Everyman Prospector

Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, P-1257.

The boom era of the Gold Rush coincided with the development of photography as a journalistic and documentarian tool in America—circumstances which gave rise to a wealth of photographic evidence about the experience of the miners in the gold fields. The photographs themselves are powerful propaganda, depicting American men robustly taming the wilderness and American families carving niches of civilization amidst forests and deserts. But they are also testimonials to the actual day-to-day struggles of those who went west in search of gold—the hard work, the freezing winters and blazing summers, the physical danger, and the isolation, not to mention the fact that very few miners actually struck it rich in the gold fields. From miners packing up their possessions and leaving their homes to the success of failure of mines or individual claims, journalistic and documentary photography captured many of the individual and collective experiences of the gold rushes of the American West.