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Forty-Niner

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Of the comrades all that I've had, there's none that's left to boast
And I'm left alone in my misery like some poor wandering ghost
And I pass by from town to town, they call me a rambling sign
"There goes Tom Moore, a bummer shore in the days of '49"
Bob Dylan, "Days of 49"
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A participant in the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855.

When gold was discovered near Sutter's Mill, California in 1848, it brought a huge influx of people to the area, at first those already living in California and the surrounding areas, but when the story broke in the East Coast newspapers, from all over the world. San Francisco, the nearest port, became a Boom Town (after nearly becoming a Ghost Town when the denizens all flocked to the gold fields — San Francisco's population very briefly fell to just 250 at its lowest point before arrivals from the east came through. An editor even bemoaned the impending death of the namesake city in one editorial — it was his last article before leaving town to find gold.)

They became known as "'49ers" from the year when the biggest crop of would-be miners arrived. At first, finding gold was easy, and the miners prospered. But as the most obvious sites played out, the surface deposits became exhausted, mining required more and better-skilled effort, and competition grew for the best claims. By 1855, only large mining companies were still viable, and the Rush was over. Most of the Forty-Niners went on to other professions in the newly-booming states; a few stubbornly stayed in the prospecting business, moving from site to site in hopes of striking it rich elsewhere.

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This character type includes those who moved to California to take advantage of the gold miners, but did not themselves mine the ground. For other people searching for valuable minerals, see Prospector. For the San Francisco sports team that takes its name from these miners, see National Football League.


Examples:

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    Comic Book 
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: In "The Raider Of Copper Hill", Scrooge befriends Howard Rockerduck, a former forty-niner who managed to strike it rich during the initial year of the gold rush, but while he enjoys his wealth, he misses the camraderie and work of the old days and laments that he wasn't able to pass on his work ethic to his Spoiled Brat of a son, Scrooge's future rival John Rockerduck. He ends up teaching Scrooge the best techniques for prospecting, which would help Scrooge finally strike it rich himself during the Klondike gold rush years later.

    Film 
  • The Covered Wagon starts off with the characters traveling the Oregon Trail in 1848. Along the way, they receive early word of the Gold Rush in California. Each character then has to decide whether to continue on to Oregon, or to head for the gold fields of California. The film presents it as a choice between Call to Agriculture and Gold Fever.
  • The Naked Hills: A farmer from Indiana, Tracy Powell, gets gold fever and sets off to California in 1849, and keeps repeatedly returning to prospecting long after the rush is over, even abandoning his wife and newly born son for it.
  • Paint Your Wagon: Both the film and the musical takes place in 1853, during the last gasp of the gold rush, and is set in a Boom Town called Rumson that springs up after a prospector finds gold dust during a makeshift funeral in the wilderness.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: When Data gets sent back in time to San Francisco, 1896, he meets an old street beggar who had come out in the gold rush.
  • Victoria: At the end of Season 3, Joseph is hoping to become a Forty Niner himself. He plans to flee to America, and mentions "gold mines in California". The timeline checks out, with this scene taking place in about 1851 and the famous California Gold Rush having lasted from 1848 to 1855.

    Music 
  • My Darling Clementine: "In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for a mine, lived a miner, forty-niner, and his daughter Clementine."
  • "Days of '49", recorded by Bob Dylan and others, is about the fading of the California Rush and sung by a washed-out old miner looking back at his dead friends and the glory days of Rush's height.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands: The gold rush was supplanted by the discovery of Ghost Rock several decades earlier.

    Videogames 
  • Video Game/Compass Point: West, a combination strategy and collectible-card game set in the American Old West (according to one review, it's basically Clash of Clans meets Hearthstone), has a character called the Forty Niner, portrayed as a crazy, dynamite-obsessed old man. He tosses dynamite at his targets.
  • Gold Rush! chronicles the journey of one Brooklyn resident as he becomes a Forty Niner (technically, he can arrive in California in late 1848, but he still fits the trope).
  • In The Oregon Trail you can choose to go to San Francisco if you leave in the correct years, and once you get there you can choose to pan for gold instead of getting a plot of land.

    Western Animation 

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