There were four primary routes. The voyage from China took one to three months and cost $40-$60. Many of these young men, looking to escape conflict and unrest, never intended to stay in California. The Overland Route served the greatest number of emigrants. This 2,000-mile journey took five to six months. By 1850, the fastest route was via the Isthmus of Panama. This 35-day journey involved a steamship from New York to Panama, a hike through the jungle, and another ship to San Francisco. The sea route around Cape Horn was the longest trip, taking four to eight months over 20,000 miles.
There are two types of gold. Lode gold, which remains in the mountain and placer gold, which has eroded out of the mountain.
The gold pictured here is on display at the Placer County Museum in Auburn's Historic Courthouse.
Rockers work like a gold pan. Miners shovel gravel into the top where a screen catches the largest rocks, and the smaller materials fall through. Water is poured over them, and as it is rocked, the lighter materials flow out of the rocker and the smaller heavier material, like gold, is caught in the riffles.
Hard rock mining was more difficult and time consuming. To reach lode gold, large networks of tunnels had to be dug into the mountain sides. Before the advent of dynamite in 1867, miners used black powder to blast away rock. To drill holes for explosives, men would work with a metal drill and hammer.
Muck buckets were used to remove rocks. After it was hauled to the surface it was taken to a stamp mill to be crushed. The resulting sandy slurry was spread over a table sheeted in copper and coated in mercury. The gold would stick to the mercury and would later be separated by heat and refined.
Life of a miner
Life was not easy for miners. Summers were brutally hot, and winters were frigid and wet. Many miners packed up their canvas tent and moved to the “dry diggings” during the winter to avoid potential floods. Daily life was difficult. Personal hygiene, food, and medical supplies were limited and simple accidents or poverty could kill a miner.