California Gold Rush
By Shirley Kruenegel
  

1     On January 24, 1848, James Marshall spotted glittering flakes of gold in the American River. At the time he was working on helping to build a saw mill for John Sutter. He quickly took the gold to show Mr. Sutter and to get it tested. Sutter asked Marshall to keep the discovery of gold a secret until the construction of his mill was completed. However, that was one secret that was impossible to keep because gold is a rare, soft, valuable metal.
 
2     When Sam Brannan's announcement printed in the Californian newspaper reported that gold was found in the American River, everyone throughout the United States started to dream about becoming rich. Then during the Congressional Meeting held on December 5, 1848, President Polk announced that gold was discovered. This announcement caused one of the largest migrations to the west coast. Over 100,000 people made their way to California. These gold seekers were known as the "forty-niners."
 
3     Men packed up all of their necessary belongings and what little money they had and began to plan their departures. There were three main routes to the California gold fields. Traveling overland, men and families met in Independence, Missouri, and joined wagon trains. This was a very difficult route traveling over mountains, through canyons, and across the desert.
 
4     Many men traveled by sea on clipper ships. The most common way was to sail around Cape Horn and up the west coast of South America towards California. This way was extremely long, and very expensive. The weather and currents determined how fast the ships would be able to travel.
 
5     Another sea route was to travel south to Panama City. Then the gold seekers would have to travel approximately 100 miles on foot through the jungle to reach the Pacific Ocean. With luck they might be able to catch a ship not yet full coming from around Cape Horn. Then they would be able to finally continue on their way to California. This route was unpredictable and dangerous. Diseases, poor food and water, and insects prevented some men from getting to California.
 
6     After about three long exhausting months, they would eventually reach their destination. Thinking that they could now start looking for gold, they would once again be shocked at what they would find. Supplies in the cities such as San Francisco would be scarce or extremely expensive. The cost of one egg was $3.00, a pound of butter $6.00, and a pan for looking for gold about $10.00. The hotels and boarding houses were over crowded, causing people to sleep in tents or outdoors under the stars.
 
7     When they finally reached the gold fields, another feeling of disappointment would overcome them in time. The gold nuggets were not in abundance and just waiting to be picked up like they had thought. The forty-niners would spend many strenuous hours wading at the edge of the icy cold rivers panning for gold. The panning technique involved tilting the edge of the pan back and forth with the hope that small flecks of shiny gold would be sitting on the bottom of the pan.
 
8     There were several other types of gold mining methods; however, more manpower would be needed. The cradle was a technique which involved at least 2 people. It was made with two level boxes. Sand was shoveled into the top box and with a rocking motion gravel and water would fall through a screen. The cleats in the bottom box would catch any pieces of gold.
 
9     Another method was the use of a long tom. It was made of two boxes as well, but these were about a foot wide and eight feet long. One end was open for the water and sand particles to run out. It took three people to operate the long tom; two to shovel the riverbed bottom and one to keep the sand from clogging up. The gold would settle in between the cleats, since it is heavier than sand or gravel.
 
10     After years of back breaking gold searching, many men began to give up and would head back to towns such as Angels Camp or Hangtown to begin a different life or return to their homes in the East. Many forty-niners never struck it rich to become wealthy.

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Name _____________________________
Date ___________________
California Gold Rush

1.   Which of these is a fact given in the article?
  After years of back breaking gold searching, many men began to give up.
  The forty-niners would spend many strenuous hours wading at the edge of the icy cold rivers panning for gold.
  During the Congressional Meeting held on December 5, 1848, President Polk announced that gold was discovered.
  After about three long exhausting months, some people would eventually reach their destination.
2.   What is the main idea of the fifth paragraph?
  Diseases in the Panama jungle could kill the men.
  Traveling on a ship was a difficult and long journey.
  The Panama route was the easiest route.
  The Panama route was a 100 mile walk through the jungle, unpredictable and dangerous.
3.   Which of the facts below happened last in this article?
  Sam Brannan discovered gold at Sutter's mill.
  Eventually prospectors would return to towns such as Hangtown to start a new life.
  Looking for gold involved using a pan, cradle, or long tom.
  There were three main routes to get to the gold fields.
4.   What were the three main routes to California?
  Wagon train, sailing around Cape Horn, and sailing to Panama
  Sailing to Panama, sailing to Cape Horn, sailing to Africa
  Wagon train, hiking, and sailing through Panama
  Sailing around Cape Horn, sailing to Panama, and sailing around South America

 

Name _____________________________
Date ___________________
California Gold Rush

5.   What does the word "forty-niners" mean?
  The price of a ticket to California
  The number of men going to California
  The nickname given to the men who went searching for gold in 1949
  The nickname given to the men who went searching for gold in 1849
6.   Why did John Sutter want the discovery of gold to remain a secret?
  He wanted the gold for himself.
  He wanted the men to finish his saw mill.
  He didn't want people to come to his saw mill.
  He didn't care if it was a secret.

 

California Gold Rush - Answer Key


1    During the Congressional Meeting held on December 5, 1848, President Polk announced that gold was discovered.
2    The Panama route was a 100 mile walk through the jungle, unpredictable and dangerous.
3    Eventually prospectors would return to towns such as Hangtown to start a new life.
4    Wagon train, sailing around Cape Horn, and sailing to Panama
5    The nickname given to the men who went searching for gold in 1849
6    He wanted the men to finish his saw mill.