The promise of gold brought thousands of people to California, but with that came the economic growth and agricultural expansion. However, the enormous migration of people to the area and the destructive forces caused by over mining, resulted in dreadful cost for the environment.
John Marshall who was building a sawmill for a man named John Sutter. He abstracted water through the mill’s tailrace to wash away loose dirt and gravel. On one momentous morning of January of 1848, he noticed some shining flecks of metal left behind by the running water. He picked it up and showed it to his crew, he knew it had to be gold, but he it was impossible to believe this may perhaps be true. Word of his discovery leaked out and that instantly set off “rush to the mines”. (Hittell, 78)
The Gold Rush attracted over 100,000 people to California. I believe that the majority of the people that came during that time thought they were just going come to California and find their gold very easily and quickly and return home to live on their wealth; that was not the case. Only a handful of people became wealthy this time. In fact very few individuals really prospered from placer mining. Placer mining, which yielded most of the gold in the early years, used large amounts of mercury to aid in separating the gold from other materials. Some say that the mercury is still present in many areas of the "gold country,” Most of the large profit fell into the hands of corporations who could afford hydraulics and quartz mining.
By 1860, hydraulic mining “was strictly big business, with a handful of owners and hundreds of wage laborers.” (Richards, 87) Hydraulic and quartz mining was the most efficient and principal method used to find gold. These large corporations used sophisticated equipment to mine veins of gold embedded in hard rock and gravel ridges. Even after these methods were used there was still plenty of gold in California. Most of it encased in quartz veins deep within the mountains. As the large creek beds became exhausted and richer deposits were found on the hillsides, the dredging operations themselves have, in turn gradually given away to hydraulics mining, in which large bulldozers and large quantities of water are used to clear away overburden and separate the gold from its “paydirt”. (Ripley, 86) The debris caused damage to the streams. The removal of water damaged the land. The early miners were careless, and their refining techniques were crude. Tons of toxic mercury was