Law and Order During the Gold Rush

In the early days during the gold rush there was very little crime. Everyone believed they would become rich. There was no need to steal from anyone else. But, all that changed...

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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.

California was 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 disputes.

Taking some elses 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.

Justice was often at the hands of angry mobs

(Source: Library of Congress).



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The government could not control the crime. People set up vigilante groups to track down criminals and ensure justice.  


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