Internet Field Trip: The Gold Rush
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
The hunt of prospectors for gold and instant riches really grabs the attention of my social studies students. I've found some excellent sites on the Klondike and California Gold Rushes.
The photo of Chilkoot Pass: The "Golden Staircase," which was actually "carved" by thousands of footsteps on the packed snow of the hillside, generates a great deal of discussion in my classroom! How would it feel to have to carry all of your supplies for 6 to 12 months, one package at a time, up this slope? I ask my kids to compare this daunting task to carrying bags of groceries from the car to the kitchen!
Now that we've explored the Klondike, let's head south to the Museum of the City of San Francisco, where your students can relive the discovery of gold at California's Sutter's Mill through an eyewitness account. The writing here is down the right side, in newspaper-column width, which lends itself beautifully to being printed out and made into a backdrop poster for a Gold Rush display in your class.
Don't forget to help your students understand the vocabulary that pertains to mining gold! (I've found that beginning with basic ideas about gold lends itself more readily to students "discovering" the vocabulary than if I start off with a long list of words to absorb.) If you are wondering which words you've left off your list, wonder no more! This glossary will refresh your memory and leave you dreaming of the instant riches that danced across the dreams of so many miners.
Often, because their stories were much less visible in history, we end up asking, "Well, what about the women?" Peek inside the diaries, reminiscences, letters, and even court records of women in the Gold Rush of California. But please note: The last section of this site contains four short quotes about prostitutes. I would print out the rest of this site, editing out this portion, before sharing the material with students.
Finally, PBS Online offers quotes of the period from the press, such as Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, and from President James Polk. If you venture through the links from this page, you can find fun facts, success stories, and views of how the cultures collided in California gold country.