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Gold Fever

by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Mar 22, 2015

Ho for California

Take notice. Ho! for California!: A meeting of the Citizens of the Village of Canajoharie and its vicinity, will be held at the house of T. W. Bingham, . . . Jan. 16, 1849 
Letterpress print on paper
Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
BANC PIC 1963.002:1802—A



This mountain-mass of gold, is an immense magnet, whose attractive power is drawing men from all parts of the world to itself.
—Reverend Elisha L. Cleaveland, 1849

As word of the gold discovery spread, thousands of people from all over the word prepared to undertake the arduous journey to California. Depending on the departure point, there were a number of routes to the gold country.

Thousands migrated west by foot and with wagon trains along a network of trails that worked its way across the continental United States. These overland routes seemed direct enough, but they contained a host of unpredictable dangers. Misinformation from guidebooks meant many left ill prepared, and accidents, disease, supply shortages, breakdowns, and bad weather all posed serious threats once the trip had begun.

For others, routes to California by sea offered a slightly safer alternative. Clipper ships departing from Eastern ports were the safest option, but this route also took the longest, as the ships had to travel south around the southern edge of South America before turning north to San Francisco. A popular alternative was to go by ship as far south as Chagres, Panama, disembark, then travel across the Isthmus of Panama to Panama City by foot or in smaller river boats. Once on the western coast of the country, travelers boarded a second ship that would take them onward to California. However, the demand for ships heading north was far greater than the supply, which left many eager gold seekers stuck in Panama City indefinitely.

In addition to the tens of thousands who journeyed to California from the East, thousands more traveled from Europe and across the Pacific Ocean from places like China, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands. 

 map01082

Map of Overland Routes to California|
From Precious Dust, 1994

 map02083

Map of Water Routes to California
From Precious Dust, 1994

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