The Early 48er’s of the California Gold Rush

One of the most publicized stories concerning the California Gold Rush was the fascinating story of the 49er’s and their flooding of northern California by land and by sea. Likewise, one of the not so publicized stories has to do with the very first Gold Rush prospectors, the 48er’s, the hordes who stampeded to the Sierra Nevada foothills before the legendary 49er’s ever arrived.

What occurred in late 1848 was in many respects the opening salvo of the great gold rush of California.

gold rush water cannon

Mining Water Cannon exhibit at Nevada City California

A Timely Speech and a Gold Rush

The exodus to the California gold fields began with a speech in San Francisco’s Plymouth Square.

The gold in California was discovered at a John Sutter’s sawmill in January of 1848 by James Marshall who was working for Sutter. Sutter wanted badly to keep the news secret and directed his employees to do so. Firstly, Sutter thought that this gold could help pay off his debts which were many. Secondly, a rush of prospectors to the area would jeopardize his land holdings and farming operations. Obviously something like this wouldn’t remain a secret for long. San Francisco newspapers reported on the finding in March but not much came of it. Finally it all came to a head in May of 1848 and with “proof” by way of a man named Sam Brannan, a storekeeper in Sutter’s Creek.

Sam Brannon became aware of the discovery at John Sutter’s sawmill from Mormans who lived in the area of the American River. Brannon obtained a bottle filled with gold dust and proceeded, when he felt the time was right and his stores along the American River fully stocked, to make a speech in Plymouth Square where he declared to the crowd…”Gold! Gold! Gold from American River!” While rumors about the gold discovery were known by many, albeit without seeing the gold itself, Brannon’s declaration and exciting exhibit offered proof to the rumors. This was enough to stir things up.

stamp mill gold rush

Ten Stamp Mill exhibit, Nevada City California

There wasn’t an instant stampede and the local papers at first treated this newest story mildly. That also didn’t last long. In a few days time there began a tremendous exodus out of San Francisco and other coastal settlements.

The newspapers actually closed down because the owners and employees felt more money could be made along the American River. Ships that arrived in San Francisco found crews deserting and heading east into the Sierra Nevada foothills. Stores closed when owners abandoned them. These were the 48er’s. These were the people residing in California at the time and they had the first pickings.

New York newspapers reported on the discovery in August 1848 but it would be months before the eastern population could make it all the way to northern California. Their choices included a journey overland, sailing around Cape Horn and up the coast or sailing to Panama and across a malarial jungle to a port on the Pacific coast. Any of these choices meant months of travel.

sutters fort exhibits

Exhibit inside Sutter’s Fort, Sacramento California

The Early Pickings for Gold

It is a fact that the earliest prospecting for California gold was by far the easiest. In some cases there was very little work involved finding the mineral. Some described it as being everywhere. It was said that out of the ten thousand prospectors in the gold fields during the fall of 1848 it was hard to find anyone who didn’t find $20 worth of gold each day. Five prospectors using picks and shovels uncovered $75,000 worth of gold in a three month period. Gold was found using only crow bars and a knives. Businessmen hired workers to hunt for gold thus increasing their profits. One person was known to promise local Indians relatively cheap gifts if they would bring him gold.

Selling to the Prospectors

Another way to make a fortune during the historic winter of 1848-1849 was to sell to the prospectors. It was said that $40 could be charged for a single meal. Horses could be sold for $300 that prior to the gold rush might have cost $6. Eggs could sell for $3 each and butter $6 per pound. If you were able to obtain the merchandise to sell, as Sam Brannon did, a fortune could be made without even leaving your store. Some smart prospectors invested their new found gold wealth into enterprises bringing goods via ship up from Mexico to sell to the miners. Shovels and picks would fetch $100 as did boots and a gallon of whiskey.

gold miners statue auburn california

Gold Miners statue, Auburn California

The First of the Forty-Niners

The first of the Forty-Niners were actually seen in southern California as early as August 1848. These were the people too anxious to get to California to wait for spring.

Knowing about the tragedy that the Donner Party met attempting to cross the Sierra Nevada range in the winter, these first arrivals to California took the southern Texas to San Diego route. This took them across the deserts of the southwest and over the Yuma Crossing to California. From San Diego it was north over the El Camino Real to northern California.

After the initial group of Forty-Niners reached the California gold fields thousands would follow and not only from the U.S. People from Europe, South America and Asia arrived in droves.

