Term Paper: Colorful Period in America's Remarkable

Pages: 10 (3226 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Zindelof notes, "It was said that while traveling by wagons to Sacramento, the immigrants abandoned religion, leaving their souls on the plains like steamer trunks deemed too cumbersome for the journey." Even clergy got into the act, with all 46 Baptist preachers in Sacramento catching the gold rush fever, and none "available to do God's work" (Lindelof).

While lawlessness was the rule of the day, religion still came to play a role in the mining towns. As the population of the camps grew, and social order was regained, religion again took a foothold in the lives of the miners. African-Americans were among the earliest miners to embrace the church. The church offered them sanctuary from the prosecution in those days, as they were not allowed to vote, appear in court, and limited to segregated schools African-Americans were among the earliest miners to embrace the church. The church offered them sanctuary from the prosecution in those days, as they were not allowed to vote, appear in court, and limited to segregated schools.

Miners of all nationalities worshiped in the mining camps. Chinese miners had places of worship in all the major mining towns, and missionaries held services in any available space, including seemingly unlikely places like rooms above gambling houses or in the street. Native Americans continued to practice their native religion. The Sacramento Valley hosted Baptists, Catholics, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Jews, Mormons, Methodists and Presbyterians by the 1850's and Christians, Jews, Confucians, Taoists and Buddhists also lived in the Valley (Lindelof).

African-Americans and the Chinese immigrants played an important role in the gold rush. Among immigrants of almost every other type of ethnicity or race, Russian immigrants made their way into mining camps. By the end of the gold rush they had almost all left, leaving only the reminders of their Orthodox heritage and Russian-style buildings (Library of Congress, Gold Rush).

Ultimately, the gold rush came to an end. The easy gold available on the surface of the ground was all taken, and gold in the riverbeds was harder to find by about 1850. Yet the miners still came, lured by the hope of easy money. By about 1850, miners had become frustrated and depressed.

Interestingly, the frustration over declining gold as the gold rush waned contributed to the lawlessness in the mining camps. J.S. Holliday notes, "they turned to sin, gambling, drinking, those sins. Plus, swearing, violating the Sabbath, adultery -- out of desperation, out of disappointment, out of homesickness, out of despair... they turn to gambling and drinking and whatever kind of surcease they may find at hand to break the pain and anguish of failure" (PBS). Crime ran rampant, and jails were soon filled (PBS).

Many miners craved greater stability. They were tired of the lawlessness and exorbitant prices that characterized the mining towns. Thy wanted mail delivery, reliable transportation, and secure and honest bankers. Henry Wells and William Fargo established a bank in this time that later became known as Wells Fargo (PBS).

The Demise of the Mining Camps

The railroad effectively ended the lonely isolation of the mining camps. The railroad began to make inroads into Alaska in the early 1900s, initially linking mines to ports. The Alaska Railroad was built in the years between 1915 and 1923, with Anchorage acting as its base for construction (Library of Congress, Gold Rush). With the advent of the railroad, mining camps became connected with the outside world. Suddenly, supplies were more readily available, and more immigrants, many not searching for gold, began to stream into the mining camps.

As the gold rush began to wane, and miners began to leave the gold fields, mining camps that were not connected to the outside world slowly began their progression into ghost towns. Eventually, the gold dried up, and these camps became boarded up and dusty reminders of the gold rush.

As the gold rush ended, many of Alaska's miners decided to stay in America. As a result, the state's permanent population grew, and many former gold-mining camps like Nome and Fairbanks turned into major towns, as others faded into history (Library of Congress, Gold Rush).

The Settlement Act played an important role in the demise of the rough-and-ready life of the gold rush town. As settlers were lured to America by promises of free land, they increased the population, and with this increase brought more social order. The influx of people brought the reemergence of religion, and with it many of the trappings of modern civilization, including law.

Ghost Towns Today

The number of gold-rush era ghost towns in America is staggering. Common legend in Nevada is that there are ten ghost towns for every town that is now inhabited. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, other estimates put the number of ghost towns at around the range of a staggering 1,677 towns (CmdrMark). Arizona boasts close to 30 ghost towns. These include Oro Blanco, where more than a million dollars in gold was discovered between 1873-1932. Pearce, Arizona is the site of a ghost mining camp that once had a population of 2,000 centered around the Commonwealth Mine, the richest gold dig in Arizona's southeast (Arizona's Ghost Towns).

Many mining camps have left little trace in history. In towns where the gold did not pan out, quickly erected canvas tents were pulled down, and shaky wooden false fronts were left to rot. Today, the only reminders of their existence are often a pile of rusting tin cans, or the occasional foundation (CmdrMark).

Today, time has begun to erase the physical traces of many of America's more permanent historic mining camps. As a result, there has been a recent movement aimed at the preservation of these pieces of American history. In Montana, Virginia City and Nevada City were considered among the National Trust's top 10 "Most Endangered Historic Properties." The two towns were famous for their fine collection of buildings and artifacts from the 1860s and 1870s gold rush era, and were being slowly auctioned off by a private owner. Ultimately, the State of Montana, in association with a group of private and public sources known collectively as the Montana Heritage Preservation and Development Commission bought the property, and began preservation in earnest (Visit Montana).

Many historic gold rush towns have escaped the fate of ghost towns and have instead been turned into tourist attractions. In the town of Virginia City, visitors can walk "the boardwalks of main street to view exhibits in historic buildings such as the H.S. Gilbert Brewery (also the home of a live cabaret theater), the Fairweather Inn and the Opera House (venue for Montana's longest-running summer theater group, the Virginia City Players)." Further, Nevada City is a restored gold rush town of close to 100 frontier buildings. Nevada City is a popular location for movie and commercial film crews looking for an old west location. The ghost town of nearby Bannack State Park, the territories first capital, has also been preserved (Visit Montana).

Many ghost towns face destruction at the hands of looters looking for gold and antique artifacts. Kathleen Prouty notes that in Warren, Idaho people looking for artifacts and antique bottles have greatly damaged historic mining camps on public land in the area. The looters have brought town the walls of Chinese mining camps, and pulled up floorboards in cabins that are over 100 years old. With the aid of metal detectors, the looters have dug potholes in the search for treasure (Prouty).

Despite this disturbing looting of America's past, Prouty argues that archeologists can still recreate a great deal of information about the gold rush from the remnants that the looters left behind. She notes that small objects overlooked by the looters can tell a great deal about the building's architectural styles, the inhabitants' social lives, nationalities, domestic habits, and patterns of consumption.

To prevent looting, signs are placed at remote sites noting that disturbing historic sights is an illegal act. Further, organizations like The Salmon River chapter of the Idaho Archaeological Society have offered rewards for information that helps lead to legal prosecution of looters in the Warren Historic District (Prouty).


In conclusion, America's gold rush mining towns are one of the most colorful examples of American history. The rise and fall of the mining towns tells the remarkable story of the boom and bust of the gold rush era. Men from all walks of life and all nationalities rushed to make their fortunes in the gold fields, and established communities in the ruggedness of the American frontier. These early mining towns were often largely lawless places, governed strictly by supply and demand, and the desire for gold. Life in the towns was often difficult, and only became increasingly difficult as the gold dried up. Lawlessness increased as the gold diminished, and miners began to crave more stability. Many mining towns disappeared as the gold dried up. Only towns… [END OF PREVIEW]

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