1849: The Saturday Evening Post Reports on the Gold Rush

Americans were captivated by tales of life in California as soon as gold was found.

A pair of prospectors sorting through stones during the 1849 California Gold Rush

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The Saturday Evening Post turns 200 this year, so we are bringing you excerpts from our archive to celebrate our long history. In this article from June 25, 1849, The Post reports on the California Gold Rush.

Truth, it is sometimes said, is stranger than fiction. About a year ago, a young man failed in his business, and after he assigned his property, his assets fell short of his debts by about $90,000.

He sailed for California before any news had reached here of the wonderful gold discoveries of that region. He took out with him a small invoice of goods, and the machinery for one or two sawmills. This cargo was lost in a shipwreck, but he escaped with his life, arriving in San Francisco with $10 to his name.

He immediately opened a negotiation with an old settler for a fine tract of 24 square miles of the best timber land in that vicinity, with several sawmills upon it. He finally bought it for $60,000 on credit. Soon after the purchase, the gold fever began.

The consequence was that lumber rose to an enormous price, and the sawmills of our penniless but enterprising adventurer soon began to coin gold for him much faster than the most favored of the gold diggers could find it.

Nothing but some unforeseen contingency can prevent him from speedily becoming the richest man in California.

—“A Tale of the Gold Rush,” June 25, 1849

This article is featured in the January/February 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Glint condition: Panners examine their vessel for flakes of gold. An estimated 300,000 fortune-hunters raced to California in 1849 from around the world. (Shutterstock)

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