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GOLD RUSH: Hands-On History.

© Ghost Town, Publisher.
Welcome to California! You and your fellow prospectors have gathered from all over the world in hopes of striking it rich in the gold fields. With so many fortune seekers arriving every day, it's time to start your own Gold Rush town. You'll need to give your town a name, make some town laws, and decorate your new home.

Name Your Town

Many towns and mining camps in California's Gold Country had colorful names. There were places called Sorefinger, Flea Valley, Poverty Flat, and even Skunk Gulch. It's a lot of fun to guess how the miners came up with these names. Many times the real story is stranger than anything you could make up!


  1. As a class, brainstorm a list of possible names for your new town. Each person who suggests a name should tell a story that explains the name, or give a reason why the name would be a good one for your town. For instance, the name could be based on a tall tale that you make up, on your school's name, or on something special about your class, school, or community.

  2. Discuss the list of names, and have a vote to decide which name the class likes the best.

Make Laws for Your Town

Your new town needs laws to encourage everyone to behave properly. For every law, there needs to be a punishment if the law is broken. (With luck, the threat of punishment will keep people from breaking the law in the first place.) It's up to you and the other townspeople (your classmates) to come up with the "crimes" you want to prevent, and the punishments for lawbreakers.


  1. As a class, brainstorm a list of crimes that might have been committed in Gold Rush days, like horse stealing and claim jumping (stealing another miner's claim).

  2. Discuss which crimes are more serious than others, and why. For instance, robbing a miner of his gold is probably more serious than taking a can of beans, but less serious than stealing a horse.

    You might want to sort your list of crimes into two categories, just as lawmakers do today. Misdemeanors are minor offenses, such as disrupting the peace. Felonies are serious offenses, such as armed robbery and murder.

  3. Brainstorm and debate appropriate Gold Rush punishments for each crime on your list. The punishments for misdemeanors are fairly light (often the offender simply pays a fine), while the punishments for felonies can be very severe (going to jail, or worse!). Some of the punishments the miners came up with were tongue lashing (scolding), whipping, branding, banishment, and hanging. As a "town," vote on the best punishment for each crime.

  4. Now repeat steps 1 through 3 for "crimes" that could disrupt your classroom Gold Rush activities, such as speaking out of turn, being disrespectful to a classmate, or failing to do your part in a group activity. Be sure to talk about why some behaviors are more serious "crimes" than others. Try to come up with punishments that are fair and appropriate for your class.

Things to Think About

  1. Why was stealing a horse a severe crime?

  2. Why was banishment a very bad punishment?

  3. The 49ers didn't have jails or people to watch them. What kind of punishments can you come up with that don't require a jail?

  4. Why might someone commit a crime even when they know it is against the law?

Decorate Your Town

No town is complete without signs. Now that you have a town name and laws, design and make signs, posters, and banners to decorate your town.


  1. As a class, brainstorm different kinds of signs to post in the town. Here are some possible types:

    • A sign showing your town's name and population (the number of people in your class). If you want to get really fancy, find out your community's elevation and include it on the sign.
    • Posters showing the town's laws and the punishments for breaking them. (Should these be fancy and decorative scrolls, or simple, bold signs with a BIG warning?)
    • A banner welcoming newcomers to the town.
    • Signs showing the distances to other locations in California, such as Sutler's Fort (Sacramento) and San Francisco. (Use a state map to measure the distances from your community.)

  2. Design and make your signs, and post them around the town (classroom).

The projects and activities in this book are intended to be used by individual teachers. Many masters have been provided for you to photocopy and distribute to your class. Permission is hereby granted for such copying and use of these materials. We have made every effort to provide these materials at a reasonable cost, and we request in turn that you respect the copyright on them by restricting their use to your own class.