California State Route 49 is aptly named after the “49ers” of the Gold Rush of that era. Today it is a beautiful winding drive of majestic vistas and thriving, historic western towns. But the brightness of the gold also had a darker side.
The California gold rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy; the sudden population increase allowed California to go rapidly to statehood in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush had severe effects on Native Californians and accelerated the Native American population's decline from disease, starvation and the California genocide.