The Earliest Pickings Were the Best

By the third and fourth year of the Gold Rush the largest part of the precious metal was mined. Compared to the bonanza found by the first miners, especially those from 1848, there were people who arrived later and left disappointed. Nevertheless, fortunes were still made but the pickings were nothing like what was seen during that first winter of 1848-1849.

Below are links to two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

The Steamboat and Sacramento

A Six Month Voyage Chasing For Gold

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

old town sacramento firehouse

Structure in Old Town Sacramento California

Visit California’s Gold Rush Museums and Parks

North Star Mining Museum–   The museum located in Grass Valley California, just north of Auburn, is housed in the former North Star Mine powerhouse. The mining displays include machinery, handcrafted tools, a 20-stamp mill, Cornish Pump and a 30-foot Pelton Wheel.

Sacramento History Museum– Located in historic Old Town Sacramento, the museum will give you a lesson in everything gold rush. John Sutter, riverboat traffic, old mine replicas, Portuguese and Chinese exhibits, and the history of Sacramento’s first fifty years are all a part of this fascinating museum.

Columbia State Historic Park–   Gold was discovered here at Columbia California in 1850. Columbia yielded $87 million in gold at 1860s prices and was known as “The Queen of the Southern Mines”.

gold rush exhibits nevada city

Mine Ore Car exhibit, Nevada City California

Gold Bug Park-  The main feature of the park located in Placerville is the Gold Bug Mine, a small hard rock gold mine. Featured ar two lighted shafts of the Gold Bug Mine, one is 362 feet in length and the other 147 feet long. These are open to the public for self guided tours.

Chew Kee Store-   Constructed in the early 1850s, this rammed earth adobe located in Fiddletown served as an herb shop during the Gold Rush and is the only remnant of the once thriving Fiddletown Chinese Community. The building is now a museum operated by the Fiddletown Preservation Society.

Kennedy Mine-   The Kennedy Mine Foundation offers guided and self guided surface tours of the historic Kennedy Mine located in Jackson. View the 125 foot high head frame, mine buildings, restored mine office, the remnants of the largest stamp mill in the Mother Lode and more.

Three excellent books about the California Gold Rush, the Forty-Eighters and the Forty-Niners include The Golden Road by author Felix Riesenberg Jr., … They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by author JoAnn Levy and Bret Harte’s Gold Rush by author Bret Harte.


(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

A Balloon Adventure

One of the interesting aspects of balloon travel is how long ago in history that ballooning had taken place. This science has a rich history and you’ll find the amazing story in this article quite interesting.

National Balloon Museum

national balloon museum

National Balloon Museum, Indianola Iowa

One of the best venues in the U.S. to learn about ballooning and it’s colorful history is the National Balloon Museum located at 1601 N Jefferson Way  Indianola, Iowa. Learn about over 200 years of ballooning. The National Balloon Museum provides the public with a complete understanding of ballooning and its history through its exhibitions and collections. Were you aware that ballooning goes all the way back to the year 220 A.D. ? Did you also know that most historians credit the Chinese as being the first balloonists?

There is a big reason why this excellent museum is located in central Iowa. Central Iowa has always been thought of as ideal for ballooning. A good many balloonists live in this area. Indianola Iowa was the home of the Balloon Federation of America’s National Hot Air Balloon Championships, and currently is the home of the National Balloon Classic which is a nine day event. The museum is also the venue for the annual US Ballooning Hall of Fame.

early balloon travel

Early 1800’s balloon designs

Following is an amazing story regarding the earlier days of ballooning and the impact it had on the Siege of Paris during late 1870 and early 1871. This story is a balloon adventure like no other.

The Siege of Paris

Balloon adventures in Europe were not something new. Experiments to improve ballooning were progressing steadily.

The way balloons were used during the Siege of Paris France however is a very unique story.

The Siege of Paris took place as a result of the Prussians winning the Franco Prussian War in 1870. The French were defeated largely due to the superior weaponry of the Prussians.

The problem developed when French citizens of Paris became incensed with the thought that their leaders surrendered. What enfolded was both a pride and a political issue. Interestingly, the city was blockaded by leftists who normally were not pro military but in this case wanted the French military to be more aggressive.

The two reasons for the barricade, and many times referred to as the “Paris Commune“, was to prevent the Prussians from entering Paris and also to take over the then current right wing government . There was quite a lot of bloodshed along with a succession of meetings between the two sides (French government and the commune leaders)) and quite a few changes of local leadership.

