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The California Gold Rush

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Presentation on theme: "The California Gold Rush"— Presentation transcript:

1 The California Gold Rush

2 Gold has been discovered!
In January 24,1848, James Marshall discovered gold in California. He had been working at building a mill for John Sutter and saw “something shining” in the American River. In 1849, the California Gold Rush began, and one of the greatest voluntary migrations in American history.

3 California before gold
Home to 150,000 Native Americans And 6,000 Californios: settlers of Spanish or Mexican descent. Cattle ranching was the big industry. Spain had looked for gold for years but never found. In February of 1848, the Mexican American War ended, giving the U.S. land from Texas to California. (Gold had been discovered 10 days before the treaty was signed.)

4 Routes to California Sail 18,000 miles around South America at Cape Horn and up the Pacific coast—enduring storms, seasickness and spoiled food. Sial to the Isthmus of Panama, cross overland, and then sail north to California---risk of catching a deadly tropical disease. Travel a trail across North America—going over rivers, prairies, and mountains.


6 A Typical ’49er

7 Young men 2/3 were white Americans Native Americans, free blacks and slaves also worked the mines. Other miners came from Europe, South America, Australia, and China. Lived in rows of tents usually, some built wood cabins on the river.

8 Few miners got rich. Exhaustion Poor food Disease High prices for basic goods

9 Growth of Towns Towns along the California coast grew.
Sacramento San Francisco Stores, hotels, laundries, etc were built. Few women lived in California and ones that baked or did laundry could earn a good living and had plenty of choices for a husband.


11 Long Lasting Changes-Positive
Gold Rush peaked in 1852. 250,000 people had migrated to California. California had enough people to be admitted as a state in 1850—free state. Slaves who had been working the mines were free, and many worked to buy the freedom of family members.

12 Long Lasting Changes-Negative
Californios were ruined on land and denied legal rights. Thousands of Native Americans died of disease and settlers killed thousands more. Hunting and fishing grounds were taken over. Population fell to 58,000. Foreign Miners Tax—all foreigners had to pay $20 a month for mining. Many Chinese opened shops, restaurants and laundries. Areas where Chinese lived became Chinatowns.

13 How do we know all this? Many of the miners kept diaries that have been published. Letters were written from miners to families back home in the east. Newspapers reported accounts of those traveling.

14 Questions to Consider How were the families left at home affected?
What were women and children thinking who went to California? What do you do if you don’t find gold? What if Spain or Mexico had discovered the gold a year before the end of the war? How was the nation transformed by the Gold Rush?


16 Information taken from:
Dallek, Robert and others. American History: Beginnings through Reconstruction (Evanston, IL: McDougal Littel), 2007.

17 The Overland Route

18 From the East Many Americans who lived in states from New York to Georgia went west. Many had to find a way to Missouri where they would get supplies and then go west from there. Starting off points included: Independence, MO, St. Joseph, MO, Council Bluffs, IA.

19 Sometimes men from a community would go together, or families, or individuals would go.
Along the way they would form companies. These companies would stay together along the trip for protection and to split the duties of cooking and guarding the wagons at night.


21 To prepare to go west, men needed to:
They would also makes decisions about what route to take or what cut-off to take. To prepare to go west, men needed to: Make sure their families were cared for Have money to buy supplies Have a map or a field guide to know which way to go and what to encounter out West.

22 Things to Consider on the Trail
Indians—were feared because they could attack a wagon train (though many never saw one Indian) Grass for oxen and horses—with thousands going overland, grass could only be found a few miles off the trail Water

23 Daily Life on the Trail Start early with breakfast (usually corn meal, bacon, and coffee) Break down camp and tents and pack them back on the wagon. (Many had to unload unnecessary items as they made their way west) Travel about 20 miles in a long train of wagons. Dust could be so thick to make the road not visible.

24 Find a place to camp. Unpack tents. Eat. Have guard duty. Sleep.

25 Trials along the Trail Crossing rivers: long lines could make a wagon wait for days. No grass: meant oxen and horses would wear down. Getting to the mountains: what path to take to get to California the quickest and not get caught in a winter storm. Trip took about 7 months.

26 In California at the mines
After the long trek, many miners had to buy new supplies. Needed a pan, pick axe, shovel. They would then find a place on the river that wasn’t claimed, and start panning for gold. Some could find about $10 a day. Prices for items was high.

27 Story of William Swain Left Youngstown, New York, in April of 1849.
Traveled by the Great Lakes, down the Illinois River, by the Missouri River to Independence. Joined up with a company of men from Michigan. Kept a diary daily. Left his family (wife and daughter) in the care of his brother.

28 The Cost of Outfitting a Team
Oxen sold for $40-50 a yoke (chosen by Swain) Mules sold for $50-70 a yoke Conestoga wagon: $48 if bought in Chicago, $115 in Independence. Medicine chest $200.

29 Went from Independence to Fort Kearny, to Fort Laramie
Went from Independence to Fort Kearny, to Fort Laramie. Took their time and rested their oxen more than most. Used Lassen’s Cut-off. Many claimed that this was a quicker way, however it turned out to be rougher. The company of men split and finished the route in pairs with a mule.

30 “I’ve Seen the Elephant”
Common phrase used by miners who had experienced the hardships of the trail and the mines. Analogy: most people want to see a real elephant, and when they do they are overwhelmed by the size. Most wanted to go west for easy money and once they experienced the hard life, they had “seen the elephant”

31 Swain in “the diggings”
By taking the Carson and Truckee trails, thousands had reached the gold mines before Swain and his crew. First mined at South Fork of the Feather River. Built a log cabin. (most lived in tents)

32 Prices in California Pork: $1.25 Beans: $1.00 Sugar: $.75 Coffee: $.50
Pickaxes: $8 Coffee pots: $6 Frying pans: $6

33 In 1850, Swain and his friends left the Feather River and went to the Yuba.
This made Swain Choose to stay in California a year longer.

34 The Ending Toward the end of 1850 and beginning of 1851, Swain decided to go home. He had $500 in gold dust. He went home by sailing to Panama, crossed the Isthmus and sailed up the Atlantic Coast. William Swain went back to his farm in Youngstown. He told his stories about going west until his death in 1904.

35 Biswell Family You will read letters from two brothers from Huntsville, MO, who went west to California. They wrote letters home about their trip. Compare and contrast their trip with that of William Swain.

36 Notes taken from: Holliday, J.S. The World Rushed In (New York: Simon and Schuster), 1981.

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