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Gold Rush Capitalists: Greed and Growth in Sacramento

By: Eifler, Mark A.
Price: $21.95

University New Mexico,2002.
Sacramento, California, was one of the largest cities in the West during the later half of the nineteenth century. Situated between the bay and the Sierra foothills, Sacramento seemed to fit a pattern of natural urban growth that capitalized upon natural resources and transportation routes. The city was also the capital of one of the most powerful states in the nation, but oddly, it has received little attention from urban historians.

As a supply center for gold rush miners in the mid-nineteenth century, Sacramento was visited daily by thousands of wide-eyed adventurers who wrote detailed letters and journals about their travels in the West. Hundreds of amateur reporters compiled a rich record of the early years of city development, providing a rare opportunity for researchers to trace the economic and social development of a western city.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the city was also battered by a series of natural and man-made disasters and one of the most violent land riots in California's history. Through this turmoil, Sacramento's many resident and visiting observers commented on what they perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of its urban leaders in great detail, thus providing a window onto the seemingly daily struggle for leadership and authority in a boom city.

Eifler takes the reader on a journey into early western urbanization with his study of Sacramento. He examines the earliest founding of the city by speculators looking to cash in on gold rush trade, uncovering the rampant competition between a handful of men intent on creating a city that would dominate the mining trade. The arrival of thousands of miners into the region, who had their own ideas about what role a city should play in an isolated mining frontier, provides another complication in Sacramento's growth as miners and city founders clashed on nearly every civic issue. Rising tensions between these groups erupted into open warfare just twenty months after the city's founding.
Paperback, 280 pages.
Eifler analyzes the aftermath of the riot, which discredited both founders and miner/settlers and gave rise to a new urban commercial class removed from the labors of mining. Thus, Sacramento's residents sought to create stable urban institutions that could, hopefully, safely negotiate the travails of unrestricted commercialism. Gold Rush Capitalists is an engaging, valuable glimpse of western urban development through the eyes of classes and individuals often at odds with each other but never completely divorced.