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California’s Gold Rush: Human Histories and Geological Mysteries

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 changed America forever. What was it about the geology of the West that produced gold in the first place? And how did the early settlers handle the rough te

California’s Gold Rush: Human Histories and Geological Mysteries

Originally aired on January 28, 2008.


Tom Fudge: You know what we call California: the Golden State. I've never been sure why it's called that. Maybe it is because in summer the grass on the green hills dries in the arid climate and the hills turn golden. But more likely it's because California was created due to the Gold Rush .

If that sounds like an exaggeration, it's not. Gold was discovered here 1848, the Gold Rush began in earnest in 1849, and statehood arrived in 1850. During this time, hundreds of thousands of people moved to California, traveling by land or ship. Cities were born. Roads, schools, and churches were built, a state constitutional convention was convened, and the state's huge agriculture industry took hold. It all happened during the Gold Rush.

A professor at Oceanside's Mira Costa College has written a book about the Gold Rush. The book is called Hard Road West . The author is Keith Heyer Meldahl, who is, interestingly, a professor of geology. His book tells the story not just of the human emigration that caused the Gold Rush, but also of the geology that put the gold here, and the landscape that made the West what it is.