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Everyday Life, 1850s-1890s

Questions to Consider

What forms of transportation do you see in these images?

What do family portraits of people from different cultures have in common, and what differences do you see?

About the Images

The images in this topic depict everyday life in California during a time of explosive growth. Even as the state’s mix of cultures became more interconnected, they still managed to maintain and express their unique identities. People at work, at play, posing for formal portraits, and simply walking down the street are part of a diverse and vibrant population.


The of growth that took place in California during the 19th century brought numerous changes to the state. Many activities during this time had to do with using natural resources to build new communities for the influx of new residents. An African American man identified as “Andy” stands working at a sluice box in Auburn during the Gold Rush. Another miner works the “rocker” in Tuolumne County. The photo identified as “Feeding the Teams” shows the men, horses, and equipment involved in mining during a moment where work stopped for mealtimes. A few years later, in 1878, a group of men commemorates the completion of part of the Cajon Canal, bringing water to Southern California.

The new cities began to thrive as new residents moved in. The Broadway lumber yard is a bustling place, as people shop for lumber to build the new city of Oakland. In the photo of San Francisco’s Kearny Street in the 1860s, pedestrians and trolleys shared the cobblestone street.

Native Americans at this time were in transition between cultures. In Yosemite, a Native American gathering was captured by photographer Eadweard Muybridge. In the 1860s, another photograph shows a family of Washoe Indians near a river.

Among the images from this time are those picturing people enjoying relaxing activities of many sorts. In the 1880s, swimmers posed in the water near Anaheim Landing, near what is now Seal Beach. In Mammoth Grove, people enjoying the outdoors pose with a giant redwood. In Anaheim, 12 men and boys show off game from a rabbit hunting party. In Laguna Beach in the 1880s, some women pose for a picture

The images in this topic portray the new state of California as it was taking shape and its citizens were taking root: At the Slough School in Sutter County, and in Visalia, teachers stand with their students. In 1875, a wedding party poses for a photograph to celebrate a marriage. Cities, too, were laying down social foundations: Anaheim took a photograph of its first city band, and The Deluge Hose Company #2 was San Bernardino's first fire company, equipped with axes, ladders, hooks, buckets, fire bell, and a speaking trumpet. The final image, a glimpse of early criminal justice in Yuba County, shows the public hanging of Ah Ben, a Chinese immigrant, for murder.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade Four

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade Eight

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write research reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.3 Deliver research presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade Four:

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods. (4.2.1, 4.2.3, 4.2.5)

4.3 Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood. (4.3.3, 4.3.4)

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.1, 4.4.2, 4.4.3, 4.4.4)

Grade Eight:

8.8 Students analyze the divergent paths of the American people in the West from 1800 to the mid-1800s and the challenges they faced. (8.8.3)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context

Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts

Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Andy at sluice box, Auburn Ravine, Calif., in the early 1850s. 1905.11611 986. Placer Mining in Columbia, Tuolumne County. The Rocker. 621. Feeding the Teams. Scene on the Placerville Route.
Celebration of Completion of Flume #8, Cajon Irrigation Company [graphic] 20. Broadway, City of Oakland. Kearny Street from Sutter Street looking North
Young couple, 1880s 1345. C. P. R. R. Locomotive Majestic. 907. Abraham Lincoln, near view, 281 feet high, 44 feet circumference, Calaveras, Big Tree Grove.
Anaheim Landing [graphic] John Fischer Family, Group Portrait. [graphic] A Morning Council on the Merced
902. Father of the Forest -- near view. Mammoth Grove, Calaveras county. 604. Washoe Indians -- The Chief's Family. Rabbit Hunting Party,
Tennis Court at Laguna Beach in the early 1880s Picnic at Lagunitas. 1882. 59 Two Chinese men seated at a table
[father with three children] Portrait of Slough School students in 1868 in Sutter County (Calif.) Teacher and his class, 1860.
159. Deck View of Monitor Camanche on the Stocks, San Francisco. 598. Group of Digger Indian Squaws. Photo of the Gold Spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah. Leland Stanford holding sledge hammer at center. 1869 May 10
Mr. and Mrs. John Bubb China Wedding, ca. 1875 Train Crew Unidentified African American couple
Anaheim's First City Band [graphic] Deluge Hose Company #2 Hanging of Ah Ben 1879

Note about picture captions

The original captions on some of the historical photographs may include racial terms that were commonplace at the time, but considered to be derogatory today.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Written Documents (PDF) (Source: NARA)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)