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  Events of the California Gold Rush

The Gold Rush was one of the most significant events in California history. It brought people from all over the United States and the world in search for gold.

1848: James Marshall discovers gold at Sutter's sawmill.
1849: Gold Rush starts to attract people from around the world.
1850: California becomes a state.
1852: Gold becomes more scarce. Development of better mining techniques.
1853: Population of California exceeds 300,000.
1855: Sacramento becomes the California State Capital.
1859: Discovery of silver in Nevada ends the California Gold Rush.

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  How it started?

The overland trail was the cheapest, but slowest route.

John Sutter was a Swiss emigrant who arrived in California in 1839. He became a Mexican citizen and received a land grant of 50,000 acres in Sacramento Valley.

He built Sutter's Fort at the site of present day Sacramento. At Sutter's Fort he developed farming and other businesses. Sutter's Fort became a rest station for travelers and immigrants to California. On the right is a picture of Sutter's Fort at the time of the Gold Rush (Source: Library of Congress).

In 1847 John Sutter hired John Marshall to build a sawmill at a site named Coloma. At the right, below, is a picture of the Mill at Coloma.

 

On January 4, 1848, John Marshall picked up a piece of metal at the mill that looked like gold. He took the metal to Sutter. They tested it and confirmed that it was gold.

Sutter was afraid that the discovery of gold would take his workers away from the fields. He was also concerned that gold would bring prospectors onto his land. He asked Marshall and the others working at the mill to keep the gold a secret.

But word got out! By late 1848, word had spread across the country. On December 5, 1848, President James Polk speaking to Congress confirmed accounts of gold. The discovery of gold in California became national news.

 


 
Picture of John Sutter
(Source: Library of Congress)

                Picture of John Marshall
           (Source: Library of Congress)

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  The Rush for Gold!

The California Gold Rush was the largest migration of people to California, and started California on the road to what it is today.

By 1849 the gold rush was on. People from all over the United States and the World were rushing to California. People caught "Gold Fever" in the hope of striking it rich. Many gold seekers arrived expecting to find rivers overflowing with gold. Unfortunately, most found riverbanks crowded with miners.

Most prospectors were previously storekeepers, cooks, carpenters, teachers, farmers or some other trade before heading to California in search of gold. By 1850, the mining country had become quite populated. Many of the immigrants ended up started businesses, trading posts, importing goods to seel to miners, farming and ranching. They took advantage of the skills they brought with them.

In the mid-1850s gold was becoming very difficult to find. More people were making fortunes from selling supplies to miners, than the miners themselves.
When silver was discovered in Nevada in 1859, the miners headed for Nevada. This ended the California Gold Rush.

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  The Overland trial

The overland trail was the cheapest, but slowest route.

Many people came to California by covered wagon. This was a long, difficult journey.

Travelers needed to travel across difficult land. They needed to cross the desert and climb the mountains with their wagons, mules and oxen.

It was very important that the travelers left early enough so not to get caught in the Sierra Mountains during the winter. Many were aware of the tragic fate of the Donner party in 1846.

Coming by land with covered wagons had its advantages. Travelers could pack a lot more gear. They would pack a cooking stove, plates and cups, and forks and knives. They would carry enough food and supplies for a 6 month journey. Food was usually bacon, ham, rice, dried fruits, bread, flour, sugar, rice, molasses, butter, coffee and tea.

 

Overland travelers would take tools for mining, farming, and fixing the wagon. They also took guns and ammunition, and clothes and blankets.

All of this had to be carried in a wagon about 9 feet long and 4 feet wide. Some travelers also brought cattle and chickens to provide food. This was a difficult route. People were often poorly prepared. Many people died during the trip from illness, starvation and drowning.

On Foot: Many people local to California, and those arriving by ship, ended up walking on foot to gold country.

 
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