Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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The Legacy of the Gold Rush

By Martin Ridge

Download and read the article in PDF format.


The "national spirit of optimism" in America during the mid to late 1800s.

American gold miner as an icon.

The myth of the "rich west."

The effect of gold and silver on the world's monetary system in the mid-1800s.


1)    At the time of the discovery of gold in the American West, what was the primary occupation of most Americans?

2)    Explain what the author refers to as the "national spirit of optimism."

3)    What races of people inhabited mining, milling, and smelting communities?

4)    What does the author mean when he refers to mining communities as "demographic microcosm(s) of nineteenth century America"?

5)    What aspects of the mining/milling process made it hazardous work?

6)    Despite the hardships of life in an industrial society, what benefits did foreign-born miners find in America?

7)    Who were the "losers" that the author refers to and how did they lose?

8)    How did the Native Americans "lose out the most?"

9)    What was the "Chivington Massacre"? What has this tragedy come to signify?

10)    What roadblocks do mining companies run into when they seek access to public lands?


 -    Research ethnic diversity in your own community.  Make the culmination of your research an "Ethnic Day." Provide your community with an opportunity to share their cultures, food, etc.

-    Track the contemporary gold and silver standards around the world. Compare them to the standards from before, during, and after the big gold boom years. What do the numbers tell us about our economy?

-    Define renewable and non-renewable resources.   Make lists of the resources that fall into each category.   Create a collage of pictures of your list of renewable and non-renewable resources.