The stories of success in the early discoveries of gold, and the images of the men holding large nuggets of gold were not a reality for all the forty-niners (See Fig. ). According to Kathy Wieser author of, “The California Gold Rush,” for many minors the cost of supplies and daily living demanded that they find an ounce of gold a day just to break even.
The earliest minors did well, even with the crudest of mining tools. All one had to do was to dig down into a placer and wash the pay dirt. After which digging for gold was backbreaking work that on average yielded little results. The miners continued to work hoping that they would be the next to strike it rich. A streak of bad luck might be followed by a rich strike. Stories of other miners striking it rich ueled their obsession (Wieser 2010). With the Images and stories romanced and distorted. Many unrealistic expectations of instant wealth and prosperity quickly diminished. Many expectations for prosperity were met with resentment. The more realistic images would have Been pictures of drunks with side arms shooting any, and all immigrants that attempted to work a claim. According to Steve Wiegard, staff writer for the Sacramento Bee, “one in every five miners who came to California in 1849 was dead within six months. ” Lawlessness and racism were rampant (Unk About).
In addition, S. Shufelt’s letter to congress stated, “Many, very many, that have come here meet with bad success and thousands will leave their bones here. ” The letter goes on to state, “There is a good deal of wickedness going on here, stealing, lying, swearing, drinking, gambling and murder. Most every public house is a place for gambling and this appears to be the greatest evil that prevails here” (Gold Rush 1849). Fig. 2: Provided by the Oakland Museum: William McIlvaine (1813-1867), Panning Gold, California, 1849, watercolor and pencil on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The above image shows a couple of prospectors panning beside a peaceful, quiet, isolated, and still river. With the image in a golden overtone giving, the impression of wealth to be obtained in a serene setting (see Fig. 2). When the reality is there were no isolated claims, the rivers were not calm, not where the gold was most prevalent, and it was not quiet. No claim was isolated. The overwhelming population of prospectors somewhat diluted any possibility of realizing the California Dream. By 1950, California was flooded with over 80,000 miners as the news of gold free for the taking continued to spread.
Some made it their journey of foot or by wagon, taking up to nine months to reach California. According to some estimates, the population increased by 86,000 people in two years. For the immigrants who came from across the ocean, San Francisco became the most popular port. San Francisco’s population grew from 800 in 1848 to over 50,000 in 1849. With this expanding population, the first millionaires were the merchants that supplied the obsessed prospectors. The local merchants raised the prices of mining tool, clothing and food to astronomical levels (Kline 95).
This created new businesses that spanned from San Francisco to Placerville and Placer County, the hub of the gold rush. Immigrants made their way to the foothills, as towns and businesses sprang up along the way. The business would find ways to make money off the forty-niners that were chasing the dream. In addition, theses new gold rush towns, and national exposure would ensure California would become part of the union connecting the country from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific coast. The population increase resulting from the gold rush would insure California as the thirty-first state in the union in 1850.
After the gold rush ended, other opportunities would develop continuing the legacy of the California dream, even after the gold was gone. The aftermath of the gold rush expanded the California dream to shift from gold to the endless fields of agriculture, building supplies, and logging with the small towns needing to expand to meet the needs of the larger population. According to the California History Collection, “From the Gold Rush to Golden State,” the first federal census conducted in 1860 counted 308,000 residents.
The population had had almost tripled since 1847. While gold mining was still an important factor in the state economy, Californians were finding other ways to make a living (Kline 95). The legacy of the California dream would continue to inspire. According to Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon editors of “California Dreams and Realities,” the California dream would shift. Maasik and Solomon claim there was another boom, fueled principally by a high-tech economic explosion that went from “dot-com” to “dot-bomb” in less than five years.
California’s Silicon Valley provided the prototype for high-tech development throughout America. California has set all the trends for real estate booms and busts. More profoundly, thanks to its fundamental role in the development of the modern entertainment industry, California has been shaping the dreams and desires ever since Hollywood became the center of the culture industry (1). The California Dream would be self-perpetuating with the stories of wealth, fame, and success that, in reality, were short lived. There is no denying hat the images and stories were greatly romanced and unrealistic. Those images of the gold rush gave birth to the California dream, and this state, with migrants flooding California in pursuit of that Dream. That Dream would continue to reinvent itself throughout the history of California, continuing the legacy of the California Dream. Even as the California Dream is a reality for some. Those stories continue to fuel the imagination and hopes of many around the world. People continue to flock to California in hopes of a better life for themselves, and future generations.
However, the reality is that they settle for working a dead end job for low wages to support the cost of living. Only a select few realize the California Dream. While the majority of the population in California, are living in poverty with a notion that one day they will make it if they keep going. This same character is what founded our great state, people dropping everything they know for the slightest possibility of having a better life, romancing the slightest notion of striking it rich quick, and living the California dream.
Kline, Mary-Jo. California History Collection. 1995. 27 January 2011 Maasik, Sonia and Solomon, Jack, Edt. California Dreams and Realities 3rd. Boston: Bedford’s/St. Martin’s, 2005. unknown. About American History. 27 01 2011 . Unknown. California Gold Rush, 1849. Eye Witness to History 2003. 27 January 2011 Wieser, Kathy. California Legends. Updated 2010. 27 January 2011 William McIlvaine (1813-1867), Panning Gold, California, 1849, watercolor and pencil on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Unknown, A Lucky Striker, n. d. ,