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Explorations and Curiosities

Staff Pick: Gold Rush Days

May-June 2020

Circa 1853 photograph of Lawman Captain Harry Love and two of his California Rangers, the state's first law-enforcement agency

(Click on arrow at right to see additional images)
(1 of 3) Lawman Captain Harry Love and two of his California Rangers (the state’s first law-enforcement agency), circa 1853

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum


(Click on arrow at right to see additional images)
(1 of 3) Lawman Captain Harry Love and two of his California Rangers (the state’s first law-enforcement agency), circa 1853

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

Photograph of California Gold Rush-era storefront

(2 of 3) Bond & Mollyneaux Groceries and Provisions, Jacksonville, 1852

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum


(2 of 3) Bond & Mollyneaux Groceries and Provisions, Jacksonville, 1852

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

Gold miners working with a piece of gold-mining equipment called a long tom, circa 1850

(3 of 3) Gold miners laboring with a long tom, circa 1850

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum


(3 of 3) Gold miners laboring with a long tom, circa 1850

Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

The 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill launched the dreams and journeys of thousands of people who migrated west to cash in, daguerreotypists among them. “Gold Rush: Daguerreotypes of Early California” (at press time scheduled to be on display at the Peabody Essex Museum through July 12) captures this quintessential era of American history. It was actually the first major American event captured by the early photographic medium, and the real-life images lent credence to rumors of legendary motherlodes. Nearly a hundred images on display reflect untold stories of families and laborers, early mining technology, and the rapid rise of cities, like San Francisco, and smaller “wild West” frontier communities, built around fortune-seeking. “The California Gold Rush was a gamble, and the vast majority were not going to come out rich because of it,” notes Stephanie Tung, associate curator of exhibitions and research. “What we know of the Gold Rush is a mix of both reality and myth.”

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