The negative impact of sudden riches

The rapid discovery of a large amount of wealth, as occurred often in California during the gold rush, did not always contribute to the betterment of the discoverers. When a well-respected member of a party mining along Carson Creek in 1848 died his friends set out to give him a proper and respectful funeral. A miner from nearby who had been a prominent preacher before coming to California was brought in to preside. And after the mourners assembled and had ‘drinks all around’ they proceeded solemnly to the grave site that had been dug some one hundred feet from the camp. Here the body was lowered away and the preacher began an impromptu and rather long-winded prayer that went on and on to the point that some of the mourners began to sift through the loose earth thrown up from the grave. The sudden excitement among those here to grieve their friend caused the preacher to stop his elegy and when he saw for himself what caused the stir he exclaimed, “Gold! Gold! And the richest kind of diggings. This congregation is dismissed.” The body of the poor dead miner was pulled from his grave and buried elsewhere and the preacher and the mourners wasted no time in prospecting the area and staking out a claim to their new diggings.

San Francisco Speculators

Soon after the Americans took over San Francisco a young couple arrived from St. Louis. They bought several lots at a cheap price, started a business and had several children, but a short time later the husband died. The widow then took her children and moved to a mining camp along the North Fork of the American River where she thought her prospects would be better. Since she couldn’t sell her real estate when she left she considered it worthless and forgot about it. In the mines she met and married another man and together they had a good gold claim, a productive store and a prosperous boarding house. Then a visitor came from San Francisco and told her about fortunes now being made in real estate there. And when the woman discovered the new value of her property she realized she and her husband were extremely rich. They promptly sold their claim and businesses in the mining country and left for San Francisco where they also sold some of her property for a huge profit. With this new found wealth the couple booked passage to New York. There they stayed in the finest hotels and lived the life of the rich and famous. By the time they got back to San Francisco they discovered that there was as high-toned a lifestyle here as in New York and they continued to spend money like they had an unending supply. But when a sudden, and not too uncommon, downturn in the price of San Francisco real estate reduced them to poverty, the husband killed himself. The wife died soon after, making orphans of their children.


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