Gold rush life changed miners

Every period in world history has its own unique characteristics which are examined in minute detail by historians and scholars throughout the ensuing years, but nowhere else in the world has there been a time such as the early days of the California gold rush, especially the fall of 1849 through the spring of 1850. Even today every town in the gold country still carries on the traditions of those pioneer times, and the present inhabitants treasure the memories and relics of the days of freedom, camaraderie, and discovery. Yet everyone with an interest in the history of mankind can look on these special times and find significance far beyond historical novelty or curiosity. The new, rugged, and markedly different kind of life lived by these early miners left a noticeable effect on that generation of men and can still be found in Californians of the gold country today.

Shaws Flats by JD Borthwick

John David Borthwick, a young Scottish journalist and artist, who came to California by way of Panama and arrived in Sacramento on a river steamer during the summer of 1851, spent two years traveling, observing and sketching the gold towns from Downieville, Nevada City and Placerville, south to Jacksonville, San Andreas and Sonora then published his writing in Harper’s Weekly, California Magazine and in a book called ‘Three Years in California.’ The book relates his experiences in the gold towns and leaves us with detailed descriptions of mining techniques, hotels and restaurants, transportation, crime, entertainment, social life and personal interaction between the miners. It is considered one of the most accurate and entertaining accounts of this era.

J. D. Borthwick

When Borthwick finally left California in 1853 he sailed to Nicaragua, at that time a popular alternative to Panama for travelers to cross the isthmus of Central America. There he resided for a period of time along the route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where he had ample opportunity to observe, contrast, and then comment on, the behavior of groups bound from New York to the gold fields against those returning from San Francisco to New York as roughly every two weeks one group rushed across the country from east to west while another went by in the opposite direction. Most of these men were Americans and Irish and from the lower ranks of society. Those coming west from New York seemed to believe that they could do just as they pleased without regard for the comfort or feelings of their companions. These men complained constantly and were rude and surly. They appeared raw, stupid and unwilling to do anything for anyone else, but seemed to enjoy acting in opposition to each regulation and arrangement made by the transit company for their comfort and convenience. But the same kind of men who now traveled east from the gold fields of California acted as gentlemen in comparison. Though still rough in language and dress, these former miners submitted to any personal inconvenience necessary for the common good. They demonstrated clearly by their conduct and character that they had acquired a deep understanding of their duties and obligations to others and that these ideas were a great improvement on any they may have formerly entertained.

 

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