Gold Rush Law and Order
California Gold Rush had
law and order. California wasn’t a state when the miners came, so
miners were forced to make their own laws. Every mining camp had its
own law and order. A miner could post a notice to have a camp meeting
if he felt mistreated or wanted a problem solved. After a judge and
jury were selected, they would hear the miners' case and make a decision
which was backed up by other miners in the camp. The camps had
democratic camp meetings and elected a presiding officer, a recorder
and sometimes a marshal. Making and enforcing these laws were these
To the miners the most important laws were those
that governed the staking of a mining claim. Deciding how much land a
miner could claim was important, and the size varied from camp to camp.
The richer sites had smaller claims, and the poorer sites had larger
claims. There was a procedure for marking a claim so that other miners
knew it was taken. It was usually done by driving a stake into the
ground and filing the claim with a camp recorder. A miner had to be
present one day out of three to work his claim. If he did not work his
claim for more than ten days, another miner could take his claim.
Camp justice was quick, rough, and harsh. Short trials led to
punishments being handed out immediately. The punishment was hanging
for bad crimes such as grand theft and murder. The punishment for
crimes that were not that bad such petty theft were a whipping or
banishment. Fortunately, the miners’ system of camp justice was
replaced by a legal system. Judges and sheriffs were hired, and some
judges were unfair. The miner’s justice was unfair and not reasonable.
For those in the mining camps this was considered fair until a standard
legal system was established.
Law and order played an important role in the California Gold Rush.