While the term “Gold rush” brings to mind a hectic scene of miners and prospectors scrambling over mountains and rivers to grab as many gold nuggets as they can, the phenomena of a gold rush is actually a surprisingly orderly process. It’s happened so many times throughout history, it’s been broken down into a series of predictable steps.
First, gold is found – usually by someone panning a streambed. Once they realize that more gold can be found beyond the few yards around their first discovery, the operation is expanded to harvest the most amount of gold. The best way to do this is either have more people panning for gold, and/or set up a sluice box – a sort of filter that can be placed along the length of the river to catch any gold particles that flow down the river.
By this point, the gold rush has reached a “placer mining” stage. Building sluice boxes and panning the river are cheap and easy ways to collect gold, so placer mining can happen almost anywhere. However, the gold that washes down the river is only a small percentage of what is really available. The little gold flecks and particles being panned from the river are coming from a larger vein or deposit of gold. Soon, the rush is on to find it and operations expand into prospecting and hard rock mining.
Once everyone starts digging, mining efforts grow in sophistication and size to optimize the amount of gold recovery. Gradually, the gold is depleted and miners turn their attention to other valuable minerals. Silver is usually found near gold, so many gold rushes later become silver rushes. After the silver is gone, base metals like copper are mined out. By that point, the gold rush has run its course.