Gold Rush Life

Once the immigrants arrived in San Francisco they quickly made their way the up to Sacramento and then out to the mines. However, they soon discovered that the life of a the miner during the Gold Rush was not as glamorous as they thought and hoped or as later images, such as the two eloquent paintings above, suggest. Miners had to deal with the harsh realities of what they now faced. The abundance of placer gold, or the easier mined gold, was quickly diminishing and the mountains were becoming more and more crowded. It was quickly becoming a struggle to find un-mined land or enough space to have adequate mine able land. Living in the isolated mining towns, where nature held the upper hand, miners were in constant fear of physical danger, illness from the bad food or harsh environment and miserable living conditions, and they ultimately feared death. Even more, the miners also had to deal with the loneliness and homesickness from being away from their family and the cities. Above all mining was hard and laborious. The conditions were rough and the weather could spell disaster for the mining camps. Camps were constantly being thrown up and then later taken down when deposits of gold dwindled. The miners had to some how cope with these problems. In the attempt to create a community, in order to make survival possible, a unique lifestyle evolved from these mining communities. There was a lot of dancing and singing and playing amongst the camps in order to deal with stress and loneliness. Many people kept correspondence with their family back home. Many people also turned to gambling and drinking. Saloons, and gambling houses flourished in the mining towns and camps. Competition and discrimination and tensions (often resulting in fighting) were also a part of the miners life as gold became harder to mine and crime became more prevalent. Thus, some of the earliest legal problems in California resulted. This too, was yet another problem that had be dealt with in the mining towns.




Although there were some women in the mining towns and camps, the majority of the miners were men. Most were living away
from the cosmopolitan cities and female influences for the first time. This combined with the harsh conditions of living in the California mountains, resulted in the men letting their appearances slip away. The common attire was flannel shirts, old trousers and boots and old, floppy hats. Most men stopped shaving and bathing was not a frequent act. They had the materials needed to mine and very few personal items. The miners life was rugged and difficult. The portrait above is a common example of the way the miners would have looked in appearance.

To better understand the way the miners lived it is helpful to understand the techniques that they used to mine the gold. All of the
methods used relied on the natural composition of gold. Meaning, gold in volume is heavier then dirt and most other rocks, thus it rest
or sinks to the bottom of the mining device.

The easiest and simplest way of mining was the "panning" method. However, it did prove to be physically exhausting as the
miner was required to squat by the river bed, scoop up dirt into a pan and then constantly shake and rotate the pan. Water also needed
to be added often. All the while the miner had to sift and pick out the gold particles.

The next step up in mining, or the more advanced method was mining with a "rocker" or "cradle". This device resembled, in looks the furniture that it was named after, the "cradled". Larger amounts of soil could be shoveled into the "cradle" and then rocked back and forth by one or two men. Much like the panning method, but on a larger scale, gold was sifted to the bottom of the "cradle".

Further up in mining production level, the "Long Tom" was used. This was a rocker that was lengthened into a trough. A steady stream of water was sent through the trough while two men shoveled soil into the trough. One end of the long trough was narrower. At this end one man would help stir the soil before it was sifted through racks. Since, groups of men were needed for both the "Long Tom" and the "cradle" formal and informal companies were established.

Regardless of the technique used mining was intense and hard work. Miners tended to be very impatient. Once they felt they mined all the gold from an area, or if gold was not found relatively quickly, they moved on to another site. Rarely was gold just stumbled upon. As time passed, gold became even harder to find. Deep mining was then required. Deep mining was even more difficult. To mine this gold miners had to dig huge tunnels and trenches, and they needed large amounts of water to assist in the mining. This is when aqueducts and hydraulicking and quartz mining were developed.



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