4.3 How did the discovery of gold change California?
The goal of this inquiry set is to give students a comprehensive understanding of the lasting impact that the California Gold Rush had on the people living in California, as well as the demographic, economic, and environmental changes that occurred between 1848 and the 1870s.
- HSS 4.3.1 Identify the locations of Mexican settlements in California and those of other settlements, including Fort Ross and Sutter\'s Fort.
- HSS 4.3.2 Compare how and why people traveled to California and the routes they traveled (e.g., James Beckwourth, John Bidwell, John C. Fremont, Pio Pico).
- HSS 4.3.3 Analyze the effects of the Gold Rush on settlements, daily life, politics, and the physical environment (e.g., using biographies of John Sutter, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Louise Clapp).
- HSS 4.3.4 Study the lives of women who helped build early California (e.g., Biddy Mason).
- HSS 4.3.5 Discuss how California became a state and how its new government differed from those during the Spanish and Mexican periods.
Describe ideas, phenomena (e.g., volcanic eruptions), and text elements (main idea, characters, events, and the like) based on close reading of a select set of grade-level texts, with substantial support.
Use knowledge of frequently used affixes (e.g., un-, mis-) and linguistic context, reference materials, and visual cues to determine the meaning of unknown words on familiar topics.
Describe ideas, phenomena (e.g., animal migration), and text elements (main idea, central message, and the like) in greater detail based on close reading of a variety of grade-level texts, with moderate support.
Use knowledge of morphology (e.g., affixes, roots, and base words), linguistic context, and reference materials to determine the meaning of unknown words on familiar topics.
Describe ideas, phenomena (e.g., pollination), and text elements (main idea, character traits, event sequence, and the like) in detail based on close reading of a variety of grade-level texts, with light support.
Use knowledge of morphology (e.g., affixes, roots, and base words) and linguistic context to determine the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words on familiar and new topics.
Write short literary and informational texts (e.g., a description of a flashlight) collaboratively (e.g., joint construction of texts with an adult or with peers) and sometimes independently.
Write brief summaries of texts and experiences using complete sentences and key words (e.g., from notes or graphic organizers).
Write longer literary and informational texts (e.g., an explanatory text on how flashlights work) collaboratively (e.g., joint construction of texts with an adult or with peers) and with increasing independence using appropriate text organization.
Write increasingly concise summaries of texts and experiences using complete sentences and key words (e.g., from notes or graphic organizers).
Write longer and more detailed literary and informational texts (e.g., an explanatory text on how flashlights work) collaboratively (e.g., joint construction of texts with an adult or with peers) and independently using appropriate text organization and growing understanding of register.
Write clear and coherent summaries of texts and experiences using complete and concise sentences and key words (e.g., from notes or graphic organizers).
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
Link ideas within categories of information using words and phrases (e.g., another, for example, also, because).
Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
How did the discovery of gold change California?
Students study how the discovery of gold and the spread of its news throughout the world affected the multicultural aspects of California’s population. Students can compare the long overland route over dangerous terrain to the faster sea route, either via Panama or around Cape Horn. Teachers can read aloud excerpts from Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast. The arrivals of Asians, Latin Americans, and Europeans are included as part of this narrative. Students can also explore how the gender imbalance between women and men in California during the gold rush era allowed women who wished to participate in the gold rush to pass as men and led to a number of men to take on women’s roles. To bring this period to life, students can sing the songs and read the literature of the day, including newspapers. They might dramatize a day in the goldfields and compare the life and fortunes of a gold miner with those of traders in the gold towns and merchants in San Francisco. Students might also read historical fiction, such as Legend of Freedom Hill by Linda Jacobs Altman and By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman, which will provide an opportunity to incorporate the CCSS Reading Literature standards and allow students to contrast historical fiction with primary sources, secondary sources, and other informational texts.
Students may learn how historical fiction makes the story of history come alive but should learn about the problems of using historical fiction as the sole sources of information about a subject or time period.
Students may also read or listen to primary sources that both illustrate gender and relationship diversity and engage students’ interest in the era, like Bret Harte’s short story of “The Poet of Sierra Flat” (1873) or newspaper articles about the life of the stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, who was born as a female but who lived as a male, and who drove stagecoach routes in northern and central California for almost 30 years. Stagecoaches were the only way many people could travel long distances, and they served as a vital communication link between isolated communities. Parkhurst was one of the most famous California drivers, having survived multiple robberies while driving (and later killing a thief when he tried to rob Parkhurst a second time).
Students also learn about women who helped to build California during these years, such as Bernarda Ruiz, María Angustias de la Guerra, Louise Clapp, Sarah Royce, and Biddy Mason, as well as the participation of different ethnic groups who came to the state during this period, such as those from Asia, Latin America, and Europe, as well the eastern part of the United States. Students consider how the Gold Rush changed California by bringing sudden wealth to the state; affecting its population, culture, and politics; and instantly transforming San Francisco from a small village in 1847 to a bustling city in 1849. The social upheaval that resulted from the lure of gold and massive immigration caused numerous conflicts between and among social groups. The mining camps were one site of conflict, as miners of different ethnicities and races fought for access to wealth. American miners fared best, as California introduced a foreign miners tax on non-Americans.
Students can read some of the many stories about the California mining camps and explore the causes and effects of conflict in the camps by expressing their ideas in letters to the editor of an 1850s newspaper, or creating virtual museum exhibits about life in a California mining camp.
Another clear example of conflict during the Gold Rush era and early statehood was the loss of property and autonomy for many of the state’s earlier Mexican and Indian residents. In addition, great violence was perpetrated against many Indian groups who occupied land or resources that new settlers desired. Additional harm came by way of the Indian Indenture Act of 1850, which forced many Indians – mostly Indian youth – into servitude for landowners. The Gold Rush also caused irreparable environmental destruction through the introduction of hydraulic mining in the 1850s, which clogged and polluted rivers throughout the state, at great cost to the farmers affected downstream. Examining the development of new methods to extract, harvest, and transport gold during this period allows students to see direct interactions between natural systems and human social systems (California Environmental Principle II), See EEI Curriculum Unit Witnessing the Gold Rush 4.3.3).
To help students understand both E.A. Stevenson’s argument in his letter to the superintendent of Indian Affairs (Source 6) and the strategy he employed to persuade the reader, teachers can guide students to analyze his writing by asking them to consider his word choice, differentiating between current and past tense and speculating as to Stevenson’s intent and effectiveness, as detailed in Student Handout 1.
Teachers should note that Stevenson utilizes a before/after paradigm in order to make an argument about the impact of the Gold Rush on the well-being of the Native population in El Dorado County. He does this by contrasting the conditions before the Gold Rush (signaled by the markers “formerly” and the use of past tense) with current conditions in 1853, described using the present tense. Although he doesn’t use explicit cause and effect language (such as, “because” or “as a result of”), his use of this past/present rhetorical stance is an effective method intended to persuade the reader of the causal links between the Gold Rush, environmental conditions, and the health of Native society.
Additional instructions are provided in Student Handout 1.
- The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
- The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.