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

By Richard T. Stillson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
The Gold Rush in 1850
Private Communications and Public Information

While California was developing its own information and communications infrastructure, news of the West continued to be important to newspapers and book publishers in the East. The controversy over slavery in the new conquests obtained from Mexico kept California in the news, and continued gold fever maintained the demand for information. Gold fever in 1850 differed from that in 1849 because there was more information about California and gold and because the information was considered more reliable. For the first time people could obtain information directly from goldrushers in the form of letters and in several books published in 1850 to 1851 by returned miners and reporters. New maps appeared in print, including the Jarvis, Derby, and Jackson maps described in the previous chapter. Letters from California played a key role in the information marketplace by late 1849 and in 1850 to 1851. These communications, in print or in private letters, provided a new means of assessment that made extravagant claims and fraudulent guidebooks easier to spot.

Communications from the West to the East not only allowed a means of crosschecking facts, they also changed the way people who did not go to California in 1849 perceived the gold rush, and they affected the credibility criteria with which easterners assessed gold rush information. The personal experiences described in goldrushers' writings became an important source of credibility. Goldrusher information also influenced the decisions of easterners of whether to go west in 1850. This effect was substantial because the 1850 emigration was almost double the size of 1849's. The great influence of these communications did not always work to the advantage of the 1850 goldrushers, because the substantial delay in letters, or in book and map publications, meant that their information was always out of date. Since conditions on the trails and in the mines changed

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