California history

The Forty-Niners

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James Marshall, a foreman at Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento, accidentally discovered gold in January 1848 while building a sawmill. His discovery sparked the California Gold Rush. Approximately 300,000 people from across the country and around the world flocked to the region, hoping to make their fortunes. These gold-seekers were called the “Forty-Niners,” since the majority of them arrived during 1849. This book, by historian and nature writer Stewart Edward White, tells the story of California before, during, and after this pivotal period.

California Illustrated

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“Dear Reader: If you have visited California, you will find nothing in these pages to interest you; if you have not, they may serve to kill an idle hour." With this bit of stark understatement, the reader is introduced to California Illustrated, a journal published in 1852. This book chronicles the author’s journey with a group of travelers making their way to California. There’s whale spotting, a shipwide illness, and the travelers' arrival at the Islands of Turks and Caicos—and that’s just in the first chapter.

Letters of Gold

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This gold-covered book is especially appropriate for the Smithsonian Library's golden anniversary celebration. In the early days of the U.S. postal system, mail traveled to California overland, or by steamship, pony, jackass (pack mule), and railroad. The goal was to connect isolated California with the rest of the United States. At almost four hundred pages in length, this book contains hundreds of black-and-white photos (and a few color plates) of canceled covers—envelopes stamped by the post office so they cannot be reused as fresh postage.