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This lithograph of miners on the shore of the Sacramento River captures the crowded, thrilling early days of the California Gold Rush. People from diverse racial, national, and class backgrounds all participate in one way or another. In the background, a fight breaks out while a soldier tries to intervene. In the foreground several Native Americans…

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Item Type: Poster/Print
Date: Circa 1849

California passed two laws that established a system of Indian apprenticeship. The laws made it easy for any white person to claim young Indian laborers by taking a list of names to a judge and getting the judge’s signature. Sympathetic onlookers called apprenticeship “Indian slavery.” Historians estimate as many as 10,000 Native…

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Item Type: Quantitative Data
Date: 1861

Newspaper reports, letters, and guidebooks from the early days of the Gold Rush clearly indicate the presence of Native Americans working as miners. Reports from 1848 and early 1849 estimate there were about twice as many Indian miners as white miners. From the reports it is not always clear whether Indians were free or unfree, though most were…

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Item Type: Newspaper/Magazine
Date: 1848

With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, men seeking to make their fortunes streamed into the area from all over the world. In 1850, the California legislature passed a Foreign Miners' Tax that required miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay $20 every month for the right to mine in the state. In reality, the tax was only collected from…

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Item Type: Artifact
Date: 1853

In the early days of the Gold Rush, a miner could earn a typical year’s wages in a few days. With so much cash on hand, stores and boarding houses charged unheard-of prices for food, shelter and supplies. Increased competition, due to a continuous stream of immigrants and migrants from other parts of the U.S., also drove down wages. By 1856,…

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Item Type: Quantitative Data
Date: 1848

French- and Spanish-speaking miners posted this notice around Sonora County, California in May, 1850. The month before, the California legislature had passed a Foreign Miners’ Tax that required immigrant miners to pay $20 every month for the privilege of mining in the state. In reality, the tax was only collected from non-white miners, while…

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Item Type: Pamphlet/Petition
Date: Circa 1850

French- and Spanish-speaking miners posted this notice around Sonora County, California in May, 1850. The month before, the California legislature had passed a Foreign Miners’ Tax that required immigrant miners to pay $20 every month for the privilege of mining in the state. In reality, the tax was only collected from non-white miners, while…

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Item Type: Pamphlet/Petition
Date: Circa 1850

Unlike earlier generations of Americans, many of the ‘49ers could read and write. Not surprisingly, thousands recorded their observations and experiences in letters and journals. Miners often reflected on changes in mining that made it difficult for ordinary people to make a fortune in the California gold fields.

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Item Type: Diary/Letter
Date: 1850

In the early days of the Gold Rush, miners practiced “placer mining” along rivers and streams. Miners washed gravel and other sediments in pans and sluice boxes; though tedious, this type of mining did not require expensive equipment and could be practiced by one or two miners working together. In later years of the Gold Rush, after the…

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Item Type: Photograph
Date: Circa 1851