"Gold! Gold on the American River!"
This declaration, shouted in the streets of San Francisco in the spring of 1848, electrified the nation, and its echo was heard in the farthest corners of the globe. In the five years that followed, tens of thousands of hopeful argonauts made their way to the vast territory on the Pacific conquered by the United States in its recent war with Mexico. They traveled overland from the Missouri River, their ox-drawn wagons crossing the Rocky Mountains, vast plains and deserts, and the formidable peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They journeyed by boat and on foot across the fever-ridden jungles of the Isthmus of Panama. They took ship from eastern seaports and sailed sixteen thousand miles via Cape Horn to the gateway of the goldfields, the new city of San Francisco.
In Eldorado, award-winning historian Dale L. Walker presents the complete, often gaudy, always fascinating story of the California Gold Rush, the greatest mining bonanza in all of American history. The story ranges from the discovery by a New Jersey carpenter at a sawmill north of Sutter's Fort to the advent of large-scale hydraulic mining that spelled the ruination of the land and the end of the boom days when a Forty-niner with a pick and a pan found "colors" in a streamed and earned his wages-an ounce of raw gold a day.
Walker's narrative of this pivotal event of American history is drawn from the lives and experiences of those "on the ground" in the rush, those who blazed the trails and settled the West in their search for the riches at the rainbow's end.
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The California Gold Rush of 1848-1853 may have led prospectors more often to bankruptcy than to riches, but the lure of gold also provoked an explosion of settlement and economic growth that transformed what had been a sleepy Mexican province into one of the most dynamic and cosmopolitan states of a newly transcontinental Union. Walker (Pacific Destiny), drawing heavily on contemporary accounts, gives a panoramic account of this epic. He describes the gold fever that gripped the country, and the glitter and squalor of boomtown San Francisco and the mining camps. He crafts finely etched portraits of some of the tens of thousands of "Forty-niners" who braved the malarial jungles of Panama, the treacherous sea passage around Cape Horn, or the grueling trek across the Plains and Rockies to seek their fortunes in the gold fields. In California, Walker notes, the gold economy almost overwhelmed the real economy; prices soared and crops went unharvested as farmers left the land, workers left their trades and soldiers deserted their posts to go panning in mountain streams. But by1853, the romance was fading; corporate mining interests were pushing out the prospectors and bringing in industrial hoses capable of blasting away whole hillsides. It's a quintessential American story, and Walker's meticulous research and stylish storytelling bring it vividly to life.