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Gold Rush

1769 - 1849 | 1850 - 1903  


Franciscan missionaries from Spain found the Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first mission in Alta California. Over the next fifty years twenty more missions will be built along California's coast.


Mexico gains independence from Spain. California is under Mexican control, but government is loose because of the distance from Mexico City. Mexico opens the California coast to foreign trade and American vessels begin to trade with Californios.


Swiss immigrant John Sutter arrives in California. He applies for Mexican citizenship and is granted 50,000 acres. At the junction of the Sacramento and American Rivers, he builds a fort.


State of California The population of California consisted of about 6,900 Californios, 700 foreigners (mostly Americans) and at least 300,000 Native Americans.

May 13: The United States and Mexico go to war over a disputed area in Texas.

Samuel Brannan July 31: Sam Brannan arrives in Yerba Buena on the Brooklyn with 238 other Mormons. He was to meet other Mormons led by Brigham Young from Illinois, but that group settled at the Great Salt Lake.

November 2: The Donner Party is trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by a snowstorm. Many of them survive by eating the flesh of some of the 40 who die. They remain snowbound until February.


Yerba Buena is renamed San Francisco. By the end of the year, the city has 200 buildings and 800 inhabitants.

August 19: John Sutter and construction foreman James Marshall make plans to build a sawmill on the American River at a place known to the Native Americans as "Culloomah."

September 14: American troops led by General Winfield Scott capture Mexico City.


January 24: James Marshall and Peter L. Wimmer discover gold in the tailrace at Sutter's new sawmill on the American River. "It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold," Marshall recalled later.

Treaty Of Guadalupe Hidalgo February 2: The United States and Mexico sign the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, bringing a formal end to the war. California is ceded to the U.S. People living in the territory, with the exception of Native Americans, are granted U.S. citizenship. The treaty gave the U.S. the land from Texas to Oregon, and completed the American vision of Manifest Destiny -- one nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The brig Eagle brings the first three Chinese workers to San Francisco.

March 15: The Californian reports gold is being found "in considerable quantities" at Sutter's sawmill. San Franciscans are skeptical of the news.

March 18: The California Star reports the non-Native population of San Francisco is 575 males, 177 females and 60 children.

Antonio Franco Coronel March: Antonio Franco Coronel departs Los Angeles to try to find gold in northern California. Coronel traveled with several Indian peones and two Sonorans, Benito Perez and his wife (her name not recorded) indebted to the patron for the cost of their journey north.

April 1: Sam Brannan prints a six-page extra edition of his newspaper, the California Star, describing an "immensely rich" gold mine in the Sacramento Valley. Brannan organizes a mule train to take copies of this edition east to the Missouri frontier, with the hope of encouraging immigration.

April 7: John Sutter notes in his diary that Sam Brannan visited the mines.

May 12: Sam Brannan sets off gold fever in San Francisco when he waves a bottle of gold dust and shouts "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" Brannan will see huge profits at his merchandise store at Sutter's Fort. Chum Ming, a Chinese merchant, heard the announcement and immediately wrote home to his cousin, Cheong Yim, asking him to join him in the bonanza and to bring help. Chum Ming then headed for the gold fields.

May 29: The Californian writes: "The whole country from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the sea shore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas, resounds with the sordid cry of 'Gold, gold, gold!' while the field is left half-planted, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes."

June: News of the gold rush reaches the Hawaiian Islands.

"The California Star," April 1, 1848 June 14: The California Star suspends publication because the staff goes to the gold fields.

July: California's military governor Richard Mason visits the gold region in early July. He writes a report about the large amounts of gold being gathered and sends a sample to Washington. Mason judges that the 4,000 men in the gold district were collecting up to $50,000 a day. "I was surprised to learn that crime of any kind was very infrequent and that no thefts or robberies had been committed in the gold district. All live in tents, or bush houses, or in the open air and men have frequently about their persons thousands of dollars' worth of this gold." Mason reports that more than half of the miners in this first year are Native Americans, exploited by whites.

Early August: News of the gold mines reaches Oregon and migrants begin moving south

August 18: News of the gold reached Chile via the brig J.R.S., which docked in Valparaiso after 64 days of sailing from San Francisco. The news didn't generate much excitement until the schooner Adelaide arrived from California on September 12 with gold dust worth $2,500. An estimated 5,000 Chileans arrived in San Francisco during the first six months of 1849.

August 19: The New York Herald prints an item about the discovery of gold in California.

September 14: More announcements of the gold rush are published on the East Coast of the U.S., including an issue of the Philadelphia North American that runs a letter from an alcalde (Spanish official) in California saying, "Your streams have minnows and ours are paved with gold."

October: Mexican migrants begin to arrive in California for the gold rush.

November 28: A ship carrying $500,000 in gold bound for the U.S. Mint leaves San Francisco.

President James K. Polk December 5: Based on the report from Colonel Mason, President James K. Polk confirms the discovery of gold in California in his State of the Union Address. The President writes, "The accounts of abundance of gold are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service." Thousands of people, including Franklin Buck, a clerk in New York, are swept up by gold fever. "Have you read the account from there about the Gold?" he wrote his sister in Bucksport, Maine, "I have seen letters from Captains whom I know, who write that their men have all run away and are digging up $20 a day, PURE GOLD, for some of it has been sent home. It has created a real fever here."

