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  Coming by sea

Men and women who traveled to California by boat were called "Argonauts." This name came from the Greek mythology in which Jason and his ship "Argo" searched for the Golden Fleece.

There were two water main routes to California. A 17,000 mile route around the South America and Cape Horn took 5 to 7 months. Travelers had to deal with fierce storms, and lots of sickness due poor living conditions and limited fruit and vegetables causing scurvy.

The second route was by steamship via Panama. This route was much quicker, but very expensive. These ships also had very crowded living quarters and lots of sickness.

At one time there were more than 500 ships in the San Francisco harbor. Most were abandoned, and left to decay, by crews headed in search of gold.

Many people arriving by sea expected to find gold right off the boat. They didn't know that the gold was 150 miles inland. They had spent all their money and were very tired and hungry upon reaching San Francisco. Many were not prepared for this extra part of the journey.


  Mining for Gold

Many people arriving in California thought the gold was just lying around on the ground waiting to be picked up. They were not ready for the hard work required in mining for gold. Particularly in later days of the Gold Rush.

Panning for Gold:

In the early days gold was easy to find. All you needed was a knife, pick, shovel and a pan. Gold nuggets could be pried from rocks. Dirt shoveled from creeks and rivers could be swirled in a pan to find gold. This picture shows prospectors panning for gold (Source: Library of Congress).



Gold is heavier than sand or gravel. Miners would swirl sediment from a river in a pan of water. The sand and dirt would float in the water and could be poured off leaving heavy rocks, and hopefully gold (Source: Library of Congress).

The Long Tom:

Once the easy gold was found, more inventive ways were needed to get gold. The Long Tom was an 8 to 20 foot rocker. Miners would shovel dirt into it, pour water over it, and rock it like a cradle. Lighter dirt and gravel was washed away, leaving heavier gold. This picture shows miners using the Long Tom (Source: Library of Congress).

River Mining:

Gold veins are often deep in high cliffs and remote areas of mountains. The gold can be found in river beds or creeks in sediment worn away by water.

Rivers would wash the gold from rocks and other deposits and carry it downstream. The heavy gold would sink to the bottom and could be found using pans (Source: Library of Congress).


Some miners decided that the riverbeds under flowing rivers has gold like the dried up creeks. They built dams to redirect the water so they could mine the river bottom (Source: Library of Congress).


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