Skip to Content

The California Gold Rush: A Journey to the Goldfields

2 Favorites 0 Copies
Language Arts And English +5 Age Levels Primary (5 to 8 years old), Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary, Adults

The famous discovery of gold in California, forever changed the landscape, economy and culture of California by the hundreds of thousands of people who migrated during California's gold rush. The famous discovery was made by James Marshall, at Sutter's Mill, on January 24th, 1848. Rumors and stories spread throughout the land of the discovery of gold, in California. The discovery was confirmed by President Polk,  11th President of the United States. President Polk made the announcement of the gold discovery, in California and the news spread world wide. Hundreds of thousands of people migrated to California from all around the world during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The journeys were long and dangerous. The three major routes are: around Cape Horn by ship (six to eight months), the Isthmus of Panama (two to three months), and the Overland trail (three to five months). By ship, dangers included: ship wrecks, lack of food and water, seasickness and disease. Ships that survived the long journeys arrived to the ports of San Francisco, where the migrants continued their journeys to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Traveling 2,000 miles across an entire nation, on the Overland Trail by foot and wagons, exposed travelers other dangers, such as: misinformed trails, lack of food and water, and exposed them to inclimate weather while crossing deadly rivers, deserts, and high mountain passes. Only the very basic necessities were taken for these long journeys on the Overland trail; such as: food, water, wagons, stock, hunting tools, blacksmithing tools, clothing, blankets, sewing kits, medical supplies, etc.

On the Overland Trail, many miners joined companies. These companies were made up of people with various skills; such as, carpentry, medicine, navigation, hunting, blacksmithing and wheelwrights. The likelihood of surviving these long and dangerous journeys increased, significantly for those individuals who joined companies. If a company survived the journey to California on the Overland Trail, the company also had a higher likelihood of success in gold mining. Individuals within the company could stake multiple gold mining claims and the gold would then be divided among the people of the company. During the gold rush, individuals were only allowed to own one claim.  


Covered Wagon [painting] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Study, Covered Wagons

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Heading--Chapter III "Sutter's Gold"

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Pioneers of the West

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Pack Stock in Columbia, California

Columbia State Historic Park

Arrival of the Miners (non book*)

Columbia State Historic Park

Painting, Clipper Ship Mandarin

National Museum of American History

Scrimshaw Sperm Whale Tooth, 20th Century

National Museum of American History

A Prospecting Party

National Museum of American History

Painting, Clipper Ship Mandarin

National Museum of American History