Document Based Questions from Ms. Rechtfertig's 4th Grade Class

In January 1848, James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter�s saw mill in Coloma, California. At that time, only a few thousand newcomers from the United States or Europe lived in California. But due to the discovery of gold, many tens of thousands of people rushed to California.

Read the letters and see the poster made by fourth graders. To learn more, go to:


Dear Ma and Pa,

I think we should go and strike it rich in California. Why? Because here in Boston, we don�t have a living! Out West, we could open up a store. Ma and I could run it and Pa, you could pan for gold.

I am thinking we should take the Panama short cut. It�s only 7,000 miles, rather than15, 000 miles if we go around South America. It will only take two or three months.

We�ll sail from Boston down to the Caribbean coast. Then we�ll take a river journey on a canoe. There are places to stop for food. It�s a very pretty sight with marvelous animals too, like parrots.

We then get to walk 50 miles through the jungle, where there are animals to bite you. There is a danger of disease, and we go near the equator, where it is very hot!

When we finally get to Panama City, next to the Pacific Ocean, we will have to wait for a ship to pick us up. It could be a long time, but let�s just focus on the good stuff.

Let�s get to California fast, so we can strike it rich!

Yours truly,


Dear Family,

I have thought very carefully about this. I think we should go to California to look for gold, because you just can�t make a living here in Virginia. We should take the Cape Horn route around South America, because it is the safest, even though it is the longest. It can take as long as eight months. But on the ship, there are lots of activities like church and lectures. You can even see cool places and sights like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

There are some disadvantages too, like bad weather, bad tasting water, and lack of vitamin C. But I still say we go this way, because the other routes are far more dangerous.

Would you rather take one clipper ship all the way to California, or one that drops you off at Panama, where you could get lost in the jungle, or take a rickety covered wagon for 2,000 miles?

I bet we can make a lot of money at gold mining. We could even open up our own supply store.



Dear Family,

I know you like it here in Kanesville, Iowa, but would you like to strike it rich by traveling a few thousand miles to California in a covered wagon along the Oregon-California trail?

Lots of people are going this way. It�s not as expensive as going by water on a clipper ship or paddle wheeler. I�ve heard that the Indians do not hardly ever attack. There are forts to stop at for supplies, and we can learn to camp outdoors, and build a fire.

Don�t get me wrong; I know there are some disadvantages, like, when you go with a lot of wagons, there is a lot of dust. There are thunderstorms, and you could get bad diseases.

But other than that, it�s not that bad. It might only take about five months. So, if you guys will come with me, great, but if you won�t I will just have to go by myself.




What do YOU believe are the main advantages and disadvantages of each of the three routes to California?

If you were going to California, what additional information might YOU want to know about each of these routes? 

Based on the letters and the poster, which route would YOU recommend to your family, and why?



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Submitted by:
Ms. Rechtfertig's Fourth Grade Class
Dixie Elementary School
San Rafael, California

History-Social Science
4.3 Compare how and why people traveled to California and the routes they traveled [during the Gold Rush.]

English-Language Arts
1.0 Writing Strategies
1.1 Select a focus, an organizational structure, and a point of view based upon purpose, audience, length, and format requirements.
1.2 Create multiple-paragraph compositions:

2.0 Reading Comprehension
2.2 Use appropriate strategies when reading for different purposes.
2.5 Compare and contrast information on the same topic after reading several passages or articles.