Earlier accounts of the creation of property rights in the California gold fields ignored culture and are incomplete. We argue that culture matters in solving collective-action problems. Such problems in the California gold fields were solved through reliance on cultural focal points. Focal points included individualism, equality, respect for property, and rewards commensurate to work. Cultural concepts of fairness served to create norms and institutions that miners were willing to defend, which included majority rule, election of officials, trial by jury, allocation of a first-come, first-served basis and rules for working claims.