Sam Brannan rode up and down the streets of San Francisco with a bottle of gold dust. He was shouting “Gold, gold from the American River!” Soon the city was nearly abandoned, and the news went east. On December 5, 1848, James Polk, the president of the United States, announced to the nation that gold had been discovered in California. This announcement sent thousands of men to California in 1849. These men were called the “Forty-Niners.”
In 1854 the Calaveras nugget was unearthed. It weighed 162 pounds and was worth $43,545. At Rich Bar four men found $50,000 worth of gold in one day! It was not uncommon for men to find $1000 worth of gold in a single panning. In all the Mother Lode (a name for the California gold fields) yielded more than $250 million.
The sudden increase in population created many problems. California was sparsely populated before gold was discovered. Suddenly thousands of men appeared, and they were forced to create their own laws and government. There was a lack of food and supplies that sent prices skyrocketing. Eggs cost $3 each, and a barrel of flour was $800. All of this was at a time when the average working man earned $4-$8 a day.
Gold brought people west. In 1848 San Francisco had 1000 people. By 1860 there were more than 50,000. The population of California rose from 26,000 in 1848 to 380,000 in 1860. In 1850, California became the 31st state to join the United States. California became an example for other gold rushes. The Forty-Niner’s laws and mining techniques were so effective that they were used by other miners at later gold rushes.