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The Gold Crusades

The Gold Crusades: A Social History of Gold Rushes, 1849-1929

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 230
  • Book Info
    The Gold Crusades
    Book Description:

    Fetherling argues that the gold rushes in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa shared the same causes and results, the same characters and characteristics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5998-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. Introduction: Gold Crusaders
    (pp. 3-10)

    When Fred C. Dobbs first meets Howard, the old prospector, in B. Traven’s novelThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it is in a Mexican dosshouse where Howard is reminiscing about his experiences searching for gold: ‘See, I’ve dug in Alaska and made a bit; I’ve been in the crowd in British Columbia and made there at least my fair wages. I was down in Australia, where I made my fare back home, with a few hundred left over to cure me of the stomach trouble I caught down there. I’ve dug in Montana and in Colorado and I don’t...

  4. 1 The California Delusion
    (pp. 11-41)

    Because of the chaos and disorder that the world’s first great gold rush unleashed, it is tempting to think of California in 1848 as a still paradisical place untouched by lawyers or venereal disease. To be sure, it was an outlying part of that Mexican empire which United States citizens had been rubbing up against for generations in their appetite for ever more land. There were so many Americans in the province of Texas by the 1830s that they had broken away and established an independent republic, biding their time until Texas could be admitted to the union. When admission...

  5. 2 The Crown and the Southern Cross
    (pp. 42-66)

    After America itself, Australia was the place most affected by the gold rush of 1849. One estimate suggests that one Australian resident in fifty departed for California. Among the emigrants was Edward Hargraves (1816–91), who arrived at San Francisco in the summer of 1849, prospected unsuccessfully, and returned to Sydney in January 1851. One year later he ignited the great Australian gold rush, a remarkable event which had the effect of reversing the depopulation trend with a vengeance. In the decade to follow, New South Wales doubled in population while Victoria, the other gold rush colony, grew sevenfold.


  6. 3 To the Ends of the Empire
    (pp. 67-81)

    While the California gold rush was going at full speed in 1849, a Scot named James (later Sir James) Douglas, far up the Pacific coast in what would one day be part of Canada, was viewing with alarm the entire vulgar display even as he encouraged the local Native people to search for gold that would make him and his masters rich. His masters were the governors of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which at the time controlled virtually all of what is now western Canada as well as much of the North. As the company’s chief factor in the region,...

  7. 4 Silver into Gold
    (pp. 82-93)

    All the new gold being mined was pumped into the world’s money supply and provided a great boost to speculation. Credit was easy even though the international economy was stretched tightly. The first tear came in the United States. In August 1857 an Ohio insurance company failed, touching off the most serious financial panic in twenty years. Banks closed, businesses faltered, trade was crippled; ordinary citizens were brought up short in the realization of just how inextricably their lives were bound to the large abstraction called the economy. The California gold rush had wound down by then, but the others...

  8. 5 Titans in South Africa
    (pp. 94-104)

    In 1850 South Africa was so isolated, so underdeveloped, and so thinly populated that only one of its citizens can be shown to have taken part in the California gold rush. Nevertheless, that solitary figure, one Pieter Jacob Marais, would be enough to carry on the crusade and bring gold fever to another continent. But the gold rush which he sparked in South Africa, and which was by any standard the world’s largest, was less the work of a single instigator or publicist than past rushes had been or later ones would prove to be. What’s more, Marais (1827–65)...

  9. 6 The Rand and Western Australia
    (pp. 105-123)

    Just as performing artists can suddenly, after many years’ work, find themselves famous ‘overnight,’ so could a country experience a gold rush after innumerable false alarms and near misses. The phenomenon had at least as much to do with psychology as with geology and was bound up with the effects of rumour on reality. Social, political, and economic conditions all had to be right before any amount of wishful thinking or any number of rich samples caused the gold rush crusaders to move en masse. Such was the case in the Transvaal. While the diamond-fields drama was being played out,...

  10. 7 Many Roads to Dawson
    (pp. 124-148)

    Although it drew tens of thousands of people, the Klondike stampede that crested in 1898 was not the most populous gold rush. Neither was it the wealthiest, though the gold, while it lasted, was plentiful and, compared with South Africa’s, easily mined. In the popular imagination, however, the Klondike gold rush is the equal of the California one, indeed almost indistinguishable from it. To be sure, the forty-niner and the sourdough are the alpha and omega of the same alphabet. But it is neither the similarities alone nor the differences by themselves that best tell the story, but rather the...

  11. 8 Climax and Retreat
    (pp. 149-164)

    In 1897, while so many people were preparing to make the journey to Dawson, most of those who were already there were desperate to quit the place. They were escaping overland and by river, under even greater hardship than they had experienced coming in. They were fleeing starvation, a fate that nearly ended Dawson’s effective life before its heyday could begin.

    There were early signs that autumn that all was not well. The caribou herds were moving out early in search of better grazing, and Joaquin Miller (1839–1913), the western poet who was famous as a romanticizer of the...

  12. 9 Last Stands
    (pp. 165-188)

    Insofar as ordinary individuals are concerned, the rushes in the Klondike and Alaska, with their hypnotic appeal to the dreams of people caught up in the drudgery of industrialized culture, represent the peak of the gold rush movement. Never again would the attraction be quite so powerful to such a variety of people or to so many. The gold rushes of the far Northwest also established the supremacy of the professional prospector, thus making the formula more complicated. When the next important series of events took place, in northern Ontario, there were four elements in the equation – remnants of...

  13. L’Envoi
    (pp. 189-192)

    By 1929 there was no reason for prospectors to travel to Red Lake or at any rate no need for them to hurry. Every spot that could be staked had been taken. Both that particular gold rush and the entire gold rush phenomenon were over. The timing is symbolic as well as practical. The Great Depression, with its underlying statements about how interdependent nations had become and how little control individuals have over their own destinies, was thecoup de grâce.

    As it happens, the 1930s were a good time for gold miners but not for gold rushers. The value...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 193-198)
  15. Essay on Sources
    (pp. 199-210)
  16. Index
    (pp. 211-222)