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Illustraion of balloon ascending Paris in 1783

The siege lasted from September 1870 to the end of January 1871. The Prussians finally became frustrated with the barricades and fired some 12,000 shells which resulted in about 400 deaths. In the meantime the French government leaders had fled to Versailles. The Prussians were pressuring the French command to end the siege which was somewhat out of their control. Essentially, the French government at the time was caught between the Prussians and the leaders of the commune. As can be imagined, with a standoff lasting this long, food shortages became a big problem. At one point the Paris Zoo was emptied of it’s inhabitants to supply food to the starving Parisians source although that source wasn’t nearly enough.

Balloons to the Rescue

During the siege, the Parisians had used balloons to try to communicate with the outside world. There was no other way at the time. The Prussians were outside every city gate.

One idea was to send out carrier pigeons on the balloons and then have them fly back to Paris with messages. Balloons are a one way craft, especially in the case of Paris at this time. Pigeons were necessary to bring communications back to Paris.

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Illustration of Civil War Balloon Corp balloon during American Civil War

The balloon venture actually resulted in an aerial post office system. During the four months that the siege took place about 150,000 official and 1 million private communications were carried into Paris by the pigeon post. Letters and other communications were photographically reduced in size to permit higher volume. Letters carried out by balloon cost 20 cents per letter.

Needless to say, the balloons could be diverted easily due to winds and during the siege an unplanned “world distance record” was set. One balloon carrying two individuals left Paris, became lost and eventually ended up in the snow in Norway. The passengers seeing water initially thought they were hopelessly lost over the Atlantic but as it turned out they were really over the North Sea on their way north to Scandinavia.

The successful balloon ascensions out of Paris were frustrating for the Prussians. The balloons were flammable (coal gas and hydrogen) and the Prussian sharpshooters tried to bring them down. Theoretically, a single shot could be capable of bringing a balloon down because of the flammable gases. However, because the sharpshooters were not successful the Krupp company developed a special weapon to fire on the balloons. That weapon too proved to be ineffective.

In a tactic to fool the Prussian Cavalry, the Paris balloonists started night ascensions. Ascending at night did add danger to an already dangerous exploit however the French were successful. Hopefully for the balloonists by daylight the balloon would be long gone.

It’s interesting to note that the Paris balloons were used entirely as a means of communicating and not in any type of offensive operation. Since the Prussians had the city surrounded with an overwhelming force it’s doubtful that any offense, especially via balloons, would have succeeded.

hot air balloons ascending

Three modern hot air balloons getting ready to ascend in Florida

During this time the world, especially Europe, was captivated by what was going on in Paris and the balloon communications became quite a newsworthy event. News of the  situation the Parisians were in was successfully carried out by the balloons. This worked to build public sentiment on the side of the Parisians. The Prussians were coming under heavy diplomatic attack throughout Europe for the Paris siege. The Franco Prussian War had gone on long enough for both sides. It was time for both the siege and the Commune to end.

The links below are to additional Trips Into History articles you may find interesting:

Japanese Balloon Bombs of World War Two.

Airships of the California Gold Rush

Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of the Airplane

The End of the Siege

The siege was over when the Paris Commune finally surrendered in late January of 1871. Rather than stationing a garrison inside Paris, in mid February 1871, the Prussians did a brief victory march into Paris and withdrew to the east. When war indemnities were finally agreed upon the Prussians withdrew from France altogether. During the Siege there were a total of 65 to 66 balloons launched from Paris with an impressive number of 57 making it successfully out to the distant provinces. Viewing today’s hot air balloons is a colorful spectacle and the history of manned ballooning is quite colorful as well.

(All images from public domain)

Six Month Voyage Chasing for Gold

The Gold Craze Takes Hold

When gold was first discovered at Sutters Mill in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, a mad dash like this country has never seen was put in motion. Thousands of people in the eastern United States, not to mention the world in general, suddenly wanted to be in California. The gold discovery of 1849 was like no other and it just happened to occur at the same time that California was taken over, thanks to the end of the Mexican American War, from it’s former Mexican rulers.

california gold rush poster

California Gold Rush Poster

Not only had the U.S. taken possession of the Southwest and California, but now this new land so far away from the east promised riches of the kind that Coronado had hoped for during his Spanish expedition of 1540. The timing for the United States and it’s citizens couldn’t have been better.

