Joseph Warren Revere, "Gold Washing," watercolor drawing in manuscript autobiography, 1849, HM 56913

"Come out and gather a fortune. I have already thirty thousand dollars, and intend, God willing, to come home with what will do me for life, and enable me to live like a Nabob."   (Henry Simpson, The Emigrants' Guide to the Gold Mines, 1848)

Gold was found in 1848—so why then are the gold seekers known as "forty-niners"? No matter how fiercely the gold mania burned within them, few could set out at once for California. As 1848 rolled into 1849, they sailed around the tip of South America, set out on steam ships and then across the isthmus of Panama, or journeyed by wagon over the continental United States to reach California. Once they reached it, they realized that life in the gold country was like nothing they had ever known back home.

They may once have been farmers, laborers, or shopkeepers, but in California the newcomers became gold miners. The first miners shoveled river gravel in pans hoping to find chunks or specks of gold among the pebbles. Before long, miners began to improvise new devices to replace the shovel and the pan. Artist Joseph Warren Revere, a grandson of Paul Revere, painted miners with a "rocker" (also known as a "cradle") that allowed miners to wash far greater amounts of gold-bearing earth in one day than a single miner could manage in several.

Planning the trek

California 150

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