Gambling and Gold Mining at Work

Gold mining stimulated gambling because it encouraged people's trust in luck and speculation.

Once migrants arrived on the Mother Lode, they realized that they had undertaken something less than a sure thing.

A few quickly became pessimistic about prospects for success in California, and warned those back East to save themselves the trouble.

But many remained optimistic and stayed in the Far West longer than they had planned. If the mines did not pay off, one was bound to find better odds at other business ventures, or even at the gaming tables.

To his family and friends, William H. Dougal praised the opportunities of California in 1849. Dougal's attitude typified the outlook of a century of migrants to the pacific Coast.

While hazards discouraged some new arrivals, many more were caught up in the risks and rewards of the chase for wealth.

The state's population go fast, have the best, and despise the expense. In a society intent upon turning quick fortunes, people spent money freely because they expected to strike it rich again the next day, or even the next hour.

Californians held such high expectations that some disdained working to secure the future.

Few had time to plant crops and wait for a harvest; few planned to build up a livelihood over the years. Everyone hurried to accomplish a lifetime of business in a year, and a year's worth of business in a 'few hours only'.

Argonauts' outlook on tomorrow made them gamblers by second nature.

Gambling at that time, was simply a more direct expression of the spirit of speedy accumulation that guided mining, merchandising, real estate operations during the early years of American occupation.

Even migration to the gold fields, the 'staking of time, energy, and health against the hidden treasures of the Sierra', was a wager.

In such an environment, where people understood that fortune was determined by luck, where commerce fluctuates with every hour, and profit and loss are not matters of calculation, but chance, it was difficult to resist the temptations of gambling saloons.

Risk taking as a way of life shaped both individual personality and social character. Moreover, the gambling psychology militated against the formation of a society that might inhibit risk taking.

Gold-seekers hurried about pursuing fortune and gave little consideration to the future of their community, because for many home remained in the East.

The Pacific Coast at first lacked the social cement provided by the presence of women and children. The youthful, virtually all-male society cared more for chance than for any principles that might limit the prevalence of gambling.