Justice was often at the hands of angry
(Source: Library of Congress)
By the early 1850s, the gold
rush had attracted a less desirable crowd. Crooks,
bandits, claim jumpers, professional gamblers and others
came to take advantage of the wealth.
not even a state, yet. There were no laws. Anyone who found
gold was quickly surrounded by other prospectors. Claim
laws had to be set. In some camps, a claim was on 10
square feet, and each person was allowed one claim. Camps
set up claims officers to patrol mines and settle
Taking someone else's claim, or "claim jumping,"
was common. Swindlers would also "salt" the
ground, scattering a little gold around and then sell the
land for lots of money. Violence and crime were on the
rise. Law and order was in the hands of the people.
Punishment for crimes was often fast and simple. Small
crimes were punished by flogging with a whip. For more
serious crimes, such as robbery and murder, the
punishment was hanging.
Lynchings were common, when mobs would get out of
control and hang someone without a trial.