August 2022 Featured Article
“There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills”
Long before modern Americans played the lottery, men and women have searched for a way to get rich. In the early days of the country, a variety of methods were tried from inventions to peddling “miracle cures. Fortunately, for a lucky few in the U.S. gold was discovered, first in 1799, then 1829, followed by 1848 and 1859.
The 1859 Pike’s Peak Gold rush took place in the western Kansas Territory and southwestern Nebraska Territory. Starting in July 1858, it lasted until around the time Colorado Territory was created in February 1861. More than 100,000 prospectors showed up to take their chances at striking it rich. The peak year of the rush was 1859, and newspapers coined the phrase “Fifty-Niners” when describing the gold seekers.
Despite being referred to as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and the rampant use of the motto “Pike’s Peak or Bust,” the location of the rush was actually centered eighty-five miles north of the great mountain. But again, newspapers came into play. Pike’s Peak was very well known, even on the East Coast, so reporters took to naming the area in their articles.
Gold seekers came from around the globe to try their hand at prospecting. A large number of the seekers made their way back from California, where the gold was starting to play out. A significant portion of the miners came from Europe where they suffered from political unrest, famines, illness, and religious persecution. Crossing an ocean and trying to carve a life from the mountains may have seemed like the answer. For many, perhaps it was.
Women were also part of the rush, although the men outnumber them by twenty to one. The ladies came with husband, brothers, fathers, and uncles. Some lost their men to accidents or illnesses and headed home, but others remained to work the claim. To the dismay of the men, single women also arrived to seek their fortune. Further consternation was caused when women like Charlotte Card and Elsa Jane Forest wore men’s clothing (surely making the task easier than panning in a dress and petticoats!).
My story Gold Rush Bride Caroline was inspired by these stalwart gals.