The Draw to the West: Miners were drawn to the West in 1859 because they found gold and silver in western Nevada. This became known as the Comstock Lode which was named after Henry Comstock. The wealth was real this time and the Comstock Lode became a bonanza, or a large deposit of precious ore. It produced over $500 million worth of gold and silver over those next 20 years, but it took expensive equipment to remove the silver and gold that was trapped within the quartz rock. Large companies ended up buying claims from miners who couldn't afford this kind of expensive equipment, which later resulted in mining that was dominated by large corporations to become a big business in the West. Working Conditions: Since mining had become such an important business in the West, their working conditions became even more dangerous than before. The companies were digging bigger and deeper mines causing the miners' work to become more dangerous. The miners had to use unsafe equipment and the tunnels were so poorly lit and had such little oxygen that candles couldn't burn. Miners also developed serious lung problems because of dust from drilling. Many miners were sometimes injured or killed because of unexpected explosions and floods or cave-ins from underground springs. Fire was also a threat in the mines and caused great concern. The temperature of deeper tunnels sometimes rose above 130 degrees F. Mining was probably the most or one of the most dangerous jobs in the country because of so many hazards. Several labor unions were also formed in the West by miners who worried about safety and pay in the 1860s. Key People and Places: Some key people and places during the time of mining in the West were Henry Comstock, boomtowns, and Mark Twain. - Henry Comstock was a man whose name was used for the Comstock Lode which was a Nevada gold and silver mine discovered in 1859. - Boomtowns were produced by mining booms, and these towns were communities that sprang up when a mine opened. They often disappeared just as quickly when the mine closed. - Mark Twain wrote an autobiographical work called Roughing It, in which he described Virginia City during its boom years. Way of Life: The way of life of people in the west during the gold rush was mainly that people from other parts of the world, despite their excellent skill, were denied better paying jobs in mines probably because of their race. Few miners came from the eastern U.S. and others emigrated from Europe, Central and South America, Australia, and Asia. Mexican and Chinese immigrants were very skilled at things having to do with the contents of valuable ore, but were often denied the better paying mining jobs. People's lives during the gold rush were hard because of the struggle for better jobs, and miners were often scared about when would be their last day on earth because of such dangerous working conditions.
Transportation and Communication
Transportation and communication became very important because many Americans began moving West causing the need to send goods and information between the East and West more important. To meet this need, the Pony Express was formed in 1860. It used a system of messengers on horseback to carry mail between relay stations on an about 2,000 mile long route. However, telegraph lines soon put the Pony Express out of business because they sent messages faster. Americans had thought of other ways to improve communication and transportation across the U.S. such as building a transcontinental railroad to connect the East and West. This caused the federal government to pass the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 which gave railroad companies loans and large land grants that could be sold to pay for construction costs. These railway acts inspired many companies to start laying tracks. Key People/Places/Legislation: Some key people, places, and legislation in the West at the time of transportation and communication were the Pony Express, transcontinental railroad, Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864, Leland Stanford, the Central and Union Pacific, and Jay Cooke. - The Pony Express was a system of messengers on horseback that was established in 1860 in order to carry mail across the U.S. It was also put out of business by telegraph lines that sent messages much faster. - A transcontinental railroad is a railroad that crosses the continental U.S., connecting the East to the West. - The Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 were two laws passed by the federal government that gave loans and land grants to railroad companies to encourage them to build a transcontinental railroad. - Leland Stanford was the railroad's part-owner who praised the Chinese workers who worked for the Central Pacific. He also paid them less than white laborers. - The Central and Union Pacific were two companies that led the race to complete the transcontinental railroad. The Central Pacific built east from Sacramento, California in 1863, and the Union Pacific started building west from Omaha, Nebraska at the end of the year. - Jay Cooke was a railroad owner whose banking firm helped start the Panic of 1873 along with railroad speculation. Challenges: There were also many geographical challenges that railroad companies faced during the 1800s. Workers in the Central Pacific struggled to cross the Sierra Nevada range in California. Explosives were used in large amounts to blast a way through the mountains. Snowdrifts more than 60 feet high trapped and killed many workers in the winter of 1866. While all of this took place, the Union Pacific's workers faced harsh weather on the Great Plains. Effects of Railroads: Some effects of the railroads were that they increased both economic and population growth in the West and also provided better transportation for people and goods. Land was even sold to settlers, encouraging people to move West. Railroads also saved time because a trip from Omaha, Nebraska, to San Francisco, California, would only take four days by railroad, but about a month by wagon. The new railroads, in addition, helped businesses allowing timber and mining companies to ship wood and metals by railroad. Railroads had become the biggest industry in the United States.