What Is the California Gold Rush?


Quick Answer

The California Gold Rush is a period of United States history in which about 300,000 people migrated to California as a result of the discovery of large amounts of gold there. This event was the most significant gold rush in United States history, though there were smaller ones preceding it.

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Full Answer

The California Gold Rush lasted from 1848 to 1855. The first discovery of gold was at Sutter's Mill in 1848. The primary areas of gold discovery were in the Sierra Nevada and in northern California between present-day Shasta and Yreka. Initially, gold was easy to acquire by panning, and it was sometimes found on the ground. Stories of this nature fueled mass migration to the area, and by 1850, the easiest gold deposits had all been extracted.

The Gold Rush had many long-term effects on California, such as greatly increasing the population of certain areas, particularly San Francisco. Many immigrants from other countries were also drawn to the area and settled permanently. The existing Native American tribes in the area were negatively impacted, however, often being driven out of their lands by the arriving masses of prospectors and sometimes even massacred.

In the end, only about half of the prospectors actually made a profit. Modern studies of the period indicate that merchants who moved to the area may have done better financially on average than the prospectors did.

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