Gold: The California Story / Edition 1

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Mary Hill's book chronicles this important chapter in California's history. Combining the narrative skill of the storyteller with the expertise of the geologist, Hill gives us a complete and fascinating picture of California gold - its origins in the Earth, the history of its discovery, techniques of mining it, and its uses in modern times. The excitement of the gold rush is brought alive in these pages. But Hill also discusses the devastating costs - the extinction of the Native American tribes who had lived on the land for many centuries; the displacement of the Spanish-speaking residents (the Californios); and the silting of rivers from mining operations that led to severe flooding and ruined farmland.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In 1848, an unknown man unearthed a tiny gold nugget near Sutter's sawmill and changed the course of American history. Most of us know the history of the California Gold Rush as a one-paragraph set piece. Geologist Mary Hill knows it as a vibrant example of the power of minerals over humans. Her lively chronicle reinvests this epoch with the fervor of the time, adding a solid scientific grounding.
Paul C. Bateman
This is a very readable account of gold mining in California from the earliest days to the present and of its economic, social, cultural, and literary consequences. It should provide many evenings of enjoyable and informative reading
Nicole LaPorte
In Gold: The California Story, Mary Hill writes that well before 1848-when James Marshall unearthed a pea-size golden nugget near Sutter's sawmill and began the California gold rush-sixteenth century rumors of golden cities spurred Spanish expeditions to land north of Mexico.
The New Yorker
Rachel D. Shaw
A lively and engaging book on the ecology and human history of California gold . . . . Addresses a complex topic clearly and comprehensively.
Journal of the West
Sally Zanjani
A book that should remain definitive for a very long time.
Western Historical Quarterly
Martin Ridge
Mary Hill's first-rate narrative is a remarkable synthesis. She skillfully weaves together the geology, history, and romance of the gold story in a lively and informative style. Anyone interested in California history, especially the Gold Rush, will relish this book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520236806
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 317
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Hill is the author of Geology of the Sierra Nevada (1975) and California Landscape: Origin and Evolution (1984), both available in paperback from the University of California Press. She is coauthor of Volcanic Eruptions of 1980 at Mount St. Helens: The First 100 Days (1982). Longtime editor of the magazine California Geology, she was later Western Region
Information Officer for the U.S. Geological Survey and Adjunct Professor of Geosciences at San Francisco State University.

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Read an Excerpt


The California Story
By Mary Hill

University of California Press

Copyright © 2002 Mary Hill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520236806

Chapter One—
The Gold That Changed a Nation

This is the saga of California gold—where it comes from, where it goes. Here is the story of those who sought it, how they lived and mined it. The tale is not finished, because California's gold rush is still going on, along the streams where thousands of present-day gold hunters dig and dive for gold, in the huge mines where trucks as large as houses carry rock containing invisible gold to a place where a lump of gold the size of a fingernail will be recovered from one truckload. And the tale continues in the legacy of legend: of bandits, real or merely fabled, of gold mines lost and found, of buried treasure, of gold-laden ships lying at the bottom of the sea.

In 1848–1849 California hosted the first world-class gold rush, luring would-be miners from all over the globe. Americans came by sea or land. For those who came by land it was a revelation. For the first time ordinary Americans, not just wild trappers and intrepid explorers, began to realize how wide the continent was, and that from sea to shining sea it was all theirs. And California gold was theirs, too. Those in the nation's capital greeted the gold with joy. Quickly, California, unlike other regions ofthe West, became a state without ever being a territory.

Some Americans, seeing the mines teeming with men who spoke languages they could not understand, tried to keep the foreigners out. This led to violence, which was directed not only against those who had just arrived from foreign lands but also and more profoundly against the Native Americans who had lived there for thousands of years and the Spanish-speaking residents (Californios) who had received grants of land from Spain and Mexico. Bigotry set its mark on California and has yet to be totally erased.

