13 Interesting Facts About the Gold Rush

Gold FAQ - May 6, 2022
stacks of gold bars

The California Gold Rush is both an interesting and well known time period in American History. It started in January of 1848 when James Marshall discovered gold in the American River. By the end of that year, people were dropping everything to head west to seek their fortune. Here are some interesting facts about that chaotic, but, lucrative time.

1. Two Brothers Mined Over a Million Worth of Gold in One Year

brothers find gold in nevada

John and Daniel Murphy hit gold within days of arriving in the Sierra Nevada in 1848. In a year’s time, they had mined $1.5 million worth in gold, which is about $40 million today. Another interesting fact about the brothers is that Murphys, California is named after them

2. There Were No Banks in California at the Start of the Rush

front of a bank

Due to banking crises in the 1830s and 1840s, California passed a provisional constitution in 1849 that prohibited the creation of state or commercial banks. This left banking duties to individuals and they were operating without any government regulations. This act lead to private bankers becoming extremely powerful and obviously, caused some moral issues. A government mint wouldn’t open until 1854.

3. California Wasn’t the First American Gold Rush

autumn in north carolina - gold rush

Believe it or not, the first location of an American Gold Rush was North Carolina. Fifty years before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, a 17 pound gold nugget was found in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. For more than thirty years, all gold coins issued by the US Mint were produced with gold from North Carolina.

4. Not for Women

women during the gold rush

If you were a woman during this time, it was most likely that you were not seeing any action. Women made up a very low population number at the time of the Gold Rush. Saloons and theaters did use women as means of display to attract men. There were known as “model artists,” but it was just a name to sugarcoat strippers and woman that poured drinks and provided company to the men. Gradually, wives and other family members of the miners would come along and the area would begin to see more women.

5. Positives for the LGBTQ Community

lgbtq community during the gold rush

As mentioned previously, this was a man’s rodeo. However, the scarcity of women actually led to homosexuality and gay culture to flourish in the area. In modern times, San Francisco is a haven for the LGBTQ community

6. San Francisco was Born

san francisco gold rush

At the start of the gold rush, San Francisco wasn’t really a blimp on the radar. In 1848, the population was 1,000 and by 1850 it was 20,000. Just 11 years later, San Francisco had over 56,000 people and was seeing an abundance of growth in property values. Today, San Francisco is a huge cultural hub.

7. Merchants Were the Ones Who Got Rich

merchants during the gold rush

You know the old proverb, “during a gold rush don’t dig for gold, sell shovels?” It’s unclear what the exact origin of the phrase is, but the idea holds true here. Many entrepreneurs got rich by providing services rather than mining, like Samuel Brannan, who became the first millionaire in California without ever looking for gold!

You would think that miners were the ones to gain from the Gold Rush, but what most people don’t realize is that merchants were the ones to really make a killing. This was due to towns having to be built from scratch and having to accommodate all of the miners and prospectors. New towns lead to businesses being needed to clothe, feed, supply, shelter, and entertain the minors.

One such entrepreneur from this time actually invented blue jeans when he needed to produce pants that were sturdy enough for all of those looking for gold. Who was it? You guessed it, none other than Levi Strauss of Levi Brand Jeans.

8. You Got Gold? You Got a Hangtown Fry

hangtown fry

Supposedly, once a miner struck gold, the tradition was to order a Hangtown Fry. A Hangtown Fry was an omelet cooked in bacon fat and topped with fried oysters. Though it doesn’t sound good for your waistline, this was the status symbol to imply that you could pretty much order anything on the menu. You can still get them in San Francisco today.

9. It was an Expensive Way to Get Rich

expensive way to get rich

At the thought of earning riches beyond their imagination, men were flocking to California without much planning and with just the clothes on their backs. Once they arrived, they had to figure out how to get the basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothes, and supplies. As we mentioned before, the merchants were more than happy to supply these needs to the miners. However, it came at a very costly price. For example, a single egg was the cost of $30 today.

10. James Marshall’s Discovery was an Accident

accidental gold discovery

In the beginning of the article we mentioned how James Marshall discovered gold by the American River. Well, that was a total accident. James Marshall was actually a carpenter by trade and was overseeing the construction of a sawmill when he spotted tiny gold nuggets.

You can click here for a first person account.

11. The Gold Rush Helped California Become a State

hollywood california sign

With all the money coming in, the Gold Rush put the fast track on California becoming a state.  California became the 31st state in the Union in September of 1850. It also helped California become a global territory as well.

12. Native Americans Were Exploited and Mistreated

native americans and the gold rush

Before the Gold Rush, Native Americans were dependent on hunting, gathering, and farming the land. However, silt and toxic chemicals from the mining during the Gold Rush killed the fish and much of the other natural resources, which led to the starvation and deaths of many Native Americans.

To make matters worse, laws were passed that gave miners the right to take custody of Indian children in order to use them for slave labor. Natives were also arrested for minor offenses such as loitering and possession of alcohol, so that they could work off the fines in the mines. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a lucrative time for everyone.

13. Foreigners Need Not Apply

foreigners during the gold rush of 1849

With so many people coming in, mining, and using up natural resources, naturally, the gold supply started to dwindle. In order to have the most accessible gold remaining, Americans began to concentrate their efforts on driving foreigners out of the area. In 1850, the California State Legislature levied a foreign miners tax of $20 a month.

The Gold Rush was certainly an interesting time in American History. People went absolutely crazy for these valuable bits of metal and why shouldn’t they? Gold is worth a lot!

And it’s still worth a lot today! At about $1900/ounce as of April 2022, if you have any scrap gold that you no longer need, you may get more than you think for cashing it in. Whether they are old earrings or old gold your great-great-grandfather found during the gold rush, we’ll take it!

If you own some gold that you would like to get appraised, you can request a free kit. We ship an appraisal kit right to you, you ship what you have, and you get paid! It’s as simple as that!