On January 14, 1848 a man called James Marshall discovered gold in a river in California. Soon people started travelling west from all over the USA hoping to find gold too. In 1849 there were 80,000 migrants (known as the forty-niners), mostly from America but by 1856 there were more than 300,000 from Mexico, Europe, China and Australia all prepared to risk a difficult journey and a new life to become rich.

With the new immigrants, new multi ethnic communities grew too. In 1848, when gold was discovered, San Francisco was a small village with about 1,000 residents. Miners set up camp there and it grew to a town with over 30,000 in just a few years. It became the centre of a new cultural movement, attracting risk-takers, pioneers, artists and criminals.

Mark Twain was inspired by the Gold Rush culture and new urban society. When he finally arrived in San Francisco, in 1864, it was a place full of theatres and bars, densely populated with people from all over the world. It was the perfect place for new writers and he joined a literary group called the Bohemians. It was there that he found his voice as a story teller and became one of America’s most important authors.

Illustration by Ivo Milazzo, taken from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Green Apple, Step Two (CEFR A2/B1)