By 1858 most of the placer gold in California had been mined, leaving underemployed a large number of men who had lived by the placers. These men were now ready to believe any story that would continue the life they loved. So, when reports came in that the gold discovered a hundred miles from the mouth of the Fraser River in British Columbia would rival the discoveries of 1849, they rushed north in droves. The steamboats left San Francisco crowded with miners and a great number of sailboats joined them. Within four months 23,000 people, or 6% of California’s population, went north. Real estate values in San Francisco fell to half their former worth and plummeted to almost nothing in the gold towns. For a time it looked as if California was about to transport itself to Victoria and the straight of Juan de Fuca.
But when the high water of the Fraser River fell enough to allow prospecting it was discovered that, while there was some gold, the stories had been greatly exaggerated. By July those close to the scene knew how big a mistake the rush north had been and by September it had become a subject of ridicule. The disgusted adventurers returned to California. All of them had spent a great deal of money on their trip and many had sacrificed their property in order to make the journey. But all of the property and most of the money they had spent remained in California. After the initial reaction business was now better than ever and the price of real estate had climbed higher that it had been before. Even the men who had gone to the wild, rugged reaches of the Fraser recognized and appreciated the superiority of California and returned to the gulches and flats they had left resolved to settle down forever.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush.