The United States is a large county, and up until the 1860s, travel between the east and west coasts was a long, drawn-out affair. The first transcontinental railroad, for example, was not completed until May, 1869, when the golden spike was driven in to officially join the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.
Up until the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, therefore, settlements in the Southern and Western frontiers were dependent on themselves for all their needs. Wherever gold was found, there a gold rush would follow, and there towns would build up and coinage be necessary for commerce. Although the U.S. Mint had been established in Philadelphia in 1792 and began producing copper, silver and gold coins in 1795, these coins were slow to come across the continent and establish themselves as standard currency.
Gold in Appalachia
Gold was discovered in southern Appalachia (what is now western North Carolina and northern Georgia) in the 1830s, and it is here that the practice of minting what has come to be called “Pioneer Gold” first started as gold rush towns simply needed the coinage for trade purposes.
Then came 1848 and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, in California, sparking the 1849 Gold Rush. It is in the gold fields of California that Pioneer Gold really came into its own.
The 1849 Gold Rush
Some 90,000 people arrived in California in 1849, all searching for the precious gold metal and untold wealth. Towns were rapidly formed and money was desperately needed for commerce. The influx of people and the wealth in the state accelerated California’s achievement of statehood in 1850. The San Francisco Mint was not established until 1854, so there was a four year period where coins were needed and none were to be had.