Living My Life Like It’s Golden

People habitually warn about buying silver in Mexico because it’s often fake. It’s been rumored to turn your skin green in minutes. That’s actually not true, I once bought a silver ring in Mexico and my finger didn’t turn green until I returned home two days later.

This time I stayed away from silver, and in the process, discovered gold!

While the rest of my family was in our cabin, I decided to take a late-night walk to check things out. If you’ve never been on cruise ship, the days are filled with eating, drinking, dancing, gambling, and more eating. But as liquor and fatigue slowly win the day, the nights become peacefully quiet. It’s a really good time to take a walk (or do laundry, which we did, too).

Incidentally, during our last cruise vacation, a couple of dead-drunk parents didn’t even know that their two-year-old, who was locked out of the room, was wandering the halls in nothing but a diaper! Thinking about that still angers me to this day.

During my walk, I happened upon the ship’s “Raven’s library.” With its modest selection, my decision came down to two books: one on the Kennedys, and the one you see pictured here. I obviously chose the latter. I was able to finish it by the time we disembarked, and I have to say, the book is excellent. Pure gold! Just a delightful read about California’s Gold Rush.

On January 24, 1848 — exactly one hundred nineteen years to the day before I was born, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma — about 36 miles northeast Sacramento. While people and the press were skeptical, President Polk’s inaugural address, established credibility, authenticity, and a message of truth to the discovery. Subsequently, the masses immediately bought in.

Many historians believe that in time, California climes would have brought loads of people to the west coast, anyway. Of course, the gold discovery accelerated that beyond anyone’s expectation. Between 1849 and 1852, one percent of the population moved to California. That’s about three million people in today’s numbers. Gold seekers gave up jobs, left families, and rushed to an unknown destination thousands of miles away. Some even left their own kids.

San Francisco grew from 812 people in 1848 to approximately 36,000 by 1852.

The land and sea routes to California were arduous. Land travelers were endangered by hostile natives AND themselves. Many gold seekers killed their own companions, or left them for dead if they became too sick, or too weak to continue. While some got away with murder, others were hanged once it was discovered that they killed innocents.

Those who came by sea often abandoned their vessels once they reached the San Francisco Bay. And some, after paying for, and being promised a trip to California, were stranded in places like Panama.

One inventor, Rufus Porter, offered to get people to California in three days by what amounted to a large hydrogen-filled balloon. (Two hundred knuckleheads bought tickets at $50 each!)

In San Jose, a constable was left to guard ten prisoners in his jail. Eventually, he decided to take them to work for him in the goldfields — even though two were charged with murder.

The world “millionaire” had only recently entered the language, and thousands believed they would be next. To that end, restless and dissatisfied people earning one- and two-dollars a day, took their chances.

In 1849 alone, miners dug up seventeen tons of gold. Over the course of the Rush, $12 billion was unearthed in today’s money.

It didn’t take long for inflation to take hold. Chickens were going for $25 a flock; $500 in today’s money. And people willing to make deliveries were making $6,000 a year; $120,000 in today’s money. Landlords, blacksmiths, and several other trades were charging premiums that many could easily afford, and were willing to pay. Women, who were outnumbered by men, 30-1, established brothels.

Debauchery, time, and money ruled the days.

There is nothing fascinating about reading during a vacation; a lot of people do it. But the irony of being in the same waters as those who took the five month journey through Cape Horn, in South America, to get to California added so much to the work.

I had no idea that I was going to read about a precious metal last week. I was simply looking forward to a great time with my family, which — it turns out — was golden.

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