The Gold Rush

Read the primary sources below on the Gold Rush and answer the questions on your own paper using complete sentences. The questions are before the reading.


Sixteen months at the gold diggings. By Daniel B. Woods

1. What did the Irishmen do to attract attention?
2. How much money did Wood's team earn that evening?
3. Why did Woods feel "temporary despondency"? (hint: despondency means a sense of hopelessness or very sad)

July 7th.

This morning witnessed an instance of that remarkable success in mining which rarely occurs, but which, when it takes place, turns the heads of so many. I might aptly quote Virgil's figurative description of Rumor, and apply it to these gold stories. They go out quite respectable in appearance, furnished with hat and cane at the start, but, as they proceed, they suddenly expand to the proportions of Hercules, with his trunk of a tree for a club. We met this story long afterward, after it had returned from its voyage to the States and to Europe, and, but for its having claimed Salmon Falls as its birth-place, it could not have been recognized at all. The facts were simply these: Two Irishmen followed the “lead” of the Jordan brothers, who had made their gold by penetrating into a bank which had evidently been detached from the mountains behind in some convulsion of nature, and pushed forward over the bar. They commenced in the bank at the edge of the bar, and when they reached the line in which the Jordans had found their vein, they were so fortunate as to find it again. This vein is about seven inches wide, and ten feet below the surface of the bank, and is imbedded in a stratum of hard clay, through which the fine scale gold is richly sprinkled. The vein runs, in a compact body, diagonally across the claims which have been and are being “worked out,” and so on, in a straight line, to the edge of the bar, where it is broken, scattered, and lost by its descent. At this remarkable place, these two men, before breakfast this morning, took out $422. As I witnessed their success, for we are working within three yards of them, and when I held a large bottle, nearly full of the beautiful gold, in my hands, I was at first conscious of feelings of elation and hope. This has given place, this evening, to temporary despondency, for I have been compelled to contrast our own small operations with their brilliant success. Poor Jemmie, one of these Irishmen, and who had never before been the owner of a sovereign, said to me to-day, “Every body is talking about my good luck, but, I don't know how it is, I can't feel so; and, faith, I think a sovereign looks to me more!” Our company have been engaged today in “prospecting,” and preparing for work. The last washings, near night, gave us fifty cents to the pan, which is considered encouraging.

4. Describe the living conditions at the camp.
5. What did Woods mean when he said "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint"?

July 10th.

We made $3 each to-day. This life of severe hardship and exposure has affected my health. Our diet consists of hard bread, flour, which we eat half cooked, and salt pork, with occasionally a salmon which we purchase of the Indians. Vegetables are not to be procured. Our feet are wet all day, while a hot sun shines down upon our heads, and the very air parches the skin like the hot air of an oven. Our drinking water comes down to us thoroughly impregnated with the mineral substances washed through the thousand cradles above us. After our days of labor, exhausted and faint, we retire --if this word may be applied to the simple act of lying down in our clothes--robbing our feet of their boots to make a pillow of them, and wrapping our blankets about us, on a bed of pine boughs, or on the ground, beneath the clear, bright stars of night. Near morning there is always a change in the temperature of the air, and several blankets become necessary. Then the feet and the hands of the novice in this business become blistered and lame, and the limbs are stiff. Besides all these causes of sickness, the anxieties and cares which wear away the life of so many men who leave their families to come to this land of gold, contribute, in no small degree, to this same result. It may with truth be said, “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” I have today removed to the top of the hill above the encampment, and beneath a large oak-tree, for the benefit of a cooler air and shade during the intense heat of noon.

6. Does Christman express a positive or negative view of the Gold Rush in this journal entry? Give an example from the letter.

7. On the day he wrote this entry, how do you think he felt about his decision to go to California? Explain your answer with at least one example from the letter.

One man's gold; the letters and journal of a forty-niner, Enos Christman.

Friday, February 15, 1850

--Tuesday, February 12th, we were landed with our baggage on the beach at a place called Happy Valley, about a mile east of the city, where we soon cleared a place and put up our tent and removed our trunks and bedding into it. We then cooked our supper of tea and fried bread, and although this meal was quite humble and prepared by our own hands, I never partook of any that I enjoyed more, not even the best cured fowl. Being determined to have as lively a time of it as circumstances would permit, we soon after introduced the violin and enjoyed ourselves in the giddy mazes of a real Spanish fandango for an hour or two. About nine o'clock we arranged our trunks and placed our beds upon them. Two of our party had to lie upon the ground, but Atkins and I had trunks enough to form a platform for our beds. We then turned in without a single weapon by us, they all being locked up in our trunks, feeling quite as secure as when surrounded by thick and massive walls, and enjoyed as good a night's repose.

Happy Valley seems to derive its name from the merry character of its citizens who all live in tents, doing their own cooking and washing, and sleeping on the ground. The ground is owned by the government and is reserved for a navy yard. Several fine springs of excellent water are quite convenient and wood is obtained for the cutting close by. We are surrounded by a great number of tents occupied by persons from all parts of the Union.

My comrade and I have rambled the city from center to circumference in search of Mr. Jonathan Griffith, to whom we had letters of introduction from Judge Strickland of West Chester. At length we found him and he gave us a most welcome reception and treated us with great hospitality. We were not long enquiring about our friends and learned that a few of them were in the city, not more than paying expenses, while the greater number were at the diggings where they had been almost ever since their arrival. At the last accounts Mr. Griffith had from them, they had done but little in the way of making money.

Whitaker had been taken ill at the mines and sent to this place with sufficient funds to winter, and recruit his health if possible. But, alas! A melancholy tale must now be told. Poor Whitaker grew worse and worse and had to be removed to the hospital. After suffering there for some time, he at length yielded his spirit up to his Maker, never uttering a murmur against his hard fate. And thus died a young man who a few months before had been filled with the brightest hopes for the future. He was young, intelligent, amiable, kind and gentle, industrious and enterprising. He was beloved, respected and esteemed by all who knew him, and was never guilty of a mean action. His body was interred at the public burying-ground a little to the west of the city, near the seashore, where the howling wind and roaring surf will sing him a suitable requiem.

But his is the case of thousands. Every neighborhood in the States will yet have to hear of the bones of some of their best beloved and respected young citizens bleaching on the plains of California. A bitter wail of lament will be echoed from house to house, by parents, wives, brothers, sisters and lovers, the anguish of which cannot be repaid by all the glittering ore that covers every hill and valley in this new El Dorado, this Land of Promise. Thousands will curse the day that brought them to this golden land. The gold will be a curse instead of a blessing.