How to Get to the Gold Fields

The problem or difficulty in the year 1849 was simply how to get there. There were really three ways to accomplish this and all three were filled with danger. It was basically a case of choosing your own poison.

The first was overland. The second was by ship to Panama crossing the jungle of Central America and then again by ship up the west coast of North America and into San Francisco Bay. The third option was also by ship, sailing down the Atlantic Ocean, navigating around Cape Horn, and then sailing north all the way to San Francisco. All three presented perilous journeys and there wasn’t one option which was clearly better than the other.

Traveling Overland to California

san francisco harbor during gold rush

Harbor at San Francisco, 1850-51

The overland option exposed one to Indian attacks, breakdown on the remote trail or mountains and of course the elements.

In the 1850’s the Indian situation in the west was volatile as diaries from Oregon Trail pioneers detail quite well. One only had to recall the fate of the Donner party in the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Steamer to Panama

A trip by steamer via Panama meant a trek through the jungles which also could mean malaria and other afflictions.There was also uncertainty of whether ship passage was available when you finally made your way to the Pacific coast.

Rounding Cape Horn

The third option, a sea voyage around Cape Horn meant two things. Probably a six month journey ( average was about 200 days) and the very good chance of trying to ride out ocean storms not to mention the dangerous passage around Cape Horn. The exception was the Clipper Ship which started the California run in early 1849 and reportedly could make the voyage to San Francisco in about 120 days. It was thought that a regular vessel at the time could make about 4-5 knots where a clipper ship might be able to do 6-7 knots.

The Enticement of Gold

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SS California, first Pacific Mail Steamer between San Francisco and Panama

The clipper ships carried mostly valuable freight and not many passengers.

The gold certainly was enticing, the work to get oneself there most likely wasn’t.

Amazingly, people from all walks of life headed to the gold fields. Farmers left their farms, storekeepers closed up their shops, doctors left their practices, clergymen left their flocks and many other people simply left home.

It was reported that in the United States during the year 1849 alone about 42,000 people struck out to California by land and about 25,000 by sea. Another interesting fact is that people from all of the then 31 states headed to the gold fields as well as people from 25 different nations.

Sailing to the Gold Fields

Let’s just say you really were hit with the gold bug and decided to journey to California from the American east coast in 1849 or 1850. Some bought passage on the next steamer bound for the Pacific and others actually signed on as seamen to gain passage west. There was another endeavor which was the creation on cooperatives to send vessels to California. The dual purpose was to journey to the California gold fields and also to carry supplies, if possible, from the east to sell to the thousands now in California.

The Cooperative…One Way to Make the Journey West

gold rush clipper ship

Clipper Ship Sovereign of the Seas, 1850’s

One exceptional story which really illustrates the frantic scramble to make it to the California gold fields concerns the vessel “California Packet“.

Captain George Kimball, working out of the seacoast town of Cutler Maine, lacking the funds to purchase a vessel, went into the Maine woods and cut the timber necessary to build his ship. Kimball’s project became a cooperative.

Meat and provisions were gathered together by farmers who would join the expedition. While other companies were already underway on their voyages to California, Kimball of course was still putting his vessel together. The sheer adventure of such a project as Kimball’s attracted experienced joiners and shipwrights. In place of wages for these workers, shares of the cooperative were issued. The 144 foot long California Packet with a 15 foot beam was finally launched off the Maine coast on November 29, 1849.

gold rush steamers

Gold rush steamer sign in Old Town Sacramento CA

The passengers on this historic voyage were a bit different than those on some of the ships that had departed earlier.

The California Packet carried one hundred people including twelve married women, sixteen unmarried women and fifteen children. The remaining passengers were young males eagerly heading to California to find their fortune.

The wide variety of passengers were most likely due to the ship being a cooperative rather than a commercial vessel simply selling passage. In fact, it was reported that everyone on board the California Packet was a shareholder. The ship was very fortunate to pick up cargo worth some $15,000 in Boston. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn and made safe passage all the way to San Francisco.

