The gold rush and afterwards: Homicide in San Francisco, 1849–2003

Richard B. Felson, Patrick R. Cundiff

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1 Scopus citations


We compared the characteristics of homicide in San Francisco during the Gold Rush epidemic (1849–1860) to the characteristics of homicides during a more recent epidemic (1965–1980), and during a period when the homicide rates were relatively low (1921–1964). The data were based on reports from coroners, newspapers, the San Francisco Police Department, and the census. Time period was used to predict the characteristics of each incident in our multivariate analyses. The evidence suggests that the homicide epidemic during the gold rush was primarily due to a higher incidence of disputes between unrelated persons, including duels and disputes over land, mining claims, and gambling. The offenders during this period were more likely to be males who were armed and intoxicated. The epidemic did not involve particularly high rates of predatory or domestic violence, suggesting that it was unrelated to a general decline in social control. We suggest that the gold rush epidemic in San Francisco was due to an increase in the number of disputes between intoxicated men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-613
Number of pages13
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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