What was the impact of the discovery of gold on the land and the peoples of California?

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The size of our little California gold nugget, our first find nugget, found by James Marshall, pales in comparison to the impact of gold mining on the land in California. It transformed the state, not just economically and politically but environmentally. It's one of the most difficult stories to tell because so little evidence remains today. We can only imagine it through the photographs we see, the decimated hillsides, the trashed rivers and ravines. Gold typically was found in alluvial soils, mixtures of sand and soft rock and earth created by rivers and creeks and little streams. Northern California is filled with these, so when the gold was discovered and the miners headed for the hills, they headed for the stream beds. They headed for the beds with picks and axes and shovels, but also with hammer drills and with water canons and with dynamite and with thousands and thousands of people, all trashing the land, destroying trees, forests, rivers, looking for the elusive gold metal. It had quite an impact.


Interview with David Shayt, National Museum of American History, May 31 2006.