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Universe of Maps - Opening the David Rumsey Map Center

The California Gold Rush

Map of California, New Mexico, Texas &c. Henry S. Tanner. Philadelphia: 1849
The gold-producing region of California is highlighted in deep yellow, as was the case with many gold rush maps of the period. The map also shows Fremont's route across the Great Basin and the "Boundary of 1848" with Mexico.
Map of the Gold Regions of California, Showing the Routes via Chagres and Panama, Cape Horn, &c. Ensigns & Thayer. New York: 1849
This broadside contains a map of North and South America, showing the routes by sea to California via the Panama Canal or around Cape Horn, with an inset enlargement of California and the West Coast. Two blocks of text below the maps describe the routes, and give directions and cautionary advice to emigrants heading to California, along with descriptions of what they will find there – gold and “the richest, most picturesque and beautiful region… upon the face of the earth.”
Map of the Mining District of California, in Appendix to Jackson's Map of the Mining Districts of California. William A. Jackson. New York: 1851
First published in 1850, this second revised edition of California counties shows for the first time some of the mining activity in the south, which Jackson was involved with as an engineer. The Appendix volume, which the map illustrates, lists all the gold discoveries since 1849. Interestingly, it labels Santa Cruz County “Branciforte.” The name Branciforte comes from Villa de Branciforte, a secular pueblo founded in 1797 by the Spanish colonial government of Alta California.

The discovery of gold in a California mine in 1848 set off a frenzy of movement as hundreds of thousands flocked to the territory. The Gold Rush changed California in significant ways: new towns emerged and died around mines, prospectors became interested in the state’s geology, settlers from across the world arrived to test their luck, and the indigenous people of Northern California and the Sacramento Valley suffered near total extermination.

The maps displayed are examples of three kinds of maps of varying scales, representing a large number of maps that were produced to meet demand: detailed maps of mining districts, area maps situating the gold region in relation to surrounding states and territories, and wide-range maps showing how to get there by sea or overland from distant parts of the world.

Melanie Langa, Undergraduate in History, ’16