In the great California gold rush the American dream was iterated: anyone, no matter his family, his education, or his station, could attain the good life. Although many gold rushers banded together to get to California, once they arrived it was—

Map 1
California's gold country. It has been said that nowhere in California can one lift a
spadeful of earth that will not contain gold. Perhaps so, but in many places the
amount of gold would be infinitesimal. Shown here are areas where gold has been
found in large enough quantities to make it worth mining.

especially in the early days—by individual efforts that they succeeded or failed. In the process of their search for gold, the miners learned a bit about geology and about gold's habits, where it came from on the mountainside, how it got into the rivers, and how and where it lodged until they, with their pans and rockers and sluices, tore it loose from its hiding place and sent it to the markets of the world. A few miners in the early days got rich, but many who made rich strikes gambled or drank them away. Many of those who started their fortunes in the gold rush did so in commerce, mining the miners rather than the gold.

As the easy pickings began to run out—California gold, the miners found, was not inexhaustible as advertised—miners banded together for efficiency and turned from pocket knife and pan to machines. Soon mining was chiefly in the hands of companies that could afford expensive machinery to go deep in the Earth, or that built huge dredges to sift through the riverbeds or tear up dry land gravel beds to take gold from fossil rivers.

One mechanical method used streams of water forced out of a nozzle, much like a garden hose but with enormously greater force. This method, called hydraulicking, tore apart mountains of gravel, taking out millions of dollars worth of gold but washing the remains toward the lowlands, thereby silting up rivers and harbors, farms and orchards below. Farmers fought the mines to save their lands. For decades the battle went on, in the courts and the legislature as well as in the mines and fields, pitting miner against farmer in the world's first great environmental conflict settled by law.

California experienced another gold rush in the Great Depression, when thousands of desperate people turned to mining in hopes of finding gold earlier miners had overlooked. After World War II, when scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) gear was invented, underwater mining—again by individuals—became a popular hobby. But gold was only $35 a troy ounce—a good price in the depression but a pittance after postwar inflation.

When the U.S. government finally gave up deciding the price of gold for its citizens and let the marketplace take over, an altogether new gold rush, a corporate gold rush, began. New mines producing invisible gold from ore of very low grade opened up; old mines long known to California miners to still have gold again became profitable. Thanks to these new mines and revitalized old ones, California once more became a leader in the nation's gold production. Big business had taken over the gold rush, but not without environmental conflicts.

Most of California's gold went to make coins or to be held as bullion reserves—in other words, to make money. In the mid-nineteenth century, much of the money went, as gold often does, to fuel a war—this time, the Civil War. Now that gold coins have been replaced by paper and plastic in commerce, much of California's gold has gone to other uses. But gold's usefulness does not account for its mystique. For millennia gold has been held in high regard by so-called civilized people in every inhabited continent. In much of the world gold was the key to a better life. It was the mirror of human dreams, its luster casting a golden glow over a hoped-for splendid future.

Why should California be so favored with gold? Where did the gold come from? It came ultimately from deep within the Earth. How this happens is nature's story, as fascinating as the human story of gold.


Excerpted from Gold by Mary Hill Copyright © 2002 by Mary Hill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 The Gold That Changed a Nation 1
2 Whodunit? 4
3 Cry Gold! 21
After the Rush 31
4 Rushing to Cash In 35
Life in San Francisco 54
5 Outdoor Scholars 62
Life in the Mines 79
How They Mined the Gold 86
6 The Natural History of Placer Gold 94
Mining the Dead Rivers 105
7 The Mud Flood 114
8 Mining in the Deep Dark 133
All Dressed Up 145
9 The Big Picture 149
The Moving Earth 159
10 Gold Comes to California 167
California through the Ages 174
11 Out of the Mines, into the World 179
Good-bye to the Central America 200
12 Lost and Gone Forever 205
13 Mining Gold for Fun and Maybe Profit 217
14 The Corporate Gold Rush and Its Disreputable Offspring 227
15 What Good Is Gold? 243
Appendix 257
Sources of Quotations 277
Sources of Illustrations 281
Suggestions for Further Reading 287
Index 293
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