Eighty-seven pioneers led by George Donner set out from Illinois for California on April 16, 1846. The expedition suffered a series of unfortunate events and circumstances, leading to the deaths of nearly half the party. Some resorted to cannibalism for survival. Rescuers arrived in February 1847, but only forty-eight members of the party survived.
James W. Marshall, a 36-year-old carpenter and handyman, discovered gold at a sawmill near Sacramento, California. The discovery set off the California gold rush. In 1849, 80,000 men arrived in California hoping to make a fortune in mining. Few struck it rich, and the gold rush lasted less than a decade.