I have been lucky during my life in that I have been able to travel extensively. Then too, I took advantage of every opportunity. Even getting fired. One thing that travel has given me is to expand my world view. You can get a different perspective on things.
I used to think that the California Gold Rush was an anomaly. It drew people from all over the world, and in some cases the “Gold Fever” even caused sailors in San Francisco to abandon their ships.
As a sidebar, and due to the wonders of the Internet age, my family on my mother’s side had in its lore 2 Scottish brothers who came to California during that time – and were never heard from again. The family dealt with that mystery for 160 years. In my fevered imagination, I pictured them with a huge find, and killed for it.
Then about 8 years ago, she got a call from one of their descendants, who lived just 20 miles south. They did just fine, although they decided gold mining was too back-breaking for too little payoff.
As a general rule, the people who made the big money during the California Gold Rush weren’t the miners, but the people selling them their supplies and services. That’s how Leland Stanford got started, running a general store at Michigan City, just outside Forest Hill (by Sacramento). As a general rule, there was more money in selling shovels than panning for gold. He eventually became one of the “Big Four” railroad tycoons, responsible for taking his Central Pacific railroad east to form the first transcontinental railroad. And, in memory of his son who died the previous year, founded Stanford University.
He did well selling shovels.
Anyway, back to the opening point. This evening, I am allowing a passable red wine to guide me at the keyboard. (Wine as a Muse?)
I learned through history books that The California Gold Rush was not unique. There was Alaska almost 50 years later, but in the meantime due to my travels I learned that there was the Otago Gold Rush in New Zealand just a decade later after California. Some people had the fever so bad, they left California for New Zealand. When I was there, I visited Arrowtown , and other than their driving on the other side of the street, it could be transplanted onto California’s historic Highway 49 amid the dozens of other gold rush towns. Just 3 years after the California gold rush, gold was discovered in Australia, causing a similar influx of people with gold fever.
Heck, a few years ago I even discovered another site of a Gold Rush about the time of the Alaska Rush in Republic, Washington, when I had a wonderful drive into Alberta and British Columbia.
So anyway what does all this happen to do with what became Virginia City?
Some of these prospectors looking for gold on their way out to California, stopped at Mt Davidson . And in their fevered searches, they kept throwing away these bluish colored rocks they simply called “blue stuff”.
Curiosity finally got the best of one of them who with his pack mules, went over the Sierras to Nevada City, to have it assayed. If you go today and see the National Hotel you will think you have stepped back in time to the 1860s, and across that hotel on Broad Street was that assay office.
And what did he find out about that “blue stuff”? That it was the richest concentration of silver anyone had seen.
The boom was starting, and a city that was the richest city in America for a few years was on the way to being built.
Part 3 is here