On September 9th of 1850, California officially became America's 31st state, without ever having been a territory. A territory had to have 60,000 people before it achieved statehood. This usually took quite a while. However, it happened quickly in California. The whole non-native population of the United States wanted some of that California gold, which was rumored to be lying around in the streets in chunks the size of a man's fist, just waiting to be picked up by anyone who happened by.
Until 1846, California was a remote northern province of Mexico. It was estimated to have about eight thousand non-native Americans, and about 100,000 Native Americans. The land was dominated by cattle ranches owned by Californios (Spanish speaking Californians).
Settlers defeated the Mexican Californians in what came to be known as the Bear Flag Revolt. After the fighting, the rebels raised the Bear Flag at Sonoma, and the Republic of California was born. The Bear Flag is still used as the California state flag today.
However, the Republic of California did not stay a Republic for long. In fact, it died in its infancy. In 1846 came the outbreak of the Mexican American War. That was when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy staged a military occupation of California by the United States. On January 13th of 1847, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed by the Californios, securing United States control over California.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 effectively ended the Mexican American War. Mexico had officially relinquished California to the United States. In the same transaction, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah became United States territories.
Mexico didn't see it as a big sacrifice at the time. But the Mexicans did not know that gold had been discovered in Coloma, California, just a few days earlier. Suddenly, the greatest gold rush in history was on. The 49ers came running with their pails and sifters. The population of California exploded. Because prospectors had found gold a year earlier, about sixty thousand people came to California in 1849 alone. Between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000.
So many were the wagon trains that they chased off all the animals that were being hunted for food and warmth by Native American people. The people were also susceptible to European diseases for which they had developed no natural immunity. Many thousand Native American people died in America's search for gold. Of course, the native people fought back, with mixed results, for at least 35 years. This series of battles became known as the Indian Wars. The United States military had funded militia to protect settlers from Native American people. Native people were massacred by the hundreds, some of them while they slept.
California is now the most powerful economic and political force in the far west, not to mention the most populous state in the United States, and the third largest state in square miles. California's most populous city, Los Angeles, is the second largest city in America, behind only New York City.