See O. Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields (1949); E. Wells and H. Peterson, The '49ers (1949); P. Barton, The Klondike Fever (1958); R. W. Paul, ed., The California Gold Discovery (1966); D. B. Chidsey, The California Gold Rush (1968); H. W. Brands, The Age of Gold (2002); D. L. Walker, Eldorado: The California Gold Rush (2003).
Rapid influx of fortune seekers to the site of newly discovered gold deposits. In North America, the first major gold strike occurred in California in 1848, when John Marshall, a carpenter building a sawmill for John Sutter, found gold. Within a year about 80,000 “forty-niners” (as the fortune seekers of 1849 were called) had flocked to the California gold fields, and 250,000 had arrived by 1853. Some mining camps grew into permanent settlements, and the demand for food, housing, and supplies propelled the new state's economy. As gold became more difficult to extract, companies and mechanical mining methods replaced individual prospectors. Smaller gold rushes occurred throughout the second half of the 19th century in Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and Alaska, resulting in the rapid settlement of many areas; where gold veins proved small, the settlements later became ghost towns. Major gold rushes also occurred in Australia (1851), South Africa (1886), and Canada (1896). Seealso Klondike gold rush.
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As the hysteria of the California Gold Rush faded, many discouraged gold seekers returned home. Rumors of gold in the Rocky Mountains persisted and several small parties explored the region. In the summer of 1857, a party of Spanish-speaking gold seekers from New Mexico worked a placer deposit along the South Platte River about 5 miles (8 kilometers) above Cherry Creek in what is today Denver.
William Greeneberry "Green" Russell was a Georgian who worked in the California gold fields in the 1850s. Russell was married to a Cherokee woman, and through his connections to the tribe, he heard about an 1849 discovery of gold along the South Platte River. Green Russell organized a party to prospect along the South Platte River, setting off with his two brothers and six companions in February 1858. They rendezvoused with Cherokee tribe members along the Arkansas River in present-day Oklahoma and continued westward along the Santa Fe Trail. Others joined the party along the way until their number reached 107.
Upon reaching Bent's Fort, they turned to the northwest, reaching the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte on May 23. The site of their initial explorations is in present-day Confluence Park in Denver. They began prospecting in the river beds, exploring Cherry Creek and nearby Ralston Creek but without success. In the first week of July 1858, Green Russell and Sam Bates found a small placer deposit near the mouth of Little Dry Creek that yielded about 20 troy ounces (622 grams) of gold, the first significant gold discovery in the Rocky Mountain region. The site of the discovery is in the present-day Denver suburb of Englewood, just north of the junction of U.S. Highway 285 and U.S. Highway 85.
In the spring of 1859 John H. Gregory, another experienced miner from Georgia who had participated in the California gold rush, made a major strike on the North Fork of Clear Creek at Gregory Gulch where he discovered rich placer deposits and stated out the first lode discovered in Colorado. Many other discoveries followed at Central City, Black Hawk, and Nevadaville in Gregory Gulch and in nearby Russell Gulch.