The miner who
left his family in the East, spent his free time feeling lonely
and homesick. He would write home or do chores when
he wasn’t mining. He would do his laundry or go to town
for supplies. Many times, lonely miners would go to saloons in
town and gamble most, or all, of their gold away. Miners would
also go to town to drink alcohol. This usually got them in
trouble with fights and gambling.
miners brought their families with them. It was hard to travel
in those days. It took a lot of time and money to get a miner
and his family to the gold areas. This is why most wives and
families stayed in the East. It was interesting to find out
that wives could get a ‘claim’ of their own beside their
husband’s. This gave the family double the land to search for
grow vegetables, do the laundry, take care of the kids, and
sometimes help with the mining, too. Some wives would get jobs
in town so that the family would have more money. The children
would help with the mining, do jobs around the home, and
sometimes work in town doing jobs like delivering newspapers or
working at hotels and stores. Most of the time, a miner's children
didn’t go to school.
Life at a
prospector’s claim site was dangerous. The West didn’t usually
have any nearby law officers because the claim sites were
in the mountains or outside of towns. Lots of people,
who did illegal things in the East, went out West so that they
wouldn’t get caught. This brought lots of bad people to the
prospecting sites. These people sometimes tried to steal the
gold and even the claims or land that was being mined.
jumping is where someone comes along and steals the land that a
miner owns and begins to take the minerals himself. Laws to
protect miners and their claims didn’t come until after the
Since there weren’t any law officers at the claims,
miners dealt with the crime themselves. This meant that they
would sentence the lawbreakers and deal out punishment. This
vigilante justice and a lot of times it was strict and
cruel. An accused person was arrested and punished without a
trial. Some punishments might be:
ordered to leave the area.
someone's face with a branding iron.
Another danger was Native Americans. Prospectors
were not their best friends. When they mined the land,
prospectors dammed rivers that were used to supply water to the
Native Americans, polluted the water, and killed buffalo for fun
and for their skins. The Native Americans ended up with no
food or water. Prospectors also brought diseases with them.
All of these things caused the Native Americans to fight with
the miners over the land. In the end, the Native Americans
lost the rights to their land and were put on reservations,
land picked and passed out by the government. Over
120,000 Native Americans died during the Gold Rush time.