The Peter T. Pope Early California Collection
The Peter T. Pope Early California Collection, now part of the Crocker Art Museum’s permanent collection, examines the history of California through rare historic maps, depictions of Gold Rush towns, urban scenes of San Francisco, and other aspects of daily life. Scenes of the city include depictions of urban development, bird’s-eye views, social gatherings, caricatures of well-known industrialists, and the destruction caused by the 1865 and 1906 earthquakes. Through nearly all of the works—from cartography to cartoons—visitors will see the evolution of California’s urban, natural, and political landscape during multiple periods of growth and development.
The collection also seeks to address under-told narratives of immigrant labor that accompanied the Gold Rush boom, the forced relocation of Native American peoples, colonization, as well as the increased demand for, and use of, environmental resources. The people and places omitted from the many scenes depicted in the artwork are as important as the people and places purposefully represented.
Between 1848 and 1853, a quarter of a million people literally rushed to California in search of gold. The influx of people during the Gold Rush, considered the largest mass migration up to that point in American history, hastened California’s move toward statehood, which was secured through the Compromise of 1850. Within this Gold Rush history also lies the history of Native American peoples and immigrants. The latter came to Northern California from around the globe by steam ships, river boats, and overland trails.
Trains also play a central role in many of the works and are evidenced through scenes of railroads under construction and as connectors of people and industry. In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act, which allowed for the start of construction on a transcontinental railroad. Upwards of 20,000 Chinese laborers helped build the most treacherous western portion of the transcontinental railroad between 1863 and 1869. Further, territorial expansion was fueled by the idea of Manifest Destiny, or that it was the God-given right for the United States to span from coast to coast regardless of those already here or who might stand in the way.
The Peter T. Pope Early California Collection digital project was made possible by the generous support of Maria and Molly Pope.