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Gold Rush

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The gold rush was a fluke of the american peoples decision making. The departing gold-seekers faced an immediate problem. California was a long way from home. There was no railroad to whisk them west; no river to float them to California. Instead, the journey would be a painful test of endurance.

There were two miserable choices. The sea route around the tip of South America often took more than six months. But the alternative wasn't much better -- a 2,000 mile walk across the barren American outback. The sea route was favored by gold seekers from the eastern states. Seasickness was rampant; food was full of bugs, or worse-rancid. Water stored for months in a ship's hold was almost impossible to drink. And then there was the boredom -- months and months at sea with nothing to do, except dream about gold. The wait was intolerable.

To satisfy the growing thirst for speed, a quicker route was soon employed across Panama. It seemed like a logical shortcut. But traversing the rain forests of Central America in the 1840s was an adventure in itself. Malaria and cholera were common. Those who survived to see the Pacific faced another dilemma -- they were stranded. Ships to ferry them up the coast to San Francisco were rare. And so the forty-niners waited for weeks -- or months, in overcrowded, disease-infested coastal towns.

For Americans who lived in the central states, there was another way west -- a well-worn path carved out several years earlier: the Oregon-California Trail. The overland road was much shorter than the sea route, but it wasn't faster. Most had no idea how severe the overland journey would be.



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