History of Hawaii for Kids

One of my favorite places to visit is a chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Hawaii. I grew up in Arizona, which is a desert and a very dry place. I love Arizona, but visiting a tropical place like Hawaii was very exciting. I had never seen so much green and so much ocean! And every island on Hawaii has so many different sites to see and adventures to offer. Most of my visits have been to the islands Oahu and Maui. Oahu is home to the beautiful north shore and gigantic waves, a favorite destination for surfers all around the world. It also is home to Pearl Harbor and the big city of Honolulu. In Maui my wife and I drove to the top of a former volcano, up above the cloud, and were able to see the sunrise from very high. We also hiked through jungles and snorkeled in crystal clear, warm water and saw fish of so many different colors. The beaches are beautiful and whales pass by the islands while migrating north and south through the Pacific Ocean. So this week I was very excited to dig into the history of Hawaii and figure out how the beautiful islands came to be and the history and culture of the Hawaiian people.

First, let’s go back 40 million years to when the Hawaiian islands first began form on top of a hot spot. A hot spot is a place where hot molten rock is pushed to the surface of the earth and creates a volcano. But Hawaii was different because its volcanos were coming up from the middle of the ocean. So if you can imagine hot lava pushing up through a hole in the ocean and up to the surface, then cooling and hardening over millions of years, this is how the Hawaiian islands were formed. Magma is the burning hot rock that then turns into lava and then cools and then becomes rock once again. It took a VERY long time for the lava to cool and then harden little by little until these gigantic islands were formed and reached the surface of the water. 

Over millions of years the volcanos and hardening lava became 8 main islands. The biggest islands are named Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Molokai, and Kauia. In addition to the big islands there are 130 smaller islands that make up the Hawaiian chain of islands! But interestingly, the Hawaiian islands are not done forming. It has 3 active volcanos, which mean volcanos that still have hot lava flowing from them and slowly making the island larger. If you visit these islands today you can see actual lava pouring from their volcanos!

After the lava cooled and became solid ground, eventually seeds drifted to Hawaii on the water and the wind and the soil was very fertile, which means it was good for growing plants. Over time plants sprouted and began to grow across Hawaii making it very lush and green. The climate is tropical, so many places on the islands look like a jungle and some of the islands like Kaui get lots of rainfall and are very wet. Other places on Hawaii are very dry, so it’s geography is very diverse. But one reason Hawaii is such a favorite place to visit is that the weather is usually very nice and cool all year around, perfect for people to visit for a vacation.

Animal life also eventually made its way to Hawaii and over time the species there became very unique. Among the unique species are the monk seal, the nay-nay, also known as the Hawaiian goose, and the hoary bat. Along with these are many birds special to Hawaii, many of which have become endangered.

For thousands and thousands of years the Hawaiian islands only had plants and animals on them, no people, until around 300 AD, about 1700 years ago when people from different islands found it by boat. These people were Polynesian, which means they had lived on islands in the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of years. But the journey from where they probably lived to Hawaii was very far, around 3,000 miles, which you can imagine would take a very long time and be very dangerous in a small boat in the ocean. We’re not exactly sure when more Polyensians arrived in Hawaii, but over time more and more people arrived and settled the many islands. With them they brought new plants and animals, such as chickens and dogs, coconuts and bananas. Over time these groups settled into chiefdoms ruled by local chiefs, which ruled the settlements, created laws, and often competed with each other for food and land. They fished and planted farms and built homes and temples to their gods. They believed the gods gave them power, which they called mana

For hundreds of years the tribes of the different islands were divided until the 1780s and 90s when a chief named Kamehameha rose to power. Kamehameha was the son of a chief and at his birth it was said a bright star appeared, a prophesy that he would someday become a great king and rule all of the islands of Hawaii. Many believe this is the same time Haley’s Comet appeared in the sky in 1758. 

With all his heart, Kamehameha believed this prophecy about himself and was determined to defeat all of the other chiefs and rule Hawaii as one nation. Over time Kamehameha built up a strong army and one by one, went about fighting the other chiefs on each of the islands, conquering their tribes and making them his own. With each victory, Kamehameha and his people believed his mana, or divine power, increased. 

During Kamehameha’s rise to power, in 1778, the first known European explorer, Captain James Cook, reached Hawaii. The relationship between Europeans and Hawaiians was off and on, but Kamehameha saw their large ships and powerful weapons, such as cannons and guns that fired using gunpowder and looked for ways to use them in his own quest for power. In 1789 after British ships fired on Hawaiian locals, Kamehameha took two of them captive and gave them the choice to join his kingdom or be executed. They chose to join his kingdom and became his counselors showing his soldiers how to fire a cannon and guns and sail ships. Kamahameha had been using his wealth to buy guns, ships, and gunpowder from the European traders, so he could continue to conquer all of the Hawaiian islands and unite them under one ruler.

In 1795 Kamehemaha set off for the islands of Maui and Oahu with 960 war canoes and 10,000 soldiers. After defeating his final enemies, Kamehameha became supreme ruler of the Hawaiian islands. As king, he changed the laws so they were the same across the islands and did everything he could to keep them united. His wife, Ka-ah-humanoo was one of his advisors and became one of Hawaii’s most powerful leaders. 

