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The California Trail: There’s Gold in Them Hills!

The California Trail: There’s Gold in Them Hills!

February 18, 2021

Boom town, claim jumping, fool’s gold, forty-niners, gold fever—this is the language of the California Gold Rush! The California Trail played an important role, not only as a path to California for those in search of gold, but also as a migration path for those migrating west. The California Trail originated in western Missouri and stretched through the Rocky Mountains to the gold fields of northern California. It was quite heavily used from the 1840s to 1860s. Taking four to six months by ox-driven wagon, over 250,000 people traveled the trail.

Did one of your ancestors go west in search of gold? Fur trappers were the first to use the California Trail. More settlers arrived in the 1840s. American soldiers traveled the trail during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The Gold Rush attracted adventurers, with more than 90,000 people arriving around 1849. A few of these travelers died on the trail due to cholera in the 1850s, and attacks were prevalent as well. Use of the trail declined with the completion of the railroad and steamboats.

There are a few online databases that list the pioneers; Ancestry Library Edition has the California, Pioneer, and Immigrant Files, and FamilySearch has digital images of the California Pioneer Index, 1906-1935, as well as a digital book, Index to the Argonauts of California by Martina Spinazze. The Midwest Genealogy Center has the book The Overland Journey from Utah to California: Wagon Travel from the City of Saints to the City of Angels by Edward Leo Lyman. Don’t forget to check California land records for claims and deeds as well as federal census records (both available on Ancestry Library Edition). 

Looking for an adventurous ancestor? Maybe one who was looking to get rich quick? Take a trip down the California Trail! You may find them there.

Sheri V.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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