California the 'sunny state' had a very tumultuous birth when it joined the United States of America. It suffered through the Mexican-American war and the Gold rush which caused a mass migration just prior to the Civil War that split the country into two. California joined the Unites States of America in 1850 as the 31st state. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of California statehood, the California Diamond Jubilee Half dollar was released in 1925.
California - Being part of Mexico
Before joining the union, California was part of Mexico. Mexicans had gained independence in 1821 from Spanish rule. California was very sparsely populated and had a few ranchos which were large land grants given by the Spanish first and later the Mexican government. Early fur trappers and settlers from the United States and Canada settled in this region. One of the early settlers in California from the United States was a practitioner of medicine called John Marsh. He had made his money practicing medicine in the Western Frontier where it was rare to find a doctor for several thousand miles ! With the money made he bought himself a rancho and many heads of cattle. He was one of the wealthiest ranchers in California.
John Marsh suffered under the Mexican rule as 'squatters' started occupying his land. These squatters would erect a tent in any piece of land and build a fence around it. Some built log cabins. As the ranchos were really big, it was difficult for owners like Marsh to supervise the land continuously. The Mexican courts were highly corrupt and not easy to navigate around. Marsh thought it was best that California followed the Texan example and join the United States of America. He believed that with more and more settlers from the U.S.A., California will also become part of the union. He started a letter writing campaign which promoted California; it's climate, soil and it's richness. He also gave a route to follow, called the 'Marsh route'.
His letter became quite famous and was a strong reason for the initial wave of settlers before the Gold rush.
California Gold Rush
In 1848, James Marshall found gold in Sutter's mill. The news propagated all over the United States and soon the world. Almost 300,000 people came to California and they were called the "forty-niners" (referring to 1849). These folks started panning for gold in river beds using the most basic tools - pick-axe, gold pans and shovels.
The California Gold Rush caused a tremendous uplift of the local economy. New methods of gold extraction were discovered. Many roads, churches, schools were built to support these new settlers. It also caused railroads to be built from the East to the West which would have otherwise taken a few more decades. The prospect of Gold created a new generation of young men who were willing to drop everything for the chance to make it big. While some of them did make minor fortunes, most of them were left destitute and died far away from loved ones.
The Gold Rush also saw the decline of the native American population as land was annexed by the settlers through coercion, or direct attacks. With more and more Americans flooding the region, California became part of the United States in just over a year.
1925 California Diamond Jubilee Half dollar
For celebrating the 75th anniversary, the San Francisco's Citizens' committee wanted to release a commemorative half dollar. President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill authorizing the Half dollar and California sculptor Joseph Mora designed the obverse and the reverse of the coin.
The obverse shows the image of a forty-niner panning for gold in the river; a typical scene from the Gold Rush period. The reverse shows the image of a California grizzly bear, which is extinct as of now, largely thanks to indiscriminate hunting during the Gold Rush period. Mora left the fields unpolished and it gives a rugged feel to the coin. Most modern numismatists praise the coin for its authentic portrayal of life in California in the 1850s.