Although discrimination and violence were rampant, Gold Rush California was also a place of cross-cultural communication and cooperation. Canadian merchant William Perkins described the mining town of Sonora in 1849: "Here were to be seen people of every nation in all varieties of costume, and speaking 50 different languages, and yet all mixing together amicably and socially.
The ethnic group most persecuted in California during the gold rush years were Native Americans. They were murdered everywhere in the States, but only on the West Coast did this racial violence bear the traits of organized civilian campaigns. Altough soldiers were usually not involved in these murders and massacres, they sometimes led of groups of miners or companies against the Native Americans. Before the gold rush, Native Americans outnumbered whites by nearly ten to one. By the early 1850s, whites outnumbered Indians by perhaps two to one.
In meetings, many camps decided to expel the Chinese from the diggings. Where they were allowed to stay, they were forced to work on separate, exhausted soil that only allowed a return of one or two dollars per day per laborer. The main obstacle to the integration of the Chinese into the community of American miners was their wage labor which seemed to contradict the Californian ideology of free labor and was used to combine discrimination against the Chinese with agitation against the evils of capitalism.
In addition to massive emigration from the eastern US, the California gold rush triggered a global emigration of ambitious fortune-seekers from China, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, and France. The number of Chinese gold-seekers was particularly large, though many Chinese did not intend to settle in the United States, which they called "the Gold Mountain."
The large influx of "'49ers," as the gold prospectors were known, caused California's population to increase dramatically. In San Francisco, for example, the population grew from 1,000 in 1848 to over 20,000 by 1850. California's overall population growth was so swift that it was incorporated into the Union as the 31st state in 1850—just two years after the United States had acquired it from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War.
Between the 1860s and the turn of the century, prospectors found gold in a number of locations in California. One of the Wests largest authentic ghost towns is Bodie in the eastern Sierra Nevada, now a state historic park that preserves the abandoned buildings of the rough-and-tumble mining town that sprang up in response to a gold strike in 1877.
The profits from hydraulic mining were enormous and the state economy boomed. From 1860 to 1880, California's mining operations yielded $170 million. San Francisco had more millionaires than New York or Boston.
In March 1853 a miner from Connecticut, Edward Matteson, and his partners fashioned a three-foot tapered metal funnel to which they clamped a canvas hose. They pumped water through the hose and pointed it at the hillside from which they were trying to extract gold. The water shot through with surprising force, quickly rendering the hillside into a pile of gravel and providing plenty of pay dirt from which to separate gold.
By this sudden discovery of the gold, all my great plans were destroyed. Had I succeeded for a few years before the gold was discovered, I would have been the richest citizen on the Pacific shore; but it had to be different. Instead of being rich, I am ruined, and the cause of it is the long delay of the United States Land Commission of the United States Courts, through the great influence of the squatter lawyers.
In January of 1848, James Marshall had a work crew camped on the American River at Coloma near Sacramento. The crew was building a saw mill for John Sutter. On the cold, clear morning of January 24, Marshall found a few tiny gold nuggets. Thus began one of the largest human migrations in history as a half-million people from around the world descended upon California in search of instant wealth.