How much do you know about the Gold Rush?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Travel! Adventure! Instant wealth! The Gold Rush seemed to offer all these things to Americans in the middle of the 19th Century. Of course, hardship, violence and the very real possibility of going broke also awaited. How much do you know about the Gold Rush? Find out now with our quiz!

Which state was home to the Gold Rush?

California is now known as the "Golden State" because of that historic time. Of course, its sunny weather and beaches are also part of the equation.

True or false: Did most ships to California use the Panama Canal?

The Panama Canal didn't exist at the time of the Gold Rush; it opened to traffic in 1914. Some sea travelers went around the horn. Others got to Panama by boat, then across Panama by land, and then on to California by sea again.

In what year was the first gold discovered?

There are stories about small, pre-1848 finds. But those didn't spark a craze for prospecting.

Which city turned from a sleepy settlement to a boomtown because of the Gold Rush?

San Francisco, a port city, was where would-be gold seekers arrived in California. As the Gold Rush continued, San Francisco became a hub for mining supplies, banking, and entertainment.

True or false: Was gold mining in California largely without harm to the environment?

The image of the 49er gently panning by hand is a romantic one, but gold which could be found that easily was quickly exhausted. Harsher methods, like hydraulic mining, soon followed.

Who made his fortune selling overalls to miners?

Levi Strauss, now an iconic brand, got started in the Gold Rush days as overalls for miners. Soon, Levi's jeans were worn by laborers in all sorts of field. Finally, in the 1950s and 60s, they were co-opted as a fashion statement by middle-class youth, and now you might pay $200 for a pair. That's progress!

What is the classic, picturesque method of finding gold during the Gold Rush called?

When people think of the Gold Rush, they often imagine a prospector shaking river water and silt through a fine-mesh pan until it reveals a nugget of gold. Some California tourist attractions still let visitors pan for gold (spoiler alert: the creeks are usually seeded!)

The first gold was discovered at _______.

Sutter's Mill, now a famous name, was a sawmill north of present-day Sacramento, which harnessed water from a nearby river. One day, there was something shiny in the water of the mill's tailrace (the part where the water exits), and the rest is history.

John Sutter's land was nearest to which California town?

Coloma is a small town near present-day Sacramento, but Sacramento itself didn't exist yet. It was founded and named "Sacramento" by Sutter's oldest son. annoying his father, who wanted the young city to be called "Sutterville."

On which river was Sutter's Mill?

The American River was the first major source of gold in California. Prospectors rushed there after an entrepreneur went through the streets of San Francisco publicizing the discovery.

What was the most common nickname for would-be prospectors?

Though the discovery at Sutter's Mill took place in 1848, the race for California gold didn't start in earnest until 1849. Hence the name, which is now that of San Francisco's football team.

"Argonauts," a less-used name for the 49ers, comes from which source?

Jason and his Argonauts (their ship was called the Argo) went in search of a mythical golden fleece. The parallel is clear: brave young men, facing dangers and a faraway land in pursuit of gold.

In 1848, California was ...

California was no longer Mexico's holding, yet it had neither territory nor state status. It was under a kind of loose martial law under the U.S. Army. Of course, the discovery of gold fast-tracked statehood -- that's usually the case when valuable resources are at stake.

Why didn't the Gold Rush take off until 1849?

In 1848, people couldn't turn on the TV and see live footage of gold being found in a creek, or confirmed by a geologist. It took time for the news -- carried by mule wagons or by ships -- to reach the East Coast and other parts of the world. And even then, artist's sketches and anecdotal accounts of gold strikes weren't the most convincing.

Who were the "Californios," who made up a good number of the 49ers?

Some Californios held land and were wealthy, a holdover from the days when Mexico owned California. But those Californios who were poor enough to head for the gold fields faced discrimination.

Who was U.S. president when the Gold Rush began?

Polk confirmed the rumors of gold in California in an address to Congress. He did this after receiving a package from the West containing 230 ounces of gold nuggets and dust. Which raises the question: Who gives up that much gold, even to impress a U.S. president?

In what year did California become a state?

A mere two years after the first gold was discovered, California became a U.S. state. It leapfrogged "territory" status entirely, which was not at all common.

Approximately how many people lived in California just before the discovery of gold?

Most of California's population at the time was made up of Native Americans and Californios. They were about to witness a very uncomfortable population explosion.

