The California Gold Rush AKA those crazy 49s

The Mexican American War

US President James K Polk

What is "Manifest Destiny"?

Well, here's the deal...Manifest Destiny is an attitude, a belief, and a very convenient excuse. During the 1800s, if you were an American, especially an American in charge, you thought that the DESTINY of the United states was to read from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. And since it was FATE...nothing you did was really your fault! Even if you moved people off of their land, lied, cheated, or was all good!

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

ok...back to the war...

1. President Polk believes in manifest destiny and tries to convince Congress to buy the California territory from the Mexican governement. Congress says "nope...not gonna happen" both because of the Missouri Compromise situation and because it's way too much money.

2. President Polk sends troops down to a neutral area near the Rio Grande River...tells them to "hang around" and hopes to get attacked.

3. Mexican troops attack and 12 men are killed on the American side.

4. President Polk waits for 2 more battles and then runs back to Congress and demands that they declare war on Mexico (cause Mexico attacked us!!!)...which they do!

5. Santa Anna (Remember the Alamo!) convinces the Mexican government that they need him to win the war (he did a great job last time) and convinces Polk that if he lets him go to Mexico he (Santa Anna) will help get peace and help the United States get good stuff in the treaty.

Double Cross!!!

6. Santa Anna shows up in Mexico and becomes the President in the first month he is there and then he sends out more troops.

7. Unfortunately for Santa Anna and fortunately for Polk the Americans win most of the battles and Mexico is forced to sign a treaty.

8. The United States gets Texas, pays only $15 million for all of the California territory, and gets all of the territories north of the Rio Grande River. (That's us here in Arizona)

the end

not quite the end

Unknown to Polk and Santa Anna...

9 days before they signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848) Gold was found in the California Territory on January 24, 1848 near present-day Sacramento at Sutter's Mill.

Thus began the largest mass migration in the history of the United States:

The California Gold Rush

Fun Facts:

March of 1848 population information:

  1. 157,000 people in the California Territory
  2. 150,000 were Native Americans
  3. 6,500 were Spanish or Mexican
  4. less than 800 were non natives (white Americans)

by 1849

non native populations have grown from 800 to 100,000

That's basically if our school population was multiplied by 100 plus an extra 200 kids thrown in!

by the mid 1850s

300,000 non natives live in California

1 person out of every 90 people in the United States lives in California.

California becomes the 31st state in the Union in 1850.

First Gold Rush?


The first Gold Rush in the United States was in North Carolina where miners found a 17 pound gold nugget. This find prompted 30,000 miners to move to North Carolina within 5 years.

Let's talk money...

Golden Facts:

  1. 1849 - $10 million
  2. 1850- $41 million
  3. 1852 - $81 million
  4. 1857 - $45 million

All of those prices are from the 1800s. Today's money would be in the TRILLIONS (WITH A "T")

Prices for goods:

With so many people moving into an area so quickly the normal rates for food and goods changed when the supply was low and the demand was very high. Many goods that were important for both work and home life became extremely expensive. Due to this problem, many travelers who arrived in California hoping to strike it rich used up all of their money just trying to survive, live, and eat before they found any gold.


  1. 1 egg - $3.00 each ***today $83.94 each
  2. 1 pound of coffee $0.15 ****$4.20
  3. 1 pound of butter $20 **** $559.63
  4. 1 pound of beef $10 ***** $279.81
  5. work boots $6 ***** $167.89
  6. shovel $36 ******$1,007.33

Business Sense

Many people who arrived in California decided to start a business instead of shovel dirt for gold. Many of them became even more rich than the gold miners. Here are 3 you might recognize:

john studebaker

Mr. Studebaker started making wheelbarrows for the miners, made a fortune and began a car manufacturing company...

henry wells and william fargo

Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo were bankers who moved to California to open a new bank. They have since become one of the largest banks in the United States...WellsFargo

Notice the stage coach? It is supposed to remind everyone that they have been around in the West since the stage coach.

levi strauss

Mr. Levi Strauss was a tailor from Germany. He moved to California to take advantage of the gold rush. He thought he would make canvas tents, tarps, and wagon coverings. However, what people really needed were work clothes that would last. With that discovery Mr. Strauss started making pants from canvas. After that...

wacky things:

In San Francisco there were so many sailors that abandoned their ships to go look for gold that the harbor filled up with empty boats and there was no room for the new boats to dock.

So the empty ships were up for grabs and people in the city used the wood for building homes and businesses.

Entire ships were hauled onto the land and used for lodging, jails, storage, and small hotels.

Many other ships were use to fill in parts of the harbor and beaches to make more land for people to live on.

in 1852 92% of the prospectors are men.

in 1860 81% of the people who live in gold mining towns are men

hardships on the road

No easy way to get there:

In order to travel to the gold rush, many people had a lot of difficulty with finding enough money to travel and live on once they arrived. Many people mortgaged their properties, sold possessions, and/or borrowed money.

Travel by Sea

3 routes to California

Traveling by sea around Cape Horn on the southernmost tip of South America took 5-8 months.

Traveling by sea and land via the isthmus of Panama could take 2-4 months. Ships would run from New York to Panama, then you would walk a week with wagons and mules through the jungle to the other side of the country. After that you would wait for a ship to pick you up and take you the rest of the way.

Traveling over land (like the pioneers) on the California trail could take 5-7 months.

All three options took a long time, a lot of effort, and many people were sick or even died on the journey.

when you got there...

There were lots of problems!

  1. The surge in population meant that there were few police (or none), judges, or jails.
  2. Disputes about land, gold, money, breaking the law, stealing, murder, or anything else were handled personally, often with violence and guns. (This is where we get the ideas about the Wild West)
  3. There were no property laws, leases, licensing, safety laws, and no taxes. Therefore, there was no way to prove that you owned a gold mine or a piece of land unless you lived on it and defended it from everyone else.


Created with images by dhilung - "Yosemite Valley" • mypubliclands - "An Historic Cabin in Califonia Gets Its Name From a Brothers’ Bloody Shootout" • cliff1066™ - "James Knox Polk, Eleventh President (1845-1849)" • PollyDot - "fool's gold iron pyrite mineral" • Ron Cogswell - "Intersection of Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards Arlington (VA) June 1014" • bancerz - "gold metal mineral" • BLMOregon - "Grayback Mountain" • mypubliclands - "#conservationlands15 Social Media Takeover, May 15, Top 15 Trails to Blaze on BLM’s National Conservation Lands"

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