The January 1848 chance discovery of gold in northern California rapidly altered the course of America. On this day, August 19, in 1848, word finally reached the East Coast, when the New York Herald published a report of the discovery. By 1849, the rush was on in earnest, leading to the well-known term for gold seekers: ’49ers. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the American West, looking to strike it rich. Scenes like the one seen below became commonplace, as able-bodied people sought their fortune:
A unique view of the journey west was captured by Rhode Island native Daniel Jenks. A decade after the initial rush, Jenks set out to cross the country in February 1859 to find gold in Pike’s Peak, Colorado. (Upon hearing reports along the way, he changed course and went to California instead.) He documented his six month journey full of mountain passes, water crossings, snowstorms and desert heat through diaries and drawings. Imagine the arduous trip through a few of his drawings below:
After making it to California, Jenks later bought a mining claim in Long Gulch. In this view of the mine and cabins, you can see Jenks’ cabin in the lower right corner.
- View all of Daniel Jenks’ gold rush drawings in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Learn more about Jenks through the webcast Journals of a Pioneer Argonaut, Daniel Jenks.
- Read first-hand accounts in “California as I Saw It:” First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900.
- Explore images related to gold mining in California.
- See photographs of the site at Sutter’s Mill where gold was first discovered in California.
- View modern photographs related to the California Gold Rush in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive in the Prints and Photographs Division.