Chasing a Dream
The California Gold Rush

The lure of gold promptly made California the most culturally and racially diverse society the world had ever known - tensions were bound to arise.
                                                                                                                  -Gold Fever

Hook | Questions | Procedures | Data Investigation | Analysis | Findings | New Questions

Student Page
Regina Hanono

Christine Magpoc
Lisa Niemela


The student page contains the hook only. It is intended to spark interest in the topic and lead students to ask questions or make predictions.

In 1849 many people came to California to “strike it rich”. 

Who were they?  Where did they come from?  What did they find?

Would you have taken the journey to find gold?

miners panner
As you look at these photographs, think about the stories they tell.
What is happening in these pictures?
What do these people have in common?

How are they different?

What questions do you still have about people who experienced California's Gold Rush? Explore these resources to discover the answers to your questions and to learn more about the Gold Rush.


Students might ask similar but different questions than those listed here. The more students are guided to ask specific questions, the less inquiry-oriented the activity.

The Web Inquiry Project described below asks students to take on the role of historian, exploring the lives of people who came to California in the era of the Gold Rush. The following list of questions are intended to have the students really think about the relationship between the California Gold Rush and the various groups of people who were affected by it.

Who were the gold miners?

  • Were there different cultures?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Why did they come?
  • What were their expectations?
  • What was the population of each group?

How did the miners get along with each other?

  • Were there conflicts?
  • Describe how they interacted. 
  • How did the miners affect each other?
  • What was life like in the mining camps? Was it the same for everyone?

Were their dreams fulfilled?

  • Did they “strike it rich”?
  • Were they driven to make money in other ways? Was it by choice or necessity?
  • How was life in California different? Describe some examples.
  • How did they contribute to California ?


After students have asked questions related to the topic, they will need to decide a number of things, including:

  • Types of data needed to answer the questions
  • Defining important terms
  • Choosing tools for data manipulation
  • Defining how data will be manipulated and presented

Types of Data

The web resources Chasing a Dream, Gold Rush Diversity, Natives and Immigrants, and American Memory will help students gain a general understanding about the people of the Gold Rush.  Some of the data students will find are photographs, sketches, timelines, and narratives.

Defining Important Terms

  • Long Tom/sluice box -
  • miner - a person who digs or pans for gold
  • prospector - another name for a miner
  • 49er - the term used to describe people who came to California in 1849 in search of gold
  • John Sutter - the first person to discover gold in California. Sutter's Mill was named after him
  • James Marshall - announced the discovery of gold, began "Gold Fever"
  • panning - method of gold discovery, to sift through sediment in a river
  • population - number of individuals living in a given geographical region
  • settlement - the beginning of the formation of a town
  • immigrant
  • migrate

Investigation Tools

Students will use these tools to gather their thoughts:

  • KWL Chart
  • Prove It Charts
  • Concept Maps

Students will also need to be provided with additional websites that will provide further information on each group of miners. For a more detailed description on these websites and the collection of this data, see the Analysis section.

Manipulating Data

Students will use the KWL charts before they research to organize ideas and information.  They will revisit it at the end of their investigation.

Students will use Prove It Charts to document their findings as they research.

Students will use Concept Maps to manipulate and connect information found on the various

Data Investigation

There is often a giant leap from defining the type(s) of data desired and actually finding the data. Providing guidance to students in finding the necessary data may be necessary.

In order to aid students in their research about the people during the Gold Rush, a list of web resources may be provided.  The following links are helpful resources you might want to direct them to:

1. Native American Miners

2. African American Miners

3. Chinese American Miners

4. Foreign Miners

Please note that the inquiry is not limited to the sample categories listed above. You may want to encourage students to research different or additional groups not mentioned in the list.


Raw data/information usually has to be manipulated before it can answer any questions. Students might be unaware of how data can best be manipulated, so teacher guidance may be appropriate.

After completing the data investigation section of the inquiry, students should revisit their original concept maps or KWL charts. An original concept map for the topic, "Who Were the People of the California Gold Rush," might include subtopics such as background, contributions and roles, population changes, and conflicts with other miners.  The class as a whole may start out with a general concept map such as:

gold rush concept map

When students are later divided up to investigate one particular group's experiences, the concept maps may be expanded to look like:
-African Americans of the Gold Rush:

african american

-Native Americans of the Gold Rush:

native americans

-Chinese Americans of the Gold Rush:

chinese americans


No result is meaningful unless communicated appropriately. Discussion of findings should be supported. There may or may not be definitive answers to the questions students raised.

By using the provided resources, students are expected to present the information in a way that accurately represents what they have learned. This may include the tools listed above or any additional methods.  Students should have freedom to generate their own ideas and connections. Their findings may not represent the samples we have provided below, but they need to provide insightful investigation into the topics discussed..

African American Miners:

african american

Native American Miners:
native american

Chinese American miners:
chinese american

Possible New Questions

Answers often lead to new questions, starting the inquiry cycle over again.

Here are some possible follow up questions you may wish to have your students investigate at a later time:

  • How did the California Gold Rush affect the diversity of California today?
  • What do you think would have happened to California if the Gold Rush never occurred? Would explorers continue their westward expansion?