Drinking and gambling in the gold rush

The San Francisco Hounds

Perhaps nowhere else in the world was there as much drinking as in California. While not everyone drank or gambled so many did, and the public houses were so well patronized, that it seemed to many that almost everyone was addicted to these vices. Throughout the entire country, wherever miners were, there would always be some place to drink and gamble. Even in the most remote camps the mule trains that kept the men supplied with food and equipment also brought liquor and cards in large amounts. In the summer of 1848 John Sutter complained bitterly about how the ‘traveling grog shops’ had seduced away the miners working for him. Often these places could be very rough and crude but never too much so for the men who frequented them.

Drinking in the gold country

Early in the gold rush along the Yuba River, one man, tired of the hard work, brought a cask of whiskey to a rich spot on the river and sold drinks at a huge profit. But his sales quickly dropped off and he discovered that another man had hauled a similar cask just upstream and was undercutting his price. After a short while the two men agreed to join forces and so eliminate the competition and for a very short time they did well, but all too soon a tent was erected nearby with a sign over the flap saying ‘liquor store’ and their newly found monopoly was broken.




  1. What people do to relieve what they perceive as boredom. And of course what those who preferred an easier route would do to convince them that their ‘relief’ was the way to go. I loved the story of the monopoly that didn’t last.

    • John Sutter tried his hand at gold mining in the summer of 1848. He complained bitterly about the “traveling grog shops” that seemed to be all around and where his workers spent too much of their time and his money. Too much alcohol was a curse throughout the west. Selling booze to drunks is a great way to get rich.

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