Staking Claims: The Gold Rush in Nineteenth-Century America

Staking Claims: The Gold Rush in Nineteenth-Century America


"Manhattan Gold Mining and Milling Company certificate." Courtesy the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University Libraries, via the Mountain West Digital Library.

In This Exhibition

Since European explorers first arrived in the Americas, the pursuit of gold has been one of the driving forces behind colonization and migration in the New World. Despite the hopes of early European colonizers, gold remained elusive in the eastern settlements of the thirteen colonies and tobacco prevailed as the sustaining economic export. After gaining its independence from England, the United States struggled to develop a national sense of identity that would unite its economically diverse colonies. With independence, it became legal to allow settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, previously the general border of European settlement. As the newly formed America consolidated its hold on more and more “available” land, purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France and establishing a solid border with British-held Canada in the Oregon Territory and northern Maine, westward expansion became an integral part of what it meant to be American. The idea of Manifest Destiny began to take hold. American citizens began to believe and to preach that it was their God-given right and duty to take over the entire continent, to take control of the land from the Native Americans, who white Americans believed did not understand or practice correct land stewardship and therefore did not deserve to retain their ancestral homes. It was during this period of nationalistic expansion that gold was first discovered in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in present-day California.

This exhibition explores the Gold Rush—a group of related gold rushes to Western territories in the second half of the nineteenth century—and its impact on American history and culture. Catalyzed by the discovery of gold the Sierra Nevada in 1848, gold fever would persist for decades, attracting migrants looking to stake their claims to increasingly northern and eastern destinations—from the Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana to the Yukon Territory and present-day Alaska by the 1890s.  

Credit: This exhibition was created as part of the DPLA’s Digital Curation Program by the following students as part of Professor Krystyna Matusiak's course "Digital Libraries" in the Library and Information Science program at the University of Denver: Heidi Buljung, Chelsea Condren, Rachel Garfield-Levine, Sarah Martinez, Liz Slaymaker-Miller, Chet Rebman, and Brittany Robinson.