California History Photos – II : Wild West


Continuing from California History Photos – I : Origins

Taken from Museum of California, Oakland.

Previously, when after the US-Mexico war, California was ceded to America and became a US territory. It was around this time, something happened that changed California forever and gave it its present name Golden State. The mouth of the Bay in San Francisco became known as Golden Gate (with the later bridge called Golden Gate bridge, despite its color being red).

Warning – Historic Racist and Sexist Propaganda Posters.

California Strikes Gold

Melting Pot of Miners

California attracted miners from all over the country and the world. New Yorkers travelled all the way across the continent, Chinese sailed across the Pacific from the West and Latin Americans came from the south, not to mention Europeans like Spaniards and French.

We see both positive and negative interactions between people of different races and creeds. On one hand, this led to cross-cultural exchange but the seeds of intense racism and conflict were also sown. It was a dog-eat-dog world for miners, and miners came here for Gold, not to make friends.

Mining the Miners

The people who became millionaires were not those who mined gold, but those who mined the miners. Entrepreneurs from East Coast set up shovel-shops and sold shovels to gold-miners at high prices. Chinese men set up laundry stores which, unlike mining, brought home steady income. Farmers and cooks provided hungry miners food. A lot of sex-workers provided entertainment services to the mostly young-male single demographic of miners, and became wealthy patrons themselves, who would, in future, donate money to public funds and city-building.

As secondary businesses in California started booming, more and more families settled down and the face of California changed from a far-frontier of the planet to an emerging metropolitan center.

The Railroad

California’s biggest flaw was its location, far separated from the populated East by the Rockies, the Sierras and deserts. And this was overcome through railroads.

The railroads were often controversial, cutting through pre-existing small-towns and destroying the lives of people there. It also replaced previous industries like Stage-Coach transport, River-transport etc. and destroyed the small-towns and check-points along previous routes.

End of a City, End of an Era

While racism, especially anti-Asian ones were increasing and the Chinese Exclusion Act in place, which favored immigration from East-Coast (the side facing Europe) and limited immigration from West-Coast (the side facing Asia).

Then, the major incident happened – San Francisco was destroyed in an earthquake and fires which followed it (due to gas-lamp system leakage). The destruction of the city lead to an economic crisis, and people turned their anger towards immigration.

California – The Story Continues

While the gold-mining days and the glory of San Francisco was over, a new city farther south continued California’s story – the hills of Los Angeles. Advertisements began to appear all over the US for new housing developments in a place called Hollywood Hills.

Part-3 will explore modern California – with intrigues and struggles of Hollywood’s movie industry, the Dust-Bowl Famine, The Second World War, fight for civil rights for minority-races and LGBT rights and development of Silicon Valley.

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