Is there a typical gold miner? Is there a typical what was called an Argonaut at the time? If there was a typical gold miner during the gold rush of the 1840s, it would be a man or a woman who up and left their home, their place of business and headed for California, headed for the hills, headed for the diggings to find that color in the ground in the belief that they not only could find gold but they could transform their lives. The gold fever, the gold rush was a very personal journey for tens of thousands of people, between eighty and a hundred thousand people worldwide descended on northern California in a matter of months. They'd heard about, they'd read about the riches, that you can pluck gold off the streets, that you stooped down with a spoon and sift it out of the ground and you were rich.
So, a typical person could've been a banker or his clerk, a lawyer, a sailor, blacksmith, a baker, a seamstress, a wife, a husband. They up and left in many cases and headed for California. They took off over overland by train, by stagecoach, they left from the east coast by ship down around Cape Horn. Many traveled across the Isthmus of Panama over land, a journey of many weeks, but they were questing for something, not just gold but for personal transformation.
Interview with David Shayt, National Museum of American History, May 31, 2006.