Where the Gold was First Discovered

By Nicole Tarnowsky

Aug 5 2019

Herbarium specimens have been collected at poignant points in history. Major William Rich was a botanist who happened to be in California at the very beginning of the Gold Rush. He witnessed the major transformation of California in just one short year and noted this history by making herbarium specimens.

William Rich was a Major during the Mexican American war, and after the war ended he stayed in California working for the Army until the end of 1849. Gold was discovered on the property of John Sutter's Mill, by his foreman James W. Marshall in January 1848. Word soon got out spurring the California Gold Rush of 1849. California went from a non-native population of about 10,000 to 300,000 by 1850, with the influx of "49ers" rushing to California to find their fortune in gold. This spike in population allowed California to very quickly become a state in 1850, with John Charles Fremont as one of its first senators.

The gold rush was a major force in developing California, but it was also a time of lawlessness. When the gold rush started, California was not yet a state and there were no rules in place for prospecters to "stake claim" to gold fields. It was particulalry disastrous for the Native populations who were massacred in many attacks by miners and paramilitias. The Native population in California went from about 275,000 when the Spaniards arrived in the 1700's to about 30,000 after the gold rush. Most of the 49ers didn't fare well either. Though a very small number of prospecters found wealth, most never struck it rich and many could never even afford to return home.

A Closer Look


California Gold Rush 1848-1864. Retrieved July 25, 2019 from http://www.learncalifornia.org/doc.asp?id=118

Eyde, R. H. (1986) William Rich of the Great U. S. Exploring Expedition and how his shortcomings helped botany become a calling. Huntia 6(2): 165-196. Retrieved July 25, 2019 from http://www.huntbotanical.org/admin/uploads/06hibd-huntia-6-2-pp165-196.pdf

Landry, A. (2014) Native History: California Gold Rush Begins, Devastates Native Population. Retrieved July 25, 2019  from https://web.archive.org/web/20150418110452/http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/24/native-history-california-gold-rush-begins-devastates-native-population-153230