When the Gold Rush began in 1848, California still belonged to Mexico. By 1900, all of today?s California counties were already mapped out, the largest population growth occurring in San Francisco where the most gold was being mined.
In 1848, most of California was already being occupied as part of the annexation of Texas and expansion into California and New Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Following the fall of Mexico City, the Mexican government surrendered and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was drawn to add over 500,000 square miles of U.S. territory.
Just two weeks before the Treaty was signed, James Wilson Marshall discovered gold in the American river while working for agriculturalist John Sutter. Sutter wanted to keep the news quiet, but people quickly learned of the discovery and began moving from overseas and across the United States to participate in the Gold Rush. At the peak of the Gold Rush, $81 million was being pulled from the ground per year.
Miners often developed scurvy from their poor diets. Most cabins slept six people, making it easy to contract illness. Gambling was also popular among the miners, allowing a man to make and lose thousands in a single night.