The California Gold Rush (1842-1884) Timeline

California Gold Rush Panning for Gold

This timeline details the events of the California Gold Rush 1842 – 1884


1842 (9th March)
Francisco Lopez found gold in Santa Clarita, California. California was part of Mexico at the time.
1843 (during)
Francisco Lopez found more gold in San Feliciano Canyon, California. The find was not publicised.
1846 (during)
Francisco Lopez and other Mexican miners had continued to take gold from the Santa Clarita region. However, as California sought independence from Mexico and hostility towards Mexicans increased, many fled the region.
1848 (January)
The non-native population of California was around 6,500 and the population of San Francisco about 1,000.
1848 (24th January)
James Wilson Marshall found a piece of shiny yellow metal at Sutter’s Mill, which was beside the American River at Coloma, California. Marshall had been contracted to build a new water-powered sawmill for John Sutter, a business man and founder of Sutter’s Fort, an agricultural and trading community.
1848 (after 24th January)
James Marshall took the metal to John Sutter and they had it privately tested. The test revealed the metal was gold. Sutter wanted the discovery kept a secret but workers at the sawmill told their friends and the news soon leaked.
1848 (February)
Sutter’s employees at the Fort and Sawmill were the first to learn of the discovery and searched the area for gold.
1848 (2nd February)
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican American war. California was ceded to America by Mexico. Neither side knew of the discovery of gold at the time.
1848 (March)
Newspaper publisher and storekeeper, Samuel Brannan learned of the discovery. He bought up all supplies of mining equipment in the area and put them for sale in his shop at Sutter’s Creek at inflated prices. He then wrote an article about the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in his San Francisco newspaper, California Star. However, few people believed his article.
1848 (May)
Sam Brannan had visited Sutter’s Mill and filled a bottle with gold dust. He then walked the streets of San Francisco showing people that there really was gold in the American River. The people of San Francisco flocked to the American River in the hopes of getting rich.
1848 (June)
The people of San Francisco had flocked to the American River in the hopes of getting rich.
1848 (Summer)
People began arriving from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and South America. Around 500 people made the overland journey from eastern America. These early arrivals were able to pick gold up from the ground.
1848 (August)
Around 4,000 people were camped on Sutter’s land hoping to make their fortune mining for gold. Sutter’s land was destroyed.
1848 (19th August)
The New York Herald reported the discovery of gold in California.
1848 (September)
John Sutter’s son, John, arrived in California from Switzerland. He quickly realised that money would not be made from agriculture but from commerce. He founded a new town, Sacramento, to provide accommodation for the people that had flocked to the area.
1848 (5th December)
United States President, James Polk, told Congress that gold had been discovered in California.
1849 (early)
Many people in the eastern states began making plans to travel to California. There were three options: sailing around the coast of South America – a journey of 24,000 km (15,000 miles) taking 5 months; sail to Panama then walk overland to the Pacific and take a boat to California – 11,500 km (7,000 miles) taking around 3 months; travel overland along the Oregon or California trail 4,800 km (3,000 miles) taking around 5 months. Those that made the journey overland or by sea became known as the ’49ers. Whichever route they chose they faced hardship, disease and death.
1849 (Spring)
The term ‘Gold Rush’ was used to refer to those making the journey to California.
1849 (Summer)
Mining towns sprang up around the region. People lived in tents or makeshift huts and there were no roads. Shops, saloons and brothels encouraged miners to spend their gold.
1849 (July)
Shopkeeper Sam Brannan, had made $36,000 (£30,000) [$3 million today].
1849 (late Summer)
Chinese and Europeans began to arrive in California. While the numbers of these nationalities were less than the Americans making the journey, they did arrive in thousands.
1849 (December)
The population of California had increased to around 90,000 and that of San Francisco to 25,000.
1849 (December)
Around $10 million (£8 million) [$700 million today] worth of gold had been extracted.
1850 (during)
Foreign Miners’ Tax Act
This act passed by the state of California and stated that foreign miners had to pay a tax of $20 ($1500 or £1200 today) per month in order to mine the land.
1850 (9th September)
California became the 31st state of the United States of America.
1850 (December)
Around $41 million (£32 million) [$2 billion today] worth of gold had been extracted. However, the surface gold had now gone and miners had to use picks, shovels and pans to find the precious metal.
1851 (during)
Gold was discovered in northern California.
1851 (during)
The huge influx of people into San Francisco had led to an increase in crime. There was no police force at the time and so vigilante groups took it upon themselves to punish lawbreakers.
1851 (during)
Foreign Miners’ Tax Act
This act was repealed.
1851 (December)
Around $75 million (£60 million) [$4 billion today] worth of gold had been extracted.
1852 (during)
Around 20,000 Chinese arrived in San Francisco hoping to find gold. Americans resented their arrival and Chinese miners faced violence and racism.
1852 (during)
Foreign Miners’ License Tax Act
This act passed by the state of California to replace the Foreign Miners Tax. It stated that anyone who was not a United States citizen had to pay a tax of $3 ($300 or £240 today) per month in order to mine the land.
1852 (December)
The California Gold Rush reached its peak this year. Around $81 million (£65 million) [$5 billion today] worth of gold was extracted. Most of the easy gold was now gone, what remained required more complex mining.
1853 (during)
People continued to pour into the region and the population of California had swelled to 250,000 and that of San Francisco to 45,000.
1853 (during)
Edward Matteson first used a form of hydraulic mining. High pressure water jets were used to dislodge gravel and rock which could then be panned for gold.
1854 (March)
Levi Strauss, a German Jewish immigrant who had become an American citizen the previous year, moved to San Francisco. The Strauss family ran successful goods stores in New York and Louisville. Levi had been sent to open a branch in San Francisco.
1855 (around)
Mining companies had developed. They used hydraulic mining techniques to reach the gold. The companies offered employment to some of those that had arrived in California hoping to get rich.
1871 (during)
While working in his San Francisco store, Levi Strauss met Jacob W Davis, a customer who purchased bolts of denim. Davis had invented denim trousers which were held together by rivets. He wanted to patent his invention but did not have the money. Strauss agreed to finance the patent and production. The two men went into business together as Levi Strauss and Co.
1880 (around)
While hydraulic mining had been good for the economy it had completely ruined the environment. Sediment from the mines had been emptied into the rivers which had caused floods that had destroyed crops and made farming impossible. Some rivers had been dammed to provide water to the mines, this meant that farms further down the river no longer nad a water supply for their crops.
1884 (during)
The courts ruled hydraulic mining illegal. Mining companies moved to other places and agriculture gradually became the dominant economy.


Published Apr 29, 2020 @ 3:47 pm – Updated – [last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). The California Gold Rush. Last accessed [date]


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