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Book Review - The California Gold Rush by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

"The California Gold Rush" by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk - ISBN#0531200329

Grade 5-7-- An advantage this book has over Rhoda Blumberg's excellent The Great American Gold Rush (Bradbury, 1989) is the lack of footnote style and a good many illustrations in some kind of color--if only a wash. There is not much that can be added to the story of the California gold rush, but Van Steenwyk tries. The discovery of gold at Sutter's mill is somewhat more dramatic and vivid than in other accounts. However, a statement that sea-traveling rushers were called Argonauts "after the gold seekers in Greek mythology" makes one wonder whether gold nuggets and the golden fleece can be equated. Mention, and a picture, of Lola Montez, a gold camp entertainer, is a plus. The story of foreign miners who came to California, particularly the Chinese, enlarges readers' knowledge. Two full-page, useful maps and a helpful glossary round out this attractive addition to literature on the topic. --George Gleason, Department of English, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

1839 - John Augustus Sutter (originally from Switzerland) arrived in California. Sutter applied for Mexican citizenship in order to receive a land grant of 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. He built an adobe fort near the south bank of the American River. He named this land New Helvetia (Helvetia was another name for Switzerland).
January 1848 - There were 300 people at Sutter's Fort.
January 14, 1848 - Marhsall found a gold pebble.
Second week of March, the news of this discovery finally reached San Francisco. By March 15th, it appeared in newsprint (on the last page of the San Francisco "Californian").
December 5, 1848 - President James K. Polk delivered news to Congress of gold discovery; the rush was finally on.
1949 - 50,000 people rushed to California ("forty-niners"), enduring illness, hard living conditions, bad weather and violent crime. They often moved camp to camp. 15,000 people traveled around Cape Horn or through the Strait of Magellan - they dealt with gales, storms, fires, food spoilage/shortages, seasickness, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowding.

Once the emigrants arrived, they needed transportation to the "diggings" as well as supplies and room & board. A small room rented for $50/month (whereas back East it would only cost $5/month). A pair of boots or a blanket were $100 each. A shovel was $50.
1850 - California became a state. 56,000 people were in San Francisco.
Gold dust became currency.
Preachers rode through to preach; most miners rested on Sundays. Holidays (like Fourth of July) was celebrated. Professional entertainers were paid with gold dust including singers, dancers and actors. Lola Montez was a famous Irish dancer of this time.
People came from all over the world. In 1850, there were 600 Chinese. By 1855, there were 25,000.
Women were still scarce. In 1853, women only accounted for 15% of the population.

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