Book Review: Rush to Gold, by Malcolm J. Rohrbough

Rush to Gold: The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848–1854, by Malcom J. Rohrbough, Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, Conn., 2013, $40

Americans weren’t the only ones lured to California in the late 1840s by the promise of gold. As author Rohrbough points out in this authoritative book, the California Gold Rush became a worldwide phenomenon. Rush to Gold focuses on the 30,000 French participants who left their country, then mired in the 1848 Revolution, for a chance to strike it rich.

Most, of course, didn’t. Rohrbough mentions one Frenchman who left home with 100,000 francs only to return not so wealthy and far from healthy after mining with “brigands and convicts, pistols and swords, [and] savage Indians.” The man reflected, “If I had carried cargoes of liquors and tools, I would have brought back many hundreds of thousands of francs.” The attraction of gold led to the first French contact with frontier California on a large scale. The results were exciting and sometimes troubling, as the immigrants experienced “a mixture of great opportunity at several levels surrounded by an emerging society that seems to be without structure, law or restraints of any kind, except for individual weapons.”

Rohrbough (see Interview) also authored the 1997 book Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation. Sound scholarship from two continents make Rush to Gold an important addition to the studies of America’s most famous gold rush.

Johnny D. Boggs

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