California was a wild place in 1850 and while the cooperative worked quite well during the planning stages and during the actual months long voyage, once the ship reached it’s destination the cooperative tended to fall apart. People went their own ways.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy;

The Amazing Story of the Gold Rush Forty-Eighters

New Gold Towns Overnight

The Stolen Boat

Airships / The California Gold Rush

Dangers Were Always Lurking

The shorter sea route which traversed the Panama jungles had it’s perils. People took sick and died during this crossing. It was not until years later with the completion of the trans-Panama railroad that the dangers were lessened. This shorter route was popular because Cape Horn and the six month sea voyage was avoided. Probably what wasn’t fully realized was the difficulty in crossing through the jungle with the chance of picking up an exotic disease.

sutters fort buildings

Historic Sutters Fort structures, Sacramento CA

Sea travel required two important things. A competent captain who knew not only how to keep the ship off of rocks but also how to navigate in general. The second thing was to have adequate food supplies. The long voyage to California around Cape Horn required careful planning to either store enough food or know where to stop to replenish the supply. Among diseases on a long voyage was scurvy so fruits were an important food to have along.

The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

One of the best ways to learn about the ships of the California Gold Rush is to visit The San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park located adjacent to Fishermans Wharf. For more than 60 years, San Francisco Maritime National Park Association has worked to bring maritime history to life for visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area.

An excellent website to give you a precise chronology of the California Gold Rush years is

Three books I’d recommend regarding the travel endured, the people involved and the mining towns themselves include Anybody’s Gold: The Story of California’s Mining Towns by author Joseph Henry Jackson, The World Rushed In by author J.S. Holliday and  California : Romance of clipper ship and gold rush days by author James W. Travers.

(Photos of Sutters Fort and Steamer Sign is from author’s collection. Remaining photos from the public domain)



New Gold Towns Overnight


The Western Gold Fields

One of the most fascinating aspects Gold Rush history, not only the with California Gold Rush, but also of mining camps in the old west in general was the speed at which a new town was “made into a town“. There were many gold rushes in the west and each was quite similar in many respects.

angels camp california

Historic Angels Hotel in Angels Camp California

Some of the most notable states where this rapid building occurred were California, Nevada, Arizona and South Dakota. The first settlement that appeared near a new ore strike would be the simple mining camp. This was essentially what the name implies…a camp with tents.

Gold rush history books tell us that this was simply a group of prospectors, many of whom had all their worldly possessions with them, who chose this particular spot as a base to search for high grade ore. Once the ore find proved itself to be more substantial more people would flood in. They would come day and night. The camp would grow and take on a more permanent atmosphere.

From Tents to Towns

The next thing to happen would be the tents exchanged for more sturdy yet still primitive structures. Wood was the product and it was in abundance. With this growth the types of people who drifted in would change as well. During the 1800’s anywhere that money was expected to be, and bustling and growing mining camps were considered to be just such a place, characters of all sorts appeared. Some were honest but often they were not. Gamblers and swindlers would pop up out of the woodwork. Prospectors enjoyed gambling. Their very occupation, that of being a prospector, was essentially a big gamble in itself and gold rush history is filled with gambling.

national hotel nevada city california

Today's famous National Hotel in the old gold mining town of Nevada City California

The point where a mining camp would turn into what one would consider a town usually was when the ore strike proved large enough to last for a considerable time. This is when the big money appeared. Claims would be bought from prospectors by the big money men, often from the east, and would be consolidated with other purchased claims.

Gold rush history books will point out that many, if not most, prospectors would favor selling their claim rather than actually mining it. The reason was simply money. It cost quite a lot of money to work a claim.

If it was hard rock mining where underground tunneling was required, the costs were enormous. Too much for many individual prospectors. Why not cash out on their find and move on to discover another? This describes the rationale of many prospectors.

An interesting side note about mining claims was that when they were recorded, usually at the nearest courthouse many miles away. The documents were entered not only with the date but also the time to the minute. There were so many claims filed that some would be for the same piece of earth thus the exact time of their filing was important.

sutters fort california

Sutters Fort in Sacramento California near where the first gold was found in California

The Next Phase

One of the unique things about these mining towns would be the desolate locations they would be at. Four towns that are excellent examples of this are Deadwood South Dakota, Virginia City Nevada, Rhyolite Nevada and Bisbee Arizona.

None of these were near to any transportation links or supply depots. Deadwood was in the Black Hills, still an Indian worship site. Virginia City Nevada was on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and a far and difficult trek from supplies sitting to the west in California. Bisbee Arizona is about 8 miles north of the Mexican border. Rhyolite Nevada could have been the most remote being on the eastern edge of Death Valley. In spite of this remoteness, Rhyolite had the distinction of being the only one of these four where the automobile was seen among the mules and horses.

deadwood gem theater

The old Gem Theater in Deadwood South Dakota

The Boom Years

Regardless of the remoteness, people and big money found their way there.

