Tens of thousands of years of erosion had loosened gold nuggets from the solid rock of the Sierra Nevada. Large and small pieces of placer gold were washed down by mountain streams over the millennia, often just resting in the stream beds waiting to be picked up by anyone who cared. Gold had not been valued by California Indian cultures--they regarded other products of nature as precious.
But gold certainly was valued by the colonizers and immigrants who had begun to settle in the region. Those lucky few who were already in northern California in the spring and summer of 1848, or who could get to the gold fields quickly, were frequently rewarded with remarkably rich harvests of gold nuggets. Enormous fortunes could be made in a few weeks. Gold fever spread like a rampant epidemic.
Top: California Gold Nuggets, Collection of
Oakland Museum of California
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