Thanks to a crazy confluence of events, California leapfrogged “territory” status and achieved statehood in September of 1850.
In January of 1848, gold was discovered near Swiss immigrant John Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma. The following month, Mexico and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican War and yielding 525,000 square miles of western frontier to the U.S., including present-day California.
That same year, the Gold Rush brought people from far and wide—more than the 60,000 required for statehood. Among the immigrants who came to work alongside the Californios and the native Californians in the gold mines, roughly 20,000 were Chinese. The Gold Rush generated great wealth but at a tragic cost to many who suffered injustice and were stripped of their lands.
In 1849, California’s application for admittance to the Union as a free state sparked a great conflict in the U.S. Congress among supporters of slavery and abolitionists. Under the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted as a free state, but tensions over slavery grew between North and South until the Civil War broke out (1861-65). California supported the Union effort with soldiers and funding; driving Confederate troops from Arizona and New Mexico, playing a key role in the Battle of Gettysburg, and funding the U.S. Sanitary Commission responsible for treating wounded Union soldiers.
The state capitol was relocated 3 times in 4 years, from San Jose to Vallejo to Benicia and finally to Sacramento in 1852. Long before the Mission Era and the Gold Rush, the land was inhabited by an indigenous group called the Nisenin. Sacramento (“sacrament” in Spanish) was founded by Samuel Brannan and John Sutter Jr. while John Sutter Sr. was away. That didn’t sit well with John Sr. when he returned home, but his son prevailed.
Our State Seal is emblazoned with the word “Eureka” (Greek for “I found it,” likely relating to the Gold Rush). It was designed by U.S. Army Major R. S. Garnett, and proposed by a clerk named Caleb Lyon. Pictured on the seal is Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom; a grizzly bear and grape clusters to signify California’s wildlife and agricultural richness; a gold miner, the Sacramento River and the Sierra Nevada; and 31 stars representing the total number of states with California's admission.
Most people are surprised to learn that California has an official state tartan. The California Tartan is a nod to the contributions made to the Golden State by residents of Scottish ancestry. The tartan is a Scottish tradition by which unique plaids reflected the identities of clans or families. California’s is based on the Muir Clan tartan, in honor of the beloved naturalist John Muir. It is registered with both the Scottish Tartan Authority and with the Scottish Tartans Society. Today, all California residents can claim it as their own.
California has a state song, too, entitled "I Love You, California," lyrics by F.B. Silverwood, an L.A. merchant, music by Alfred Frankenstein, a former conductor for the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. It was played at state expos in San Francisco and San Diego in 1915, and aboard the first ship to cross the Panama Canal. In 1951, the State Legislature passed a resolution designating it as our state song and in 1988, "I Love You, California" became the official state song by law.