The discovery of a nugget in California in 1848 set off the first gold rush in history. In 1849 alone, the population increased 500 percent as 80,000 men rushed to claim its riches; three years later, nearly 250,000 people lived there. By 1865, miners had dug and panned $750 million in gold from the hills and streambeds of California.
In other countries, mines that produced precious metals were the property of kings and princes. But in California, the gold, like everything else on the frontier, belonged to those who took it. In The Gold Rush, historian Ralph K. Andrist details the culture and characters that created a pivotal moment in American history.