Study Guide

California Gold Rush Timeline

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Dec 19, 2019

California Sparsely Populated

California is a sparsely populated Mexican province, home to about 7,000 Californios (Mexican citizens), 150,000 Indians, and 900 foreigners (mostly Americans).

Feb 4, 1846

Yerba Buena Landing

The sailing ship Brooklyn, carrying 246 Mormon settlers, arrives in San Francisco, which is at this time a tiny Mexican village known as Yerba Buena.

Sep 1, 1847

General Store Opens at Sutter's Mill

Mormon leader Samuel Brannan opens a general store at Sutter's Fort, near modern-day Sacramento.

Jan 24, 1848

Gold Discovered

James W. Marshall, a foreman building a lumber mill for pioneer landholder John Sutter, discovers gold in the American River east of Sacramento.

Feb 2, 1848

California Becomes Territory

California officially becomes United States territory with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ends the Mexican-American War by transferring nearly half of Mexico's lands to the United States.

Mar 15, 1848

Newspaper Reports Gold

The Californian newspaper in San Francisco reports for the first time on the gold discovery in the Sierra, but most San Franciscans remain skeptical of the report.

Apr 1, 1848

Gold News Spreads East

San Francisco's California Star newspaper prints a six-page special edition, for distribution in the eastern states, touting "immensely rich" gold mines in California.

May 12, 1848

Gold Announced in San Francisco

San Francisco merchant Samuel Brannan runs through the streets of the city, waving a quinine bottle full of gold while shouting "Gold, gold, gold from the American River!"

May 12, 1848 - May 20, 1848

San Francisco Seeks Gold

Virtually the entire male population of San Francisco leaves the city in a rush to the goldfields.

May 12, 1848 - Jul 6, 1848

Samuel Brannan's Store Booms

In the first six weeks following the arrival of gold fever in San Francisco, Samuel Brannan earns $36,000—the equivalent of $750,000 today—in profits from his general store, outfitting miners with picks, pans, and shovels.

Jul 1, 1848

Indians Mine Gold

More than half the miners in the gold fields in the first months of the Gold Rush are Indians, often brutally exploited by whites.

Aug 19, 1848

New York Herald Reports Gold

The New York Herald becomes the first major eastern newspaper to tout the discovery gold in California.

Nov 28, 1848

First Gold Ship Departs

The first gold ship, bearing $500,000 bound for the United States Mint, sails from San Francisco.

Dec 5, 1848

President James Polk Confirms Gold

President James K. Polk confirms the discovery of gold in California in an address to Congress, touching off a migration of hundreds of thousands of men hopeful of striking it rich in the goldfields.

Dec 19, 2019

Chinese Arrive in San Francisco

The first Chinese immigrants arrive in San Francisco.

Dec 19, 2019

Miners Daily Wages

In California, placer miners earn as much as $20 a day from their diggings.

Jan 11, 1849

Highway to Insanity

The New York Herald reports that the discovery of gold in California has "set the public mind almost on the highway to insanity."

Apr 1, 1849

Gold Rushers Amass in Missouri

More than 30,000 Gold Rushers amass in Missouri, waiting for the prairie to harden enough to allow overland travel by wagon to California.

Jun 1, 1849

Gold Rushers Arrive by Ship

The first American Gold Rushers to sail for California via Cape Horn arrive in San Francisco.

Dec 19, 2019


Ninety thousand migrants, known later as "Forty-Niners," arrive in California during 1849. An estimated two-thirds are white Americans, but the Forty-Niners also include large numbers of Chinese, Chileans, Peruvians, Mexicans, Europeans, and Australians. 97% of the migrants are men.

Sep 1, 1849

California Requests Statehood

California delegates assembled in the coastal town of Monterey draft a state constitution, requesting admittance to the Union.

Dec 19, 2019

Gold Amounts in 1849

$10 million worth of gold is extracted from California mines in 1849.

Dec 19, 2019

Gold Amounts in 1850

$41 million worth of gold is extracted from California mines in 1850.

Dec 19, 2019

San Francisco Population in 1850

San Francisco's population, less than 1000 at the time of the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill, is now estimated to exceed 30,000.

Sep 1, 1850

California Becomes a State

In Washington, Congress agrees to the Compromise of 1850, which admits California to the Union as a free (non-slave) state.

Dec 19, 2019 - Dec 19, 2019

Mining Technology Advances

When easily harvested placer gold is played out, miners require more technologically-intensive techniques to uncover gold buried deeper underground. The heyday of the independent miner wanes as mines became heavily capitalized, large-scale industrial concerns.

Apr 1, 1850

Foreign Miners Taxed

The California legislature passes the Foreign Miners Tax, charging foreign nationals $20 a month for the right to work their claims. The measure is aimed mainly at Chileans and Mexicans, as Anglo miners seek to reduce competition for ever-scarcer placer gold.

Apr 1, 1850 - Sep 1, 1850

Mexican Miners Leave

Targeted by the Foreign Miners Tax and subject to violence and intimidation at the hands of Anglos, an estimated 15,000 Mexican miners flee the gold region.

Dec 19, 2019

Gold Amounts in 1851

$75 million worth of gold is extracted from California mines in 1851.

Dec 19, 2019

Gold Amounts in 1852

$81 million worth of gold is extracted from California mines in 1852, an all-time high for the Gold Rush era.

Dec 19, 2019

Miner's Earnings Fall

California placer miners' average daily earnings fall by more than two-thirds from their 1848 peak, dropping under $6 a day.

Dec 19, 2019

Chinese Migration to Gold Mountain

A major crop failure afflicts much of rural China, prompting a major exodus of Chinese migrants to the legendary Gam Saan—"gold mountain"—of California. During 1852, more than 20,000 Chinese arrive in San Francisco. Soon the population of the mining region will be more than one-fifth Chinese.

May 1, 1852

Tax Targets Chinese

The California legislature passes a second Foreign Miners Tax, this time targeting Chinese competitors for golden riches.

Mar 1, 1853

Hydraulic Mining Invented

Edward Matteson, a placer miner frustrated by the ever-decreasing yield in free gold, pioneers the technique of hydraulic mining by fashioning a high-pressure hose to erode a hillside, freeing the gold buried within.

Dec 19, 2019

Supreme Court Limits Minority Rights

The California Supreme Court ruled that the Chinese, like Indians and Blacks, have no right to give evidence in state courts. The ruling means that violence against racial minorities can be committed with virtual impunity, as only the testimony of a white citizen can be used as evidence in court. White miners' attacks on Chinese miners drive many from the goldfields.

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