Railroads built lines there to compensate for the lack of transportation. Once the transportation problem was remedied the supplies and people flowed in like never before.

The California Gold Rush and the Virginia City silver strike happened before the Pony Express and the telegraph. Still news of it spread like wildfire. Deadwood’s boom was in the late 1870’s, Bisbee’s at the turn of the 20th century and Rhyolite Nevada was during the first decade of the 20th century. In their cases word spread even more rapidly.

Soon permanent buildings were erected. Saloons and gambling parlors by the dozen sprang up. Hotels, banks general merchandise stores and newspapers were begun and something always a part of old mining towns, the red light district, did a booming business. In the case of newspapers, much of the earlier publications printed as much town gossip as they did real news.

As you can imagine, the larger the town grew the more varied were it’s citizenry. In addition to the ample supply of gamblers and swindlers there would appear the common outlaw. The outlaw favored the mining towns, especially during their earlier years, because of their minimal to non-existent law enforcement and the abundant presence of money.

rhyolite nevada

Old Rhyolite Nevada train station

American Culture and the Old Mining Town

When you have thousands of people and lots of money in one place it doesn’t take long for legitimate entertainers, land speculators, hucksters of all sorts to emerge. Towns like Bisbee, Rhyolite and Virginia City had opera houses.

Miners and prospectors enjoyed entertainment after a long day of work and they usually had the money to pay for it. Musicians, dancing troupes, circuses and actors could be found. Even though the towns were remote there was a desire to have the entertainment venues one might find in San Francisco or St. Louis. The newly laid rail tracks made much of this a reality. The day of the lonely miner had passed.

Companies of first rate actors were taking the opportunity to go on tour to these remote camps and towns. Due mostly to the nature and temperament of miners, an angry crowd of men expecting a bit more for their money were known to storm the box office to get their money back and then run the promoter out of town. The towns in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills had easier access to entertainment even in the early 1850’s because of it’s relative closeness to San Francisco.

Links to three photo articles you’ll enjoy on our Western Trips site and one on our Trips Into History site include;

The Amazing Story of the Gold Rush Forty-Eighters

Sutters Fort and Sacramento California

Rhyolite and Goldfield Nevada

Historic Gold Mining Town of Grass Valley California


mining water cannon

Old water cannon used for gold mining in the Sierra Nevada foothills

The Decline of the Mining Town

Many old mining towns simply declined when the gold started to pan out. Miners and prospectors had a habit of moving out quickly when rumor spread of another rich mineral find.

Some towns declined but stayed popular modern day tourist attractions. Three good examples, and there are more, were Deadwood, Virginia City Nevada and Angels Camp California. All of these today bring thousands of tourists each year exploring it’s old mines, hotels, saloons and other landmarks that have been preserved and restored.

Some others disappeared about as fast as they appeared. Rhyolite Nevada near Death Valley is today but a ghost town. Rhyolite was abandoned about as fast as it sprang up. All happened within just a few years. Goldfield Nevada to it’s north is essentially a very small art community but has several interesting landmarks for the Nevada tourist. The old high school and Goldfield Hotel are two examples. Bisbee Arizona and the surrounding area is still worked for it’s copper deposits. Bisbee is also a popular Arizona tourist destination with lots to see. Hotels and restaurants there are excellent. The Bisbee Museum offers a good glimpse regarding the many immigrant groups who traveled there from Europe in search of jobs.  Lot’s of displays and artifacts from the period.

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Statue of miner panning for gold in Auburn California

Angels Camp California in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of San Francisco as well as surrounding old mining towns like Sonora and Murphys are popular weekend road trip destinations for northern Californians. Sutters Fort where the California Gold Rush began is now a popular California State Historic Park.

The old mining towns today still offer the western U.S. tourist a great place to learn about our past as well as offering some very unique photo opportunities.

(Photos of National Hotel, water cannon and statue of gold miner from author’s collection. Remaining photos and images from the public domain)

Gold Country in California


sierra nevada mountains

Sierra Nevada north of Nevada City california

California Gold Country is a destination for many travelers to the Golden State. The area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just east of Sacramento was the hub of activity during that crucial period when the region was taken over by the U.S, during the late 1840’s. Gold Country in California today is filled with reminders of the time that the gold fields were the destination of gold prospectors from all over the globe. People flocked there by any means possible. The fact that a journey to California usually meant either an ocean voyage around Cape Horn or through the Isthmus of Panama, neither an easy journey.

