Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mining in Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, and Amador counties in California began with the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848. Thousands of people flocked to the region, built towns, roads, and an economy dependent on placer gold mining. Declining placer resources, coupled with strikes outside California, signalled the end of the boom period in the region. A long adjustment in the man-land system culminated with the end of mining as a significant economic function during World War I. Three major processes operated to alter the region from one with a mono-functional economy, a mobile population, and spatial homogeneity to one with a diverse economy, a stable population and settlement network, and spatial heterogeneity. First, mining slowly relinquished control of the economic system retreating from five successful forms one by one. Placer mining fell to resource decline, mining of other minerals to competition, drift mining to expense and difficulty, hydraulic mining to legal restrictions, and quartz mining last to inflated wages and supply costs and a fixed gold value. Each new setback decreased miners and the population level. Access to transport and external markets encouraged former subsidiary industries to develop and compensate in some areas. Agriculture, lumbering, and recreation all flourished by 1920 along the transcontinental railroad and the Placerville Wagon Road. Finally, although most miners emigrated, new immigrants replaced many of them altering the demographic and settlement patterns. By 1920 the population had been halved, but virtually all miners had departed. The remaining residents clustered in large towns and fewer resource zones as the many small mining camps disappeared and new towns servicing agriculture, lumbering, and railroads replaced some of them. Foreign-born decreased in numbers and proportion with mining, and the demographic profile came to represent those of California and the West. Each of these processes was influenced by the others, but the most important was the decline of mining. Where mining persisted, economic, legal, and social patterns adapted to it. Where mining declined or disappeared the greatest change occurred.