• The Gold Rush

    In 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter from New Jersey, found flakes of gold in a river near Sacramento, California. He was building a saw mill for John Sutter. Although Sutter and Marshall tried to keep the find a secret, word quickly got out when Sam Brannon, a local shopkeeper, marched through town carrying a vial filled with gold flakes from Sutter’s Mill.

    Within a year, thousands of men poured into the area. Initially, they arrived from other places in the west, including Oregon and Hawaii. Over time, word spread to the eastern United States. Men left their homes and families to seek their fortunes.


    Fun Facts

    • Between 1848 and 1849, the population of California grew by over 100,000.
    • Gold mining towns sprang up to take care of the miners. The towns had stores, saloons, and hotels. Few women and children lived here. The towns were often rough and lawless.
    • Over 750 pounds of gold were taken out of the ground during the California Gold Rush – more than $2 billion worth.
    • By the mid-1850s, the Gold Rush was over, but people still came to California. In 1850, California became the 31st
    • California wasn’t the only place where people went looking for gold. Gold was discovered in Colorado in 1859, almost 10 years after the Colorado Gold Rush. Thousands of miners flocked to Colorado, creating the cities of Denver and Boulder, as well as smaller mining towns in the mountains. Some of these towns, like Idaho Springs and Central City, are still around. Others are ghost towns.
    • In 1896, three men discovered gold in a creek in Dawson, Canada, a remote area near Alaska. Few people knew about the discovery until a steamer ship arrived in Seattle carrying more than a ton of gold. Then, the Klondike Gold Rush started! More than 100,000 men began the journey to the Yukon, but only 30,000 made it. The journey was very difficult. Many died from starvation, illness, or injury along the way. Those that did make it found that most of the gold mines had been claimed.


    1. Saw mill: a factory capable of turning raw lumber into boards for building
    2. Vial: a small tube or container, usually made of glass
    3. Lawless: uncivilized, violent, without order

    Questions and Answers

    Question: Did a lot of people become rich looking for gold?

    Answer: No. Most of the men who traveled to find gold ended up working for the men who owned the mines. Mining was hard, dangerous work and while these workers received fair wages, they certainly didn’t become wealthy. Both men and women became wealthy by being savvy business owners. Instead of looking for gold, they set up hotels, dance halls, and other businesses needed by the miners.

    Learn More

    Visit Scholastic for a printable mini-book about the California Gold Rush.




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