Pioneers of California will include those who emigrated to California prior to the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Although California was admitted to the Union in 1850, travel between California and the rest of the continental U.S. remained time consuming and dangerous. Once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens came west, marking the end of the pioneer period.
How to Participate
Please add profiles of those who were born or lived in California prior to 1870. NOTE: All pioneer profiles included in this project will be editable by the other Pioneers of California collaborators
- By definition, a "pioneer" of California is someone who came here to live. Those who came to mine gold with no intention of staying definitely impacted the area, but were not truly pioneers.
- Include in the "About Me" section of each person a brief biographical sketch of their lives
- Include a photograph of your ancestor if one exists
- Your pioneer's profiles should be marked as "public" and not "private"
- All included profiles should be as complete as possible, including birth and death dates as well as birth and death locations. It would also be very helpful if the profiles for the immediate family of your pioneer ancestor (their parents, siblings and children) were public profiles also.
- Do not make public any profiles of living people.
- Roster of California Pioneers, compiled by the Native Daughters of the Golden West; arrivals prior to 1870
- California Pioneer Project - arrivals prior to 1880
- The Society of California Pioneers was a fee-based society for those who arrived in California prior to 1850; their listing is less exhaustive but still useful.
The Pioneer Period
What is now California was first settled by various Native American tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. It was then claimed by the Spanish Empire as part of Alta California in the larger territory of New Spain. After the Portola expedition of 1769-70, Spanish missionaries created the California mission system, eventually establishing twenty-one missions on or near the coast of Alta (Upper) California, ranging from San Francisco to San Diego. During the same period, Spanish military forces built several forts (presidios) and three small towns (pueblos). Two of the pueblos grew into the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose.
Beginning in the 1820s, trappers and settlers from the U.S. and Canada began to arrive in Northern California. These new arrivals used the Siskiyou Trail, California Trail, Oregon Trail and Old Spanish Trail to cross the rugged mountains and harsh deserts surrounding California. In this period, Imperial Russia explored the California coast and established a trading post at Fort Ross. In 1821 the Mexican War of Independence gave Mexico (including California) independence from Spain; for the next 25 years, Alta California remained a remote northern province of the nation of Mexico.
Cattle ranches, or ranchos, emerged as the dominant institutions of Mexican California. The chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government and were secularized by 1834. The ranchos developed under ownership by Californios (Spanish-speaking Californians) who had received land grants, and traded cowhides and tallow with Boston merchants. It was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. The California Gold Rush began in 1848 with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, leading to dramatic social and demographic change, with large-scale immigration from the U.S. and abroad and an accompanying economic boom. California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state on 9 September 1850.
Some Famous California Pioneers
- Wyatt Earp: Wyatt Earp’s mother died while he was young. His father brought him and his brother to San Bernardino and married a Mormon pioneer, Annie Cadd. Wyatt and his family were freighters and famous in San Bernardino and the early history of the west.
- William Holcomb - Married a Mormon San Bernardino pioneer. He discovered the largest gold deposit in the Big Bear Mountains which created the Southern California gold rush.
- Jefferson Hunt - A captain of the Mormon Battalion, he acted as a guide for forty-niners and freighters through the Cajon Pass. He was the guide of the 1851 wagon train to establish the Mormon settlement of San Bernardino. He was elected to represent Los Angeles County to the new State Legislature. He proposed the legislation that divided San Bernardino County from LA County and helped to pass legislation to build a road from San Pedro harbor to Cajon Pass.
- James Marshall, whose discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 started the California Gold Rush
- John Metcalf. A Mormon convert from Australia, he brought the first alfalfa to the United States - a defining event in agricultural history.
- George Albert Ralphs. Born in Joplin, Missouri, as a very young child he traveled to Utah with his family. They later moved on to San Bernardino. George founded Ralph’s Grocery Company in 1873, the first of its kind in the United States. He died in 1914 in San Bernardino County.
- Ed Styles. Born in Spanish Fork, Utah and later lived in San Bernardino County. He became famous for his 20-mule-team borax wagons.
- Johann Augustus Sutter
- Testimonios: Early California Through the Eyes of Women, 1815–1848. Heyday. 2006. p. 425. ISBN 978-1-59714-033-1.
- Billington, Ray Allen; Ridge, Martin (2001). Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier. University of New Mexico Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-8263-1981-4.
- Hart, James David (1987). A Companion to California. University of California Press. p. 315. ISBN 978-0-520-05544-5.
- Harlow, Neal (1989). California Conquered: The Annexation of a Mexican Province, 1846–1850. University of California Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-520-06605-2.
- Thomas J. Osborne (2012). Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California. John Wiley & Sons. p. 40. ISBN 1-118-29217-0
- "California Gold Rush, 1848–1864". Learn California.org, a site designed for the California Secretary of State.