The Mission

How the Gold Rush Changed San Francisco's Mission District

This lesson relates to the following topics from the California History-Social Sciences Framework for Grade Four.

"Missions, Ranchos, and the Mexican War for Independence"
"Gold Rush, Statehood, and the Westward Movement"

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By exploring the effects of change on their own lives, students will understand the impact of the Gold Rush on the lives of the Californios.

Time Required

1 class period - first writing exercise
1 class period - screening and discussing the video
1 class period - second writing exercise.


    Californios - Mixed blood Mexican settlers who owned vast tracts of land
    in the Mission District in the 1840's.

    Forty-Niners - People from all parts of the globe who were drawn to
    the California Gold Rush of 1849.


1. Have a class discussion about major events in the students' lives - eg., the arrival of a baby, a move, a divorce, a death, etc. What was it like before and after this event? What helped them to get used to the changes?

2. Ask the students to choose an event and write a diary excerpt as though the event were happening to them right now. Ask them to write quickly and truthfully. Grammar and punctuation are not of immediate importance. Give them approximately twenty minutes.

3. Where appropriate and where time permits, have some of the students share their diary excerpts with the class.

4. Next lesson, explain to students that, just as big changes happen in people's personal lives, big changes also happen to groups of people. Introduce the videotape with some background about the Californios and the Gold Rush. Play the video segment (approx. 7 min.), beginning at the following point in the narration: "In the Mission cemetery, the gravestones are a reminder that this church has survived many seasons in the life of this neighborhood." and ending with..."...and built by men who lived in the neighborhood." This segment is from the Californio takeover to the end of the Gold Rush (approx. 7 min.). Use the video log to locate the segment..

5. Discuss the video using the following questions as a guide:

  • What happened to the Californios after the Gold Rush?
  • How did the Gold Rush change the lives of the schoolteacher, Alfred Rix, and his wife Chastina?
  • What countries did the people who came to California in search of gold come from? Point out some of these places on a map.
  • What happened to these people after the Gold Rush was over?

6. Have the students imagine that they are the son or daughter of a Californio rancher who lived in the Mission District before and after the Gold Rush. Have them write a diary excerpt about how this change affects their life, using the passage below as a prompt.

Your father is a Californio rancher, one of the richest men in the Bay Area. You have all the best things in life - fine clothes, rich food, music lessons. You even have two horses of your very own and you are a very good rider.

But then things start to change. Your father starts worrying a lot, and he and your mother start fighting. You don't understand what is happening, except you hear that this businessman named McGregor wants to buy your family's land. Your father has to sell it to him, even though he doesn't want to. Now you still live on the ranch but your family works for Mr. McGregor. Your life of luxury is over.

7. Have the students share their fictional diaries with the rest of class.

Extension Activities

1. Develop your diary excerpt into a play and perform it for the class.

2. Imagine you just came to the Mission District during the Gold Rush era. Write a letter to your best friend back home, describing your new surroundings and your adventures. Exchange letters by using KQED Learning Link e-mail. (See KQED Learning Link for more details.)

3. Create a mural, showing the gradual evolution of the Mission District from the domain of the Californio ranchers before the Gold Rush to a budding industrial center in the years following the Gold Rush.

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Take me to The Mission home page

Take me to the Neighborhoods Menu page

PBS Online