Spreading the Word: A History of Information in the California Gold Rush

By Richard T. Stillson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
To the Trailheads
From Advertisements to Rumors

Once potential goldrushers decided to go to California and made their choice of land or sea routes, their informational problems had just begun. If going by sea, they had to choose a company and/or a ship, decide what to take, and make arrangements for families and friends for while they were gone. Those deciding to go overland had more choices and needed more information. They had to select a company or go on their own and decide on a route, when to begin, which trailhead to head for, and what and where to outfit and provision. These were complicated and interrelated decisions, and, as described in chapters 1 and 2, the information they had in the East was frequently contradictory and difficult to assess. Also, they faced problems not mentioned in the eastern newspapers and guidebooks, such as cholera and where to cross the Missouri River. As they started toward the trailheads, new information became available as they read newspapers in towns along the way, new guidebooks and other print sources that were not available in their hometowns, and advertisements. They also received new information as they talked to agents from the competing trailhead towns and to other goldrushers also going to California. These new sources of information further complicated their assessment problems and caused them to reconsider not only the specific information that they had used to plan their trips but the credibility criteria with which they assessed that information.

The new assessment problems stemmed in part from the variety of sources of new information. In addition to the western guidebooks described in chapter 2, goldrushers read many articles and editorials from newspapers in the various trailhead towns, which read like boosterism. They essentially were town advertisements, both positive and negative, and they were probably viewed that way by the emigrant readers. This interpretation of the newspaper articles and editorials did not detract from their importance to the goldrushers as sources

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