Learn American History through 50 pop songs

The California Gold Rush

Synopsis

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill, in Coloma, California. News of the discovery spread, and some 300,000 men, women, and children flocked to California with hopes of striking it rich. Very few did.

Lyrics

© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

I was 8, Jeb was 4, and little Jess was 1
Daddy let me drive the team and taught me how to shoot his gun
“You’re the man now Billy,” Daddy said looking in my eyes
“I’ll be gone six months at least, but it’s alright boy, time will fly”

“You see our farm ain’t doing well, and it’s gonna get worse I’m told”
“So I’m a heading’ out West, gonna go find me some gold”
“There they strike it rich, like almost every single day”
Then he packed up his wagon and we watched him slowly roll away

To Sutter’s Mill, Sutter’s Mill
Gold glistens in the riverbed
No hungry children poorly fed

The first letter came in May, it had been 8 long weeks
He’d made it full to California, and had a tent that sagged and leaked
At nighttime it was cold, so he always kept a flask of ‘shine
But he told us not to worry, because he was going to be just fine

At Sutter’s Mill, Sutter’s Mill
Gold glistens in the riverbed
No hungry children poorly fed

The next letter came in August, while Mama read she wept
Daddy’s last few dollars, had been stolen while he slept
His days spent in the rushes, panning endlessly for gold
Had burnt his skin and bleached his hair, and had torn up all of daddy’s clothes

At Sutter’s Mill, Sutter’s Mill
No longer pushing heavy plows
Or early mornings milking cows

Christmas brought one more letter, by then we’d lost the farm
I’d tried my very best, to keep my mom and brothers safe from harm
But Jessie caught pneumonia, and on New Year’s Eve he died
Somewhere out in California, a foolish broken old man cried

At Sutter’s Mill, Sutter’s Mill
Gold glistens in the riverbed
No hungry children poorly fed
At Sutter’s Mill, Sutter’s Mill
Gold’s found in every sandy ditch
And every single daddy’s sure to strike it rich

Vocabulary

The California Gold Rush— When gold was discovered on Sutter’s Mill in 1848, people from all over the country rushed to California hoping to strike it rich.

Sutter’s Mill— A 19th century sawmill owned by pioneer John Sutter located in Coloma, California. On January 24, 1848 one of Sutter’s employees found gold there inciting the California Gold Rush.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

What was the California Gold Rush?

Tier 2 Questions

Prior to the gold rush California was a sparsely populated outpost. During the gold rush it was a booming population center. Write a newspaper article describing the changes taking place as the boom intensified.

Tier 3 Questions

Pretend you are the father described in this song. Write four journal entries:

1) One discussing your reasons for and feelings about heading west.
2) One discussing your experiences and feelings as you sent your family the first letter.
3) One discussing your experiences and feelings as you sent your family the second letter.
4) One discussing your experiences and feelings as you sent your family the third letter.

Test Prep Questions

1) One way in which the Gold Rush in 1849 and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s are similar is that both resulted in

  • (1) a war with other countries
  • (2) the sale of cheap federal land
  • (3) an increase in westward migration
  • (4) the removal of Native American Indians to reservations