Vicente Perez Rosales December 28: Chilean Vicente Perez Rosales departs Valparaiso aboard the French ship Staoueli. He and his party are bound for San Francisco and the gold rush.

By the end of the year, an estimated 5,000 people were mining in California. The entire non-native population of California is estimated at 20,000.

Australians hear about the gold rush when the Sydney Morning Herald reprinted some articles from the Hawaiian paper The Polynesian about the discovery.


January 11: The New York Herald reports the stories of gold in California have "set the public mind almost on the highway to insanity." Capitalizing on the fever, ship owners announce departures, merchants begin pushing the sale of India rubber boots, tents, money belts, medicine, gold testing and gold washing machines. Those on the coast begin looking for a ship. Those inland contemplate the overland routes. Men organize themselves into companies, paying equal amount and pooling together to buy the goods for the trip. They borrow money, mortgage homes, spend life savings.

January 17: Franklin Buck writes to his sister in Maine, "The docks are crowded with fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters and sweethearts, and such embracing and waving of handkerchiefs and 'I say Bill! If you send me a barrel of Gold Dust don't forget to pay the freight on it!' One fellow who went in the Brooklyn, threw his last five dollar piece ashore. Says he: 'I'm going where there is plenty more!' It beats all! ... this California fever."

January 22: The Alta California becomes the first daily newspaper in California.

February 3: The Raleigh Register runs an advertisement for women to go to the Gold Rush and get a rich husband, titled "A Chance FOR A LADY." Other efforts to encourage women to go to California include Mrs. Eliza Farnham of New York's attempt to organize a ship of intelligent women over the age of 25 to sail to San Francisco to meet miners. Editors in the east praised her efforts, but the plan failed.

February 17: One hundred and twenty-two men of the Hartford Union Mining and Trading Company set sail for California. They arrived in California in September. Within a year, the statistics for the company stand as follows: twelve men out of original 122 are dead (10%); 26 have returned home with approximately $1,280 each; 77 have stayed in California, averaging $1,239/man in earnings.

February 28: First regular steamboat service to California is inaugurated by the arrival of the Pacific Mail's steamer California.

March: Oregonian miners attack a Maidu Native American village on the American River and rape several women. Some of the Maidu men who try to stop the Oregonians are killed. Soon after, five Oregonian miners are attacked and killed by Native Americans. The miners retaliate and kill more than a dozen Indians.

Hiram Pierce March 6: Hiram Pierce leaves Troy, New York, and takes a train to New York City. From there, he sails to Panama, walks across the isthmus, and then gets a boat to San Francisco.

Alfred Doten March 18: Twenty-year-old Alfred Doten and the other members of the Pilgrim Mining Company depart Plymouth, Massachusetts. Doten sails around Cape Horn to get to San Francisco for the gold rush.

Mid-April: Some 30,000 gold rushers are congregated in the outfitting towns along the Missouri River, all waiting for the prairie to firm up adequately and grass to grow high enough to feed their animals on the long journey to California. Cholera was rampant in the camps.

Luzena Stanley Wilson May 1: Luzena Stanley Wilson and Mason Wilson pack their wagon and leave their cabin in Missouri. With their two small sons, they set out on the overland route to California.

June: Americans traveling around Cape Horn by ship for the gold rush begin to arrive in San Francisco.

June 12: At a mass meeting, the citizens of San Francisco agree on the necessity of electing delegates to a convention to form a government for Upper California.

Summer: Southerners are using slave labor in the mines. Editorials and statements by Southerners express the belief they were entitled to take slave property into lands seized in the Mexican War.

July 15: Members of the Hounds, American ex-soldiers, attack tents in the Chilean district near Jackson and Dupont.

July 16: Sam Brannan demands that the Hounds be arrested. Two hundred and thirty volunteer policemen are deputized by the newly-formed Law and Order Party and make the arrests.

Map showing sea passage route to California via Cape Horn July 25: After 77 days of traveling, Hiram Pierce arrives in San Francisco.

August: Americans traveling overland in caravans from the East begin to arrive in California.

September 1: The California Constitutional Convention begins at Colton Hall in Monterey. Forty-eight delegates draft the first state constitution. Under constitution, California will enter the Union as a free state. In Washington, D.C., there is heated debate over slavery.

October 2: Alfred Doten sails into San Francisco.

October 31: More than 45,000 letters are piled up undelivered in San Francisco's post office. Clerks barricade themselves in to protect themselves from the crowd.

Title page of California State Constitution November 13: California voters approve the State Constitution.

December 24: Fire breaks out at Dennison's Exchange on the east side of Kearny between Clay and Jackson Streets in San Francisco. Fifty buildings are destroyed, and the fire causes $1,500,000 damage.

December 31: The population of California is estimated at 100,000 including 35,000 people who came by sea, 3000 sailors who deserted ships and 42,000 who came overland.

There are an estimated 40,000 people mining in California by the end of 1849. The entire non-native population is estimated at 100,000.

1769 - 1849 | 1850 - 1903  

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Gold Rush American Experience

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