January 24 1848. Coloma, California. In a saw mill belonging to Swiss pioneer John Sutter, James W. Marshall, a carpenter finds pieces of shining metal in the stream next to the saw mill: it’s gold!
The news spreads like wild fire and is confirmed by a number of newspapers in March 1848. It’s the start of an unprecedented gold rush.
Waves of immigrants from all over the world arrive in California, raising the population from 15,000 to several hundred thousand. The Indians are driven out, expropriated and decimated by disease. The first transcontinental railroad is built and a Californian constitution is soon passed. Criminality also explodes: this is the beginning of the myth of the “Wild West” and its infamous outlaws. The Gold Rush will end several years later, but California and the American mentality will be changed by it forever.