One reminder of the gold rush days are some of the very historic hotels, some of which are still operating, each with it’s own unique stories to tell.

Gold Country in California is all about nineteenth century history and we have highlighted a few of the historic hotels which would make great additions to your California vacation planner.

holbrooke hotel grass valley ca

Holbrooke Hotel, Grass Valley CA

Holbrooke Hotel

The Holbrooke Hotel is located in beautiful Grass Valley California. This very historic Victorian hotel’s early visitors included U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. Others notables who spent some time there included none other than Mark Twain, Jim Corbett, the theatrical star Lotta Crabtree and many more. The hotel burned down in the huge fire of 1855 but was rebuilt in 1862. Today, the Holbrooke Hotel  features an elegant dining room, an interesting and historic bar and an antique elevator that still operates. The hotel has twenty-seven rooms and is a California Historic Landmark. Grass Valley,  located on CA Hwy 49, is a 60 mile drive east of Sacramento California.


national hotel nevada city ca

National Hotel, Nevada City CA

National Hotel

The National Hotel is located in Nevada City California, not far up the road from Grass Valley. The National Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Hotel is the most historic of all old Nevada City California. Before being named the National Hotel, the structure opened in August of 1856 under the name of “Bicknell Block“. The Bicknell Block housed just about everything of major importance during the early days. The stagecoach stop, post office and telegraph office. Nevada City’s National Hotel is considered one of the oldest hotels west of the Rocky Mountains that has been in continuous operation. When you step inside it’s like a trip back to the Victorian era. The hotel is the site of California Historic Landmark No. 899 and is the most well known of the old hotels in the California gold country.

A link to another interesting story you’ll enjoy about Nevada City California and the National Hotel is our article about the notorious female gambling hall operator, Madame Mustache. Nevada City is located on CA Hwy 49 about 64 miles east of Sacramento California.

angels camp hotel

Undated early photo of Angels Hotel in Angels Camp CA

The Angels Hotel

The Angels Hotel, which actually started out as a canvas tent, is located in Angels Camp California, one of the many very historic old gold mining towns. The most famous story that came out the The Angels Hotel involved Mark Twain. It seems that Twain overheard a story while staying at the hotel which he later turned into the hugely popular story of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“. In fact, this short story, also eventually made into an opera, is what catapulted Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) into the national spotlight.

Angels Camp California today has the motto of “Home of the Jumping Frog“. The Angels Hotel no longer operates but is a California Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Angels Camp is located on CA Hwy 49 about 80 miles southeast of Sacramento California.

old town sacramento hotels

Restored Clarendon House in Old Town Sacramento CA

The Clarendon House

Old Town Sacramento came about as a direct result of the booming mining operations in the nearby California gold fields. Sacramento California served as a hub for steamboat traffic which ferried passengers between San Francisco and the gold fields. Sacramento was the jumping off point for prospectors and served as the commerce center for supplies, mail and entertainment.

The Clarendon House, once a Sacramento hotel, and now a National Historic Landmark, has now been turned into a residential building offering laundry facilities onsite, garage parking and controlled access entry. The bottom level of the building now houses eight commercial spaces. The structure located in Old Town Sacramento is among the fifty-three historic buildings still in existence. The present three-story building was constructed in 1977 to replicate the authentic 1852 exterior.

california steam navigation company

Steamers sign at Old Town Sacramento

Two links to articles you’ll also enjoy on our Trips Into History site include the Story of the Eagle Theater in Old Town Sacramento which was actually washed away by a flood during the middle of a performance.

Another interesting article is about the Leland Stanford Mansion in downtown Sacramento CA.

Old Town Sacramento itself makes a great addition to your northern California vacation planner. In addition to the historic structures like The Clarendon House, you’ll be able to visit the California State Railroad Museum, one of the finest railroad museums in the world, a restored Wells Fargo office which now serves as a museum as well as a host of other structures dating back to the California gold rush era.

Gold Country in California makes for a fascinating, fun and educational destination and is ideal for a family vacation or weekend getaway.

(Undated photo of the Angels Hotel is from the public domain. Remainder of photos are from the author’s private collection)