Part II, Introduction (continued)
|A letter by Adam Johnston,
a government Indian agent for the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in
1849-1851, tells of the harm done to the indigenous people of the area
due to the raising of livestock:
[Their]...means of subsistence was greatly diminished by aliens who have overrun their country. The miners have destroyed their fish dams and most tribes live in constant fear of indiscriminate and inhuman massacre. The deluge of immigrants was incomprehensible to them and I have been told of Indian depredations caused by the knowledge that they would die because whites were feeding their grass to livestock, burning their timber, and destroying their dams. For these violations they claim no money. They simply want small annuities of blankets, clothing, and food. (Senate Executive Documents, United States Congress, 33rd Congress, special session, Document 4, p. 38-39, 1850)
The Gold Rush also had its effects on the wildlife of California. Animals brought on the overland trails caused great damage as they gained a foothold in California. The natural landscape was devastated by the effects of heavy overgrazing. The Gold Rush also brought with it the demand for more meat than the Mexican herds could provide, and hunting of wildlife became a profitable activity as elk, bighorn, pronghorn, deer, bears, ducks, geese, quail and other species were slaughtered in great numbers.
There is not just the immediate impact of the Gold Rush to consider. As Bibby states:
It's the subsequent influx of massive numbers of people and the appropriation of what were native lands for agriculture (farming and ranching activities). In the end, native people were left with few means to support themselves according to the methods they perfected over the past several centuries. And this happened so quickly. A result of the Gold Rush was then the displacement and outright removal of native peoples from the land, significant death and trauma as a result of violence from the emigrant population, irreparable damage to the environment, limited access to resources, and changes in the cultures of native people that would continue on a road of attrition to this very day.
There was damage also to rivers, made unnavigable due to hydraulic mining (mud and gravel), floods, and lumber for mines and towns. In 1884 hydraulic mining was outlawed. Dredging began in the early 1900s, and during World War II gold mining was halted by executive order. Acres of dredger tailings, old mine shafts and rusty mining machinery still remain in remote canyons, part of the legacy of the Gold Rush.
But the legacy of the Gold Rush goes beyond the negative aspects. Many necessities of today were developed because of mining. Most of the things we use daily require the use of minerals that have to be mined. Gold in particular is important in dentistry, space exploration (heat reflection) and jewelry. Gold also is used in medicine, especially in cancer treatment.
The following activities focus on using primary and secondary sources (art prints, daguerreotypes, journals, letters and historical fiction) to look at the effects of mining on the environment. This unit focuses on the technology that resulted from the California Gold Rush and looks at both its costs and benefits. One cannot look at the Gold Rush without looking at the interaction that took place between humans and the environment. The Gold Rush was definitely about human beings changing the environment. What were the benefits, and at what cost? Was it worth it? This unit looks at how humans deal with the environment, from the use of tools to evaluating what we are doing to our own environment today.
Part II, Introduction