Who were the forty-niners?

   The forty-niners were the people who flocked from all over the world to the goldfields of California in 1849. Gold had been discovered in 1848 in the tailrace of Sutter's sawmill about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, but the news did not reach eastern America and the rest of the world for several months. Most forty-niners came overland by horse, mule, and prairie schooner. Others sailed around Cape Horn. Many suffered from disease on the way, and others died while going through the desert or over the snowbound Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada. After they arrived, the forty-niners gathered the gold from streams with washing pans, cradles, and sluiceboxes—all utensils that let the water wash away dirt and gravel to leave pure gold. Those who sold food, clothing, and other goods to the miners made as much money as the miners because prices were so high. The gold rush built the city of San Francisco, which had been a little village before the great discovery. Life was rough and wild. Miners fought over their claims and drank and gambled heavily. The goldfields attracted gamblers and criminals as well as law-abiding citizens. The latter formed groups called vigilance committees to keep order. Members of these committees were called vigilantes. After a permanent government was established, life became more settled and peaceful.