There wasn’t a lot of law and order in the California Gold Rush as the rush continued on. Miners who just came to the Gold Rush were forced to create their own laws, which is called Miner’s Law. Miners who made laws would call a camp meeting, get a presidenting officer, a recorder, and, if needed, a marshal. A camp meeting is when a group of miners come together and decide if a miner was guilty or not. These camp meetings were democratic. Minorities, like Chinese, were mistreated in camp meetings a lot. This happened to non-white people because of discrimination. Another way to call a camp meeting would be if a miner felt mistreated or wanted a problem solved, he would post a notice. Then a judge and jury would hear the case, and render a decision with other miners.

One of the most important laws to miners was “staking a claim.” The first task is that any mining community has to decide how big of a piece of land a miner is going to get. How this system worked was with the size of the claim, richer claims had less land than claims with less gold. Richer claims got 100 square feet and claims with less gold got as much as 10,000 square feet in land. Once miners got their claim they would drive a stake in the ground and file the claim with a camp recorder. A miner could keep a claim as long as he worked at it for at least one of three days. Different miners could take another miner’s claim if the claim owner didn’t work the claim for ten days.

Justice in camps were short and was rough. The trials were quick, but punishments were handed to the miner immediately. If a miner made a capital crime, such as theft and murder, the miner would be hung. Lesser offenses such as petty theft usually ended in a flogging and banishment from the camp. Eventually legal systems replaced the prospector’s form of camp justice. Sheriffs and judges were hired and jails were built. Most of the judges were fair, but there was a bit of exclusion. For example, a judge seemed only interested in collecting fines. A thief robbed a miner $110, but the thief didn’t have any money to pay the fine, so the judge ordered the miner who had been robbed to pay the fine! Until an accepted legal system was certain, the prospectors’ brand of justice was fair and believable for those in the mining camps.


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