Criminal Annals, Part 11: The Placer Times – Gold Fever and Manifest Destiny

vol1no04p1aContinuing through the issues of the “Placer Times,” Sacramento’s first newspaper, we find that crime was not limited to the area of the mines, but also committed by those anxious to get there.

“Placer Times, Saturday, May 19, 1849

“The extracts from late papers (newspapers from the east coast that arrived with the ships) to be found on our first page, show how intense the excitement raging in the east respecting the gold discoveries in California; of course our limits will not permit of copious quotations from the different newspapers in our possession, but a tolerably correct idea may be derived from what has already appeared. It will be seen that women as well as men are seized with the infection, and that while thousands of persons are preparing to emigrate and thousands are on their way, the agitation continues quite as great as ever. Men are going mad on account of the gold and others, becoming desperate, commit crime to enable them to raise the means of getting to California. The papers tell huge stories of wealth revealed, and speculate upon the probable results of the fever just as ever. Some gloomily fancy the forebodings of distress and others exult in the richness of the new acquisition, as their political character determines them.

“We confess never to have deliberately and fully summed up the chances favorable to or against the welfare of the mass – the consequences likely to follow the workings of the mania, but a moments reflection has convinced us that in the multitude on its way her there are many who will encounter disease, privation and death. Many who will be successful, but which will be worse to them than if they dwelt in poverty all their lives. Many who are now rich that will be ruined, and more who where the possessed a penny before shall now be worth a pound. But the emigration will roll on unmindful of the fate or fortune of those around, until this, the pearl of our Pacific possessions, shall have developed her now slumbering resources, and the wilderness be truly made to ‘blossom as the rose.’”

For the next few weeks the Placer Times was filled mostly with ship arrivals, government proclamations and such, but in the June 30, 1849 edition something very disturbing showed up.

When the miners first arrived there was plenty of gold that was easily found and room for everyone to stake a claim. As the gold became harder and harder to find and the land more crowded, the American miners, believing that the land was really theirs (Manifest Destiny), started taking the claims belonging to those other than themselves.

Under the theory of “Manifest Destiny,” the people of the United States felt it was their mission to extend the “boundaries of freedom” to others (and to the Pacific coast) by imparting their idealism and belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government. It excluded those people who were perceived as being incapable of self-government, such as Native American people and those of non-European origin.

The first reported large-scale action by Americans, as is told in this story, involves taking the property of Spanish speaking miners, even though a majority of them were American citizens as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded California to the United States in 1848.

“A movement has taken place in the Gold Region which, from its probable results, calls not only for the intervention of the civil and military authorities, but seems to require an earnest expression of their feelings from all those citizens of the United States, who have a regard for the honor of their country, and who are resolved to maintain it. We allude to the forcible expulsion of certain foreigners and naturalized citizens of the United Stated from the Placers of the Middle Fork and neighborhood by an armed body of men calling themselves Americans.

“Of three individuals thus expelled, which we have seen, one is an old resident of California and a naturalized citizen of the United States. Another is a native Peruvian and naturalized citizen of the Unites States, who has, to our knowledge, periled his life many times in this country, fighting under the American flag, and who was severely beaten by the enemy because he refused to bear arms against us.

“We have been informed that hostilities have been commenced against those only who speak the Spanish language, but who cannot speak English, and not only are the English, French, Dutch, Italians, Portugese, etc. reported to have been unmolested, but we are informed that they actually composed a part of the expelling force. God grant that they may have composed the whole of it: that no American can have so far forgotten his own honor and that of his country as to expel those from the Placer whom our Government has sworn to protect in the full enjoyment of all the privileges of American citizens.

“We are informed that the Regulators gave to their victims three hours’ grace. This a piece of condescension for which these unfortunate men are doubtless thankful since it enabled them to escape with some of their animals, but they would certainly feel still more indebted had they been able to have brought away with them their provisions and machines..

“This disorderly proceeding may be attended with many serous results. Those Governments whose citizens or subjects have been the victims of this partiality ought to, and probably will, demand instant reparation for all damages which they may have sustained.

“Every child, that is every American child, ought to know that the government of the United States alone has the right to prevent persons from digging the gold region, and we will not question the common sense of our readers by attempting to prove it.


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