The California Gold Rush Vocabulary Terms | History In A Nutshell

Forty-Niner: The nickname for people (mostly men) who flocked to California in 1849 hoping to take advantage of the gold rush.

Gold: Element symbol "Au" -  A relatively rare element, gold is a precious metal that has been used for coinage, jewelry, and other arts throughout recorded history. 

Hydraulic Mining:  A form of mining that uses high-pressure jets of water to dislodge rock material or move sediment.   

James W. Marshall: An American carpenter and sawmill operator, who on January 24, 1848 reported the finding of gold at Coloma, California, a small settlement on the American River about 36 miles northeast of Sacramento. His discovery was the impetus for the California Gold Rush.

John Augustus Sutter: A Swiss immigrant who became a Mexican and later an American citizen, known for establishing Sutter's Fort in the area that would eventually become Sacramento, California, the state's capital. Although he became famous following the discovery of gold by his employee James W. Marshall and the mill-making team at Sutter's Mill, Sutter saw his own business ventures fail during the California Gold Rush.

Mother Lode: A principal vein or zone of gold or silver ore. The term is also used colloquially to refer to the real or imaginary origin of something valuable or in great abundance.

Nueva Helvetia: Meaning "New Switzerland", Nueva Helvetia was a 19th-century Alta California settlement and rancho founded by John Augustus Sutter, centered in present-day Sacramento, California.

Placer Mining: The mining of streambed deposits for gold and other minerals. Water is used to separate minerals from unwanted debris or sediment. 

President James K. Polk: The 11th President of the U.S. Polk was elected in 1844 and served from 1845-1849. Polk is most well-known for extending the territory of the United States through the Mexican-American War – gaining Mexico’s northern territories. He was a proponent of Manifest Destiny.

Sam Brannan:  American settler, businessman, journalist, and prominent Mormon who founded the California Star, the first newspaper in San Francisco, California. He is considered the first to publicize the California Gold Rush and was its first millionaire. He used the profits from his stores to buy large tracts of real estate.