On Jan. 24, 1848, a New Jersey carpenter working at the Sutter Mill in Coloma, California, discovered chips of gold in the American River. News that glittering flecks had been found in the Sierra Nevadas quickly spread, lighting up eyes across the New World and the Old with glints of gold.
What happened next would become all too familiar in the story of westward expansion. The Gold Rush first brought an influx of men to northern California, then easy and not-so-easy money.
After that, naturally, came the scourge of vice and lawlessness. Sex, violence, inebriation, and gambling flourished and reached no higher pinnacle of debauchery than in the San Francisco neighborhood that became known as the Barbary Coast.