Gold Rush Law and Order


The California Gold Rush had interesting 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 meetings purposes.

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.