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Little did Robert Patterson Effinger know, when in March 1849 he threw in with thousands of other ordinary American men, that he was propelling himself from home, family, and a good life into an extraordinary adventure. Yes, the Gold Rush was on, and though he was a forty-niner, he was no miner; a searcher or an investigator might be a better characterization. Setting off from his comfortable and prosperous home down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, and thence via the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific and by steam north to California, Effinger, a twenty-three-year-old lawyer from Lancaster, Ohio, entered an international arena with eyes wide open. As the letters excerpted in this special issue of California History demonstrate, Effinger was a regular guy living under a lucky star, hailing from a warm and close family circle, blessed with a university education, endowed with a great deal of good sense, and motivated by a strong desire to better his personal finances. Good fortune shone upon him, as he revealed in the letters he wrote to his close-knit family--to his mom and to his brothers and sisters, sister-in-law and niece back in Lancaster. Never convinced that the way to get ahead was by mining, Effinger sought the opportunities to make some money and to see the elephant by keeping a lookout for the main chance and by using his head.