Gold Rush Paper

Gold Rush Paper

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One moment the California creek beds glimmered with

gold; the next, the same creeks ran red with the blood of

men and women defending their claims or ceding their bags

of gold dust to bandits. The "West" was a ruthless territory

during the nineteenth century. With more than enough gold

dust to go around early in the Gold Rush, crime was rare,

but as the stakes rose and the easily panned gold dwindled,

robbery and murder became a part of life on the frontier.

The "West" consisted of outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen,

whores, and vigilantes. There are many stories on how the

"West" begun and what persuaded people to come and

explore the new frontier, but here, today, we are going to

investigate those stories and seek to find what is fact or

what is fiction. These stories will send you galloping through

the tumultuous California territory of the mid-nineteenth

century, where disputes were settled with six shooters and

the lines of justice

were in a continuous chaos.

Where's the West

How and where did the West begin? This is the question

that is asked most often and there is never a straight

-forward answer. Everyone has their own opinion on the

subject: "Oh, it started sometime in the nineteenth century,"

or "The west is really just considered to be Oklahoma,

Texas, and Kansas." Whatever happened to California

actually being considered the "West?" With all honesty,

even into the twentieth century, California is not thought of

as being the "West," or the "West" in the manner in which

Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas are thought of. Cowboys,

horses, and cattle are only considered to be in the central

states, but what about California? To give a straight-

forward answer on where and how the "Real West" or

even the "Wild West" began; it began by a millhouse

worker named James Marshall. On the morning of January

24, 1848, Marshall was working on his mill and looked

down in the water and saw a sparkling dust floating along

the creek bed (Erdoes 116). Assuming it was gold, he told

his fellow workers what he had found and they began

searching for the mysterious metallic dust as well. Four

days later Marshall rode down to Sutter's Fort, in what is

now Sacramento, and showed John Sutter what he had

found. They weighed and tested the metal and became

convinced that it was indeed gold. John Sutter wanted to

keep the discovery secret, but that was going to be

impossible. The rumor flew and Sutter's mill workers,

which were Mormon, caught wind of it and began

searching for their own fortune. Shortly after they fled, they

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too found gold. The site in which they found their fortunes

became known as Mormon Island, the first mining camp to

be established after the discovery of gold at Marshall's mill

(Erdoes 119). From that moment on, the west began to

boom in population and prosper in every direction.

First Blood

Gold fever caught on in a hurry, and this attracted many

different people to the new frontier. Dreams of gold and

success sparkled in the eyes of every cotton picker, farmer,

and blue- collar worker west of the Mississippi. Once the

fever spread across the nation and throughout the

territories, bloodshed was going to be inevitable. Greed

takes a toll on the mind of many and convinces people to

do things that aren't even logical. People become very

protective of their property and are willing to do anything to

protect it, even defend it to their death. The violence must

have started somewhere and at sometime over

something.... But when? On the night of October 1, 1848,

eight months after James Marshall's discovery, several men

were sleeping in James Marshall's sawmill, originally owned

by John Sutter (Erdoes 137). Peter Raymond began

banging on the door of the mill. Raymond, a twenty- one

year old sailor from Dublin, Ireland, was drunk and irritated

for not striking his fortune as fast as he planned. Raymond

staggered in demanding more liquor from the now

awakened men. John Von Pfister, arose and as a

precaution shoved his knife into his waistband. Von Pfister

managed to quiet the drunken sailor down and set him

down on a bench to rest. Von Pfister leans over and says

"Rest now my friend and we'll be laughing about this in the

morning" (Brown 13). Raymond sticks one hand out for a

shake and with his other he strips Von Pfister of his knife

and buries the blade into his heart. It is ironic that the first

murder in the Gold Rush, the first of many that would

follow, took place at the very spot where gold was

discovered. Raymond fled and was later tracked down and

killed near San Francisco. And so let it be written, this

drunken episode of ignorance was the "first blood" of the

Gold Rush.

The Gun Fighting Era

Along with the growth in population in the West, violence

grew as well. There has always been confusion about when

the "Gun Fighting Era" actually began? The Era of the

western gunfighter assumingly began at the close of the

Civil War. This untruth has been repeated so often since

the 1930's that it has become accepted as dogma among

historians and "Old West" enthusiasts (Brown 296). People

assume that this era began around this time because they

only heard of the most infamous cowboys and gunfighters

such as Billy the Kid, Pecos Bill, and/or Wyatt Earp. These

particular men were wretched killers that had a lot of kills

underneath their belts and were noticed more easily than

the western gunfighters; those of whom did not go on killing

sprees. The age of the gunfighter more correctly began in

1848, when the discovery of gold set off the great

migration westward (Brown 297). This coincided with the

development of Colt revolvers, most importantly the

various .44 caliber Dragoon models, which first appeared

in 1848; the .31 caliber pocket model of 1849; as well as

many "pepperbox" models made by Allen & Thurber

(Brown 297). The weapons were affordable, reliable,

easily carried or concealed on the person, and deadly. So

with technological development and a need for weapons

California became known as the "Wild West." Americans,

and just not those on the frontier, understood that they

were responsible for their own safety and for settling their

own problems. The United States government did not exist

in the California Territory. The non-existence of the

government was also an even more attraction of why to

come to the new frontier. Gamblers, gunfighters, and

outlaws could roam freely throughout the territory and take

what they wanted. All the more reason for the westerners

to arm themselves for protection.

When the creek beds of California glimmered with gold,

only one thought went through every persons

mind....money. When we analyze what took place and

what events occurred because of the discovery of gold, we

think, "Was it all worth it?" The violence, the greed; was it

necessary? Clearly, violence did not occur at all times or in

all places during the Gold Rush. It was continuous and

relentless. There's no doubt many gold camps and other

communities saw low rates of violence. But the point is that

overall, violence in the Gold Rush was much more

commonplace than anything Americans had ever seen

before in peacetime. The California Gold Rush was one of

the most important American events of the nineteenth

century and its influence on migration, economic

development, politics, and culture was deep and lasting. It

was the prototype for all gold and silver rushes to follow.

From these rushes brought the booming frontiers in mining,

cattle, and land, which, within the space of two generations,

would settle the west and eventually close the frontier. And

so now, when California is thought of and remembered, let

it be remembered as the West. The West in which it truly

is, has been, and always remain, in American history.
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