Gold Fever as a Cure
For Caspar Hopkins, the gold rush would be the primary experience of his life. It would mark his transition to manhood, his entrance into the world of business, his turning point toward a successful and lucrative career. A native of Pittsburgh who had moved to Burlington, Vermont, in an unsuccessful attempt to start his own newspaper, Hopkins opted to join the rush at age twenty-three. Even at this age he already possessed the qualities of a respectable middle-class man. He was, as he recalled, a young man of “singular” intelligence and “powerful” organizational abilities, “gifted with eloquence, distinguished by a great versatility, strong will, indomitable industry, entire self-reliance & aesthetic tastes.” And if as this self-image indicates he was not always modest, his immodesty made a crucial point. For the clearest memory he retained was that these virtues had nearly barred him from joining the California argosy. Like many men on their way to embracing middle-class standards of refinement and good taste, Hopkins confronted a serious problem: these very qualities would make it difficult to engage in an increasingly competitive marketplace predicated on the trade in desires.
In the most dramatic passage of his recollections, Hopkins recounts a conversation with an agent for a California-bound ship on which he hoped to reserve a place. The agent was a certain “Mister B.” The dialogue took place at a shipping house across from the New York City docks. Even some thirty years later he claimed to remember every word of it. “Said Mr. B,” he recalled, “you are going to California to make money are you not?”
Mr. H. Yes Sir.
Mr. B. If when you get to San Francisco you find you can make