The overland route to California was called ...

Like the Oregon Trail, the road to California was named simply for its destination. But this overland route wasn't easy on travelers, and many 49ers chose to go by sea instead.

Gold Rush figure Samuel Brannan is best known for which of these?

The California Star was the state's first newspaper. Shortly after the Sutter's Mill discovery, Brannan is said to have gone through the streets of San Francisco shouting, "Gold! Gold on the American River" -- not to sell papers, but to fuel business for one of his other ventures, a general store.

At the time of Brannan's announcement, approximately how many people were living in San Francisco?

It's hard to believe, but that's how many people were estimated to be living in sleepy San Francisco in 1848. Today, with rents being what they are, that's about how many people seem to occupy one San Francisco Victorian house!

What was the right to mine a particular piece of land called?

In California it was "first come, first served" when it came to land that potentially had gold on it. Miners staked claims, and if someone moved in on that territory, it was called "claim jumping."

Which of these roles did women commonly play in the Gold Rush?

Though we're sure that there's a tough, sexy female prospector in at least one Hollywood movie, women mostly played supporting roles in the Gold Rush. In addition to the two occupations listed above, they were cooks, seamstresses, prostitutes, brothel proprietresses, and more.

True or false: Was it a better proposition financially to be in a mining-support business than in mining itself?

While some prospectors hit it big, a lot more went home with their pockets turned out. Meanwhile, people who pursued the slow-but-steady profit of selling supplies, meals, clothes, and lodging to the miners tended to do much better, financially.

True or false: Did the promise of gold lure only Americans west?

The promise of easy riches drew Frenchmen, Chinese, Australians, New Zealanders and more. Sadly, the ethnic group who suffered most were the native Americans, who were driven off their land or killed in clashes with 49ers.

What did California tax in 1850?

The Foreign Miners' tax was a transparent attempt to favor white Americans who came from back east over the Chinese, Mexican and other non-American prospectors. The amount paid monthly, $20, would come to between $550 and $600 of today's dollars (depending on value fluctuations).

Approximately how many Native Americans died during the Gold Rush?

An exact figure is impossible to settle on, but large numbers of Native Americans died of non-natural causes during the Gold Rush, often as the result of violence from 49ers. By 1900, the Native American population in California had dropped to a mere 16,000.

What happened to many ships on which 49ers arrived?

The lure of gold was so strong that often, on reaching California, sailors would jump ship to go to the gold fields. The ships they abandoned became a nuisance. But resourceful locals, dealing with a population boom, turned them into homes, lodging-houses, and saloons.

During the Gold Rush, iron pyrite was known as ...

Fool's gold, to this day, glints from creekbeds in California. It's pretty, but prospectors probably really hated it.

What innovation in transportation aided migrants getting to and from the gold fields?

The need to transport workers to California, and gold out, hastened the building of railways connecting West and East. In addition, steamships made ocean travel easier and faster.

After the discovery of gold, what happened to John Sutter?

Sutter never figured out a way to profit from the Gold Rush. His dreams of agricultural success came to nothing, and he tried unsuccessfully to sue for restitution of the use of his land by prospectors. One consolation: there are a number of California landmarks named for him.

True or false: Were significant amounts of gold found in Southern California?

Gold was found in small amounts in Los Angeles, but not enough to attract hordes of prospectors. Fortunately, that whole "entertainment business" thing seems to be working out.

Which of these culinary treats has its roots in the Gold Rush?

Hangtown Fry is a breakfast dish of eggs and oysters, said to be created for a newly-rich, celebrating miner. While the oysters might sound like the only expensive part of that meal, chicken eggs were a rare treat back then, too.

What is located in San Francisco due, in part, to the influence of the Gold Rush?

San Francisco was obviously a good place to turn raw gold into coins, and one of the nation's two mints is still there. Incidentally, California does have a sizable museum of mining and minerals -- but it's located in Mariposa, not San Francisco.

Since 1849, California has had "gold rushes" in which of the following fields?

All of these fields have drawn fortune-seekers throughout the years. A boom in agriculture followed quickly after the Gold Rush. In the 20th century, the founding of movie studios in formerly desertlike Los Angeles led to thousands of would-be stars flocking to Hollywood. Finally, around the turn of the 21st Century, Silicon Valley began drawing new tech talent from all over the globe.

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