Lesson Plan: The California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush and the 49ers

Marcia Eymann visited the Center for Sacramento History and talked about the California gold rush. The California gold rush began in 1848, when gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought 300,000 people from across the U.S. and abroad to California.


In 1824 gold was discovered in California sparking the California Gold Rush. New settlers from around the United States and the world migrated to California. This lesson explores the origins of the California Gold Rush and its impact on the lives of different groups present at the time. Video clips include the perspectives of 49ers, women settlers, Chinese immigrants and California Indians.


  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by posing the following questions to your students:

    • What do you think of when you think of the California Gold Rush?

    Review the students' answers to the warm-up questions. After doing this, have the students view the following clip and answer the associated questions. Students can also use the Gold Rush Handout linked below to answer this and the other questions in this lesson.

    HANDOUT: California Gold Rush (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: California Gold Rush and the 49ers (4:00)

    • Who was John Sutter and how did he acquire his wealth?
    • Describe what Sacramento looked like before the Gold Rush.
    • Why are they called 49ers? What did they need to have in order to be successful?
    • What are the different ways that gold is mined?
    • Explain the environmental and health issues associated with gold mining.

    After reviewing the students' answers and addressing any misconceptions, have the students view the following video clips about different groups of people during the Gold Rush. Students will answer the questions associated with them.

  • VIDEO CLIP: Settlers' Life during the Gold Rush (3:38)

    • How significant was the use and sale of alcohol during the California Gold Rush?
    • Describe the backgrounds of people who came during the early California Gold Rush. Explain why this makes sense.
    • How connected was California to the rest of the United States? How do you think this impacted the miners who settled there?
    • How did people communicate to their families back home? What were problems with this?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Businesses during the California Gold Rush (2:17)

    • Explain the immigration of the Chinese during the California Gold Rush.
    • Describe how gold was found during the early years of the Gold Rush.
    • Why do you think Chinese and other foreign groups were not allowed to mine gold in California?
    • Besides mining, what other jobs were available at the time.
  • VIDEO CLIP: Women during the California Gold Rush (1:58)

    • Describe the number of women in California during the Gold Rush. How did this impact their role in society?
    • What was life like for women during the early Gold Rush in California?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Native Americans During the California Gold Rush (2:41)

    • Describe how the non-Indian population changed after the discovery of gold. How did this change the relationship between settlers and Indians?
    • How did media accounts of Indian impact settlers' perceptions on Indians?
    • Explain the actions by the settlers against Indian populations.

    After reviewing the students' answers, have the students create a diary entry from the perspective of someone living during the Gold Rush. Students will recount a day in their life that addresses the issues brought up in the previous video clips. They should include information about the following:

    • Their daily activities.
    • Their perspectives on gold mining.
    • How their life has changed since the beginning of the Gold Rush.

    As an exit slip, have the students answer the following question:

    • How were the experiences during the California Gold Rush different for the various groups of people?

    Map a Gold Rush Town- Using information from the videos, create a map of a gold rush town like the map of Sacramento from the video clip. Include businesses, people and activities that were present at the time.

    Create a General Store Advertisement- Create a poster advertising a gold rush town's general store. Include representation of what types of goods and services were needed in these towns.

  • Additional Prompts-

    • Was the California Gold Rush a unique experience in American history? Explain your argument with supporting examples.
    • How does the California Gold Rush fit into the broader theme of western expansion?
    • How do you think California Indians viewed the California Gold Rush?
    • How do you think the California Gold Rush impacted the role of women in society?
    • How did California Gold Rush impact immigration to the United States?

Additional Resources


  • 49ers
  • Abundance
  • Bakery
  • Blacksmith
  • Breadwinner
  • Breweries
  • California Gold Rush
  • Chinese
  • Demographic
  • Economy
  • Emigrants
  • Gold Nuggets
  • Gold Rush
  • Hydraulic Mining
  • Income
  • Land Grant
  • Mad Hatter
  • Mercury
  • Mining
  • Mining The Miners
  • Paramilitary
  • Picks
  • Pioneer
  • Post Office
  • Quicksilver
  • Rocker
  • Sacramento
  • Saloon
  • Scarcity
  • Sutter


State HistoryU.S. History