The S.S. Central America
The Miners
Gold Rush Miners

Despite James Marshall’s discover of a large nugget in the American River and the vivid descriptions in guidebooks that followed—proclaiming gold-lined streams in the foothills of the Sierras—most Forty-Niners found the work of mining the gold more arduous than whatever occupation they had left behind. Separated from their families, they camped alongside rivers for months at a time, either alone or in groups, and were exposed mercilessly to the elements.

The miners basic tool was a shallow pan, in which water would be washed continually over sediment until any gold, which was eight times heavier than stones or sand, would be left in the bottom.

As the day wore on, the miners legs and hands would grow numb from the icy water, while his entire body ached. As a result, laborsaving variations on the pan appeared. These included the cradle, a device that was rocked as sediment was poured into the top and then panned out the bottom. Another innovation was the sluice, a long trough with bars, or "riffles," on the bottom, which caught gold from the constantly cascading water and sediment. Based on similar principles, the "long tom" was a trough designed to filter sediment through a "riddle" before directing it to a "riffle box" that separated the gold.

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