Lesson 17 The Gold Rush


American History Pages
  Native Americans
  Colonial America
  American Revolution
  The Constitution
  Our Nation Grows
  Civil War
  Industrial Nation
America (1785-1849)
The Northwest Ordinance
Life in the Northwest Territory
Louisiana Purchase
Explorers - Lewis and Clark & Pike
The Events leading up to the War of 1812
The War of 1812
The Star Spangled Banner
Life in the North
Life in the South
The Northwest Territory and Andrew Jackson
Americans Push West - The Trail of Tears
Frontiersmen/Settlements in the West
Mountain Men/Folklore - Paul Bunyan
The Fight for Texas
Seneca Falls - Women's Rights
The Gold Rush

William Smith Jewett (1812-1873), Portrait of General John A. Sutter, 1856, oil on canvas. The Oakland Museum of California Kahn Collection.

In January 1848 some men were building a sawmill for William John A. Sutter near what is now Sacramento, California. John Marshall was in charge of the building. He was walking along the stream leading to the mill when he came across some yellow stones in the stream. He had them tested. They were gold.


California was thousands of miles from the rest of the United States. It took almost a year for the news about finding the gold to get to the East. When the news arrived "gold fever" hit hard.

nuggets.jpg (9852 bytes)

People from all parts of the United States headed for California.   All over the nation stores closed. Families broke up. Schools closed. People headed for California. These people were called 49ers because of the year, 1849. Most of the people traveled overland in wagons. Most wagon trains left from St. Louis. The trip took many months. Some problems the 49ers faced were:

  • The weather could be dangerous (In the spring there was mud. The mountains were snow covered.) Many people died from exposure.

  • The Native Americans were hostile.

  • The desert was treacherous.

Most of the 49ers did not find gold. Some came home. Others stayed in California. They opened shops or farmed. By 1850 there were enough people living in the territory to apply for statehood. Some people wanted California to become a state. Others didn't. Arguments took place over whether it should be a free or a slave state.


art-mtnjack.jpg (13735 bytes)
E. Hall Martin (1818-1851), Mountain Jack and a Wandering Miner,
c. 1850, oil on canvas.
The Oakland Museum of California;
gift of Concours d'Antiques, Art Guild.

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