A Gold Rush is defined by Merriam Webster, “as a large-scale and hasty movement of people to a region where gold has been discovered.”

Think about the concept of ‘discovery’? Think about a large group of people quickly moving somewhere in order to get rich from resources. What happens when people are already living in the region? What happens when nations are already established on the land?

Images of the Gold Rush

The Frontier Myth (Slotkin and Furniss) Summary (for students who can handle it).

  1. History is a narrative structure of protagonists’ conflict with and triumph over opposing forces.

  2. The conflict and triumph necessitate at least some violence.

  3. The complexity of history is reduced to ‘events’; dramatic incidents filled with symbols and metaphors.

  4. These narratives represent ‘heroic’ struggles on the parts of those ‘building’ the nation.

  5. The success of the protagonists results in a reinforcement of their stated values, which then results a new country or a win for the country as it ‘moves forward’.


During the Fraser River and Cariboo Gold Rushes, at least 80,000 people who spoke over 34 different languages hastily moved into the Cariboo and Fraser regions. These included: European & African Americans, Britons, Germans. English & French Canadians, Scandinavians, Italians, Belgians, French, Hawaiians, Chinese, Mexicans and people from the Caribbean. And that’s not including the First Nations peoples and the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic fur trader and First Nations families and groups who were already living on the land.

  1. Why are these not the images and stories we read about and see in history books, museums and video games?


If history is a heroic struggle against obstacles and a gold rush is a quick movement of people to find, take and sell gold, what happens when those groups of people find peoples and nations living in and working on the land where the gold is?

Extension: And if the protagonist is generally a European and the audience of the history book is you, where and how do you locate yourself in the story of your country? And how do you view the people in your way?

History: Good Guys and Bad Guys

Primary Source Quote from Secretary of State (1858):

It is the custom of  (American) miners generally to shoot an Indian as he would a dog; and it would be considered a very good joke to shoot at one at long shot, to see him jump as the fatal bullet pierces his heart. And when in the spirit of retaliation, some poor hunted relative watches his opportunity, and attacks a straggling whiteman, the papers at once teem with long accounts of Indian outrages. And yet the men who shoot down these poor Indians are not the ruffians we are led to suppose are always the authors of atrocities, but the respectable sovereign people, brought up in the fear of God by pious parents, in the most famed locations for high moral character... . who return looking as innocent as lambs.

These types of dramatic events are also not included in history books, museum experiences and gold rush adventures.

  1. Compare and contrast the painting and the quote.

Land, Resources, Nation Building & History

“The single most important contest in imperialism has always been on the 'land question': who owns it, who wants it, who first settled it, and who currently decides its future and the future right to resources. And these battles over land, beginning with the Fraser River gold rush, have been, more often than not, "reflected, contested, and even for a time decided in narrative."11 That is to say, land questions have been 'settled' amongst the pages of colonial correspondence, the primary and admittedly biased source material used to construct our historical understanding of the past.“  Daniel Marshall

Primary and Secondary Sources on Trespass, Rent and Tolls

#! Primary Source: Letter to the Crown from Mr. jhfej:

They (First Nations peoples)... are keenly sensitive in regard to their own rights as the aborigines of the country, and are equally alive to the value of the gold discoveries. Governor Douglas states that in the earlier stages of the gold discoveries they endeavoured to expel the settlers, who were then few in number.

#2 Primary Source: Quote from Chief Ervin Charleyboy:

“When you’re using Tsilhqot’in nen [land], you have to pay”.

#3 Second Source/Primary Source

“You are in our country, you owe us bread.”  After some Tsilquot’in took bread from a storage room, a man refused to tell who had taken the bread and where they had gone. Despite being threatened, he responded in this way. The Tsilquot’in expected to be fed as well as to be paid for their work and the road builders did not provide any food and often did not pay them.

#4 Second Source Historian:

“It appears that every party that passed that way (during and before the Gold Rush times) had to obtain Tsilhquot’in guides and give presents in order to ensure safe passage into Tsilhqot’in territory.”

Activity: With a partner, as a class or as individuals - divide up the quotes and connect the primary and secondary sources to the Marshall quote. Come together as a class to share ideas and then move on as a class to this question:

  • What role might The Frontier Myth and History have played (and still plays) in government and court  decisions about land?
  • What can the Gold Rush events, stories and sources tell us that might be used as evidence?


  • Class discussion
  • Student reflection        

Extension Activity Choices: Create something that incorporates what you have learned:

  • Make a museum page or history chapter.
  • Make a video game trailer or storyboard or summary.
  • Draw a new picture.

OPTIONAL ADDITION TO THE UNIT: Connections to Sustainability, Environmental Education, & Current Events

Part 1:      Introduce or go over the Sustainability Compass and apply it to the Gold Rushes.

N: Nature – land, environment, resources, animals,

E: Economy – food, shelter, money, industry, trade, jobs, wealth, country and individual

S: Society – The institutions, organizations, cultures, norms, and social conditions

W: Well Being – health, happiness, and quality of life.

Talk about the gold rush within the context of the sustainability compass. Ask students:

  1. What do you think some effects might be?

  2. What factors were important then? for which groups and individuals?  Are they still?

Part 2: Sustainability, Resources and Land Use

What is the modern equivalent of Gold?

Connect the compass to one of these industries and read the article (and more, if you like). Students can also research and find their own resource to compare.

  1. How can we apply what we are learning in this activity to the ways in which the European and  American governments and corporations viewed and used the gold deposits in First Nations land?
  2. How can we apply what we are learning in this activity to the simulation coming up?
  3. What questions can we generate, using the compass, that might help us make good decisions about how to use land in the future?