WANTED: Information About the Disappearance of the First Californians

developed by Marianne Dilworth

for the Oakland Museum of California








Teacher’s Page






It is a painful necessity of advancing civilization that the Indians should gradually disappear. —San Francisco Bulletin Bibliography



What happened to the first Californians? Before 1769, over 300,000 Native Californians lived in the state. This population was made up of over 100 tribes that practiced diverse cultural and linguistic traditions. In 1870, 22 years after the discovery of gold in California, less than 30,000 were left.

You and your investigative team will have an opportunity to become Internet sleuths. Your team will investigate reasons why the first Californians practically disappeared from the state.


This WebQuest addresses the following standards:

Grade Four California History-Social Science Content Standards:

4.3.3. Analyze the effects of the Gold Rush on settlements, daily life, politics, and the physical environment (e.g., using biographies of John Sutter, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst).


Grade Four California Reading/Language Arts Content Standards:

Writing Strategies:

1.2 Create multiple-paragraph compositions.

a. Provide an introductory paragraph.

b. Establish and support a central idea with a topic sentence at or near the beginning of the first paragraph.

c. Include supporting paragraphs with simple facts, details, and explanations.

d. Conclude with a paragraph that summarizes the points.

e. Use correct indention.


Listening and Speaking Strategies:

1.2. Summarize major ideas and supporting evidence presented in spoken messages and formal presentations.


Historical and Social Sciences Analysis Skills Grades K-5:

Chronological and Spatial Thinking:

1. Students place key events and people of the historical era they are studying both in a chronological sequence and within a spatial context; they interpret timelines.

Historical Interpretation

3. Students identify and interpret the multiple causes and effects of historical events.



Time Frame: Teacher’s Page

Day One: Introduction to topic, WebQuest, team, and role assignments

Day Two: Research on the Internet

Day Three: Design Illustrated Event poster

Day Four: Share poster with class

Day Five: Write essay


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Your investigative team must uncover the three main reasons why the Native Californian population decreased in California. Your team will then be responsible for researching one of these reasons. Your team will be made up of a chief inspector, historian, reporter, and press agent. Team members will visit specific sites together and respond to the following questions:


  • Why did the Native Californian population decrease at such a rapid rate during the years 1769-1870? List the three main reasons.
  • What is the focus of your research?
  • Who caused the decrease in population to happen?
  • Where in California did the decrease in population happen?
  • Why did the decrease in population happen?
  • When did the decrease in population happen?
  • How did the decrease in population happen?

Once your research is completed, your team will meet and review the facts. Your team will design a presentation to give in front of the class. Individual team members will take notes on all of the presentations. (This includes presentations that focus on the same information that your group researched–other groups may have found different information.) Individual team members will use their notes to write a five-paragraph essay that describes the three main reasons why the population of Native Californians decreased at such a rapid rate. (Click here for composition hints.)


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To accomplish this task, you will need to follow these instructions:

Meet with your team members. Choose your roles. These roles include: chief inspector, historian, reporter, and press agent.

Go to the Gold Rush website at the Oakland Museum of California. Follow the California Indian Pathway.

    • To follow the California Indian Pathway, first click on the words California Indian.
    • After you finish reading the page, find the purple words California Indian at the top right hand corner of the page.
    • Click on the right arrow. DO NOT click on the pointed finger at the bottom of the page.
    • When you get to the second page of the California Indian pathway, find the three main reasons why the Native Californian population decreased. (Hint: Look closely at the European Contact section.)

Once you have answered the first question listed in the task section, click on the colored box below that matches the color at the top of your group’s question sheet.






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Your work on this project will be evaluated in three ways. Your teacher will evaluate your group work and your essay. The other members of your team will evaluate your contribution to the group work. The following rubrics will be used:


Teacher Rubric for Essay

Teacher Rubric for Group Work

Peer Rubric

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For many people, the California Gold Rush continues to represent a time of prosperity and opportunity. Unfortunately, for the first Californians, it represents a period in their history of destruction and loss. As people from around the world rushed in with the hope of seizing vast fortunes, they trampled a wealth of native cultures and natural resources.

What lessons can we learn from the experiences of the first Californians? How has the treatment of Native Californians changed? What can we do to insure that future generations of Californians benefit equally from the next "Gold Rush"?



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