The West turned out to be the richest treasure trove of natural resources in the history of the civilized world. And the chance to get rich quick as a uniquely American article of faith was literally born in the West.
With a single lucky break a person could be rich beyond the wildest dreams of the Spanish Conquistadors. And, for the first time in history the finder got to keep what he found. That would remain true until the 20th century when the federal government came up with something called an income tax.
The California Gold Rush and the ones that followed across the West brought on the greatest mass migration of greenhorns since the Children of Israel set out in search of Canaan.
What made those wannabe millionaires abandon their wives and children, give up home and comfort and risk their lives in the great unknown called the West?
The story is told of a farmer who heard a circus with an elephant was coming to town and he’d never seen an elephant so he eagerly loaded up his wagon and headed for town. On the way he ran into the circus train but when his mule saw the elephant he bolted wildly, upsetting the wagon and spilling the goods.
Later, when asked if he regretted making the trip farmer replied, “Nope! ‘Cause I seen the elephant.”
The saying came to represent those pilgrims who headed West then came home busted and broke but with no regrets because “they’d seen the elephant.”