A few weeks back, my kids and I threw a Gold Rush Party after reading the book, By the Great Horn Spoon for a party school book club. We had a busy week, so a lot of our plans were put together last minute and weren’t fully authentic, but overall, I think our Gold Rush party was a success. The kids had a ton of fun and hopefully learned something in the process.
Gold Nugget Hunt
- lots of rocks
- gold spray paint
Spray painting rocks gold and hiding them is cheap, it’s easy, and it’s ridiculously fun for the kids. We saved this activity for last, but it is definitely the most highly recommended for a gold rush party.
I ended up spray painting my rocks inside a cardboard box. I would let the rocks dry for a few hours, then shake the box and spray again. If I were to do this again, I might get a big piece of butcher paper instead to get the most coverage in one spraying session.
Once they were almost completely covered, I moved the rocks one at a time from one side of the box to the other spraying as needed to patch up any missing spots.
After all the rocks were painted and dry, we hid them in a specified area of our yard. They were surprisingly hard to see when thrown in our dried leaves! For the younger kids, I also threw a bunch of pieces in our driveway. When it was time to hunt, we let the kids 5 years and younger start first and all counted to 20 while they collected the driveway pieces.
Panning for Gold
In addition to our gold hunt, we decided to “pan” for gold as well. First we spray painted aquarium rocks gold in a big box. Initially, we would let the rocks dry for a few hours, shake the box, and spray again.
As before, it probably would have been easier to spread the rocks out on butcher paper to cover more at once. When the party was only a day away, we ended up spraying and then stirring the rocks with a stick while they were still wet to make sure they were completely covered.
Next we filled our kiddie pool with dirt and added water. I think my boys got a little carried away adding dirt to the pool, because our 5 lbs of aquarium rocks were pretty well lost in all the dirt. Panning for gold ended up being pretty challenging. If we were to do it again, I would probably have only added about an inch of dirt along the bottom.
Next we got pie tins and poked holes in them with a nail to let the muddy water, but not the rocks, seep through.
I don’t think this step was actually necessary as sloshing the muddy water around in the pie tins without holes also seemed to work pretty well. When the kids wanted to pan for gold, they would scoop up some muddy water into the pie tin, then shake it so that the water either fell through the holes or off the rim. As long as they didn’t shake too hard, the dense “gold” would stay in the pan and they could pick it out with their fingers.
Gold Rush Meal
- corn bread
- beef jerky
- sourdough bread
- molasses cake
I’m not sure if this counts as an “authentic” gold miner meal, but I’m pretty sure all of these foods were around during the gold rush and would have been available to people with enough money. We also learned the fascinating fact that Boudin sourdough bread is still made today using the same starter that was used during the Gold Rush.
Gold Rush Music
Be sure to play Oh! Susanna during your Gold Rush party, which was actually from the Gold Rush era. If you want to make a Spotify playlist with some other songs, most of these are from well after the Gold Rush, but I feel like they help provide an old-timey feel.
- Oh, Susanna
- This Land if Your Land
- Oh My Daring Clementine
- I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
- She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain
- California, Here I Come
- On Top of Old Smokey
Gold Rush Door Sign
You can welcome your visitors with a gold rush themed door sign.
Gold Rush Nicknames
In addition to discussing the book, By the Great Horn Spoon, the last activity we did during our party was to give everyone a Gold Rush nickname. In the book, the main character is given the nickname Jamoka Jack.
Similarly, we tried to give all the kids that came to our party a nickname using alliteration (the same first sound repeated) and came up with names like Claim-Jumping Carter and Toothache Travis. If we couldn’t think of a name using alliteration, we would try rhyming, like Gold Catcher Thatcher, or assonance, like Eureka Zeke.
Here is a list of words we brainstormed to help us come up with nicknames.
- boom town
- fortune seeker
- forty niner
- ghost town
- gold fever
- gold rush
- golden gate
- jack knife
- pay dirt
- pick axe
- stake a claim
Enjoy your gold rush party and have fun being forty-niners for a day!