After Kamehameha’s death, his son became the new King of Hawaii. During his reign, Christian missionaries began visiting the island and teaching about the religion of Jesus and the Bible. Many Hawaiians took interest in the religion. Eventually the leaders of Hawaii became Christian, too. Over time more and more Europeans and Americans moved to Hawaii. With this came a change in their native Hawaiian culture. The newcomers wanted the native people to speak English and change their traditions. They also were interested in using Hawaiian lands to plant sugar cane and sell it. Sugar cane is used to make sugar, which was a very desirable item across the world, because everyone loves sugar! Soon sugar cane plantations became a major business in Hawaii because of the weather and soil.

The children of the people who moved to Hawaii wanted more control over the government, so they could make decisions that helped their sugar cane businesses. At first they were just advisors to the Kings and Queens of Hawaii, but slowly they took more and more power to themselves. 

In 1891 a woman named Lili-oo-kalani became the first and last queen of Hawaii. She was born in Honololu on the island of Oahu and was raised up to be Hawaiian royalty. She loved the Hawaiian people and wanted them to be in control of their country rather than the foreigners who had come to power through their powerful sugar plantations and other businesses. She spent her time and energy helping to educate her people and feed the hungry. She was a talented songwriter and played the guitar, piano, ukulele (a small Hawaiian guitar) and sang. 

Even though she desperately wanted her people to stay in power, she was forced out of her position as queen by the powerful business people who were also aided by the American military who came to Hawaii with ships to back the powerful businessmen. At the time, the President of the United States and his advisors were interested in growing the United State’s overseas power and didn’t do anything to stop the forceful takeover of the Hawaiian government. The Hawaiian people peacefully protested, but it did little good. Queen Lily-oo-kalani was arrested and forced to stay in her home while she was replaced as ruler of Hawaii. It was there that she wrote the most famous Hawaiian song, “Aloha Oe.” 

Later, Lily-oo-kalani travelled to the United States to speak to the President and demand that her country be in control of the Hawaiian people again. He agreed, but other government leaders did not. Later, Hawaii became a territory of the United States and in 1859 an official state. During the years after Lily-oo-kalani was Queen there was pressure to do away with Hawaiian language and culture, but fortunately, in recent years there has been a return to an appreciation for the beauty of native Hawaiian traditions and many schools teach their native language again.

Today, Hawaii has become one of the top tourist destinations for people all around the world. 10 million people visited Hawaii in 2019 to sightsee, hike, surf, snorkel, whale watch, golf, and relax on its beautiful beaches.

Hawaii has a rich history and culture, and with it the “Aloha Spirit” and these principles: kindness, unity, humility, pleasantness and perseverance. And I wanted to end with these inspiring words by the last Queen of Hawaii, Lily-oo-kalani:  

“Never cease to act because you fear you may fail. The true secret is to know your own worth.” 

To echo her own words, know your own worth as a human being and the unique gifts you bring to the world. You can take courage and act and use your gifts to better the life of others!

California Gold Rush For Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are standing up to your knees in a cold river. The water is rushing around you. You see a fish swim by. Your feet crunch in the rocks as you walk around. Above you the sky is clear and blue. You are holding a metal panel. You dip it down into the water and scrape it along the bottom, picking up rocks and small gravel. After lifting it out of the water, you sift out the larger rocks and swirl it around, looking very closely at the minerals in the water. You swirl it again and then you see it, a glint of something shiny. You reach down in the water and pick it up. Sure enough, it’s a gold nugget! You hold it up in the air and shout “I found one, I found one.” Your friends nearby see it and congratulate you. You’ve found gold! 

In 1848 in California in the United States a man named John Sutter was building a sawmill. Sutter had hired several workers to help him build the sawmill along the American River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. One of the workers, James Marshall, was looking into the water when suddenly he saw something shiny. He got down into the water to look closer and noticed a small gold rock. He showed it to the other workers. Could it be real gold or was it just fools gold, also known as pyrite? James and the others spent the rest of the day testing the rock to see if it was real gold. To their surprise, the rock he found was actual gold! 

Gold is special for many reasons. First, it’s not like most metals, which are gray. It’s a shiny, beautiful color that is perfect for making jewelry. It is also soft, but doesn’t break apart when shaped by tools. Gold also lasts a very long time and does not rust in water. 

When John Sutter realized it was real gold he was worried for a couple reasons. One was that he didn’t own the land he was building the sawmill on, so he needed to find a way to buy it quickly so he could own the gold on it, too. The second reason was that once others found out gold was near his land, everyone would rush there to try and mine it, too.

Sutter made deals with the local Native Americans until he owned the land, but the way he went about it wasn’t fair. And even though he tried to keep it a secret, his workers started telling their friends. Before long word spread about gold in California. A newspaper headline in San Francisco read: “Gold Mine Found.” At this time not very many people lived in California, but with news spreading about gold that would change very quickly. This is called a gold rush. This wasn’t the first time a gold rush happened in the United States or other places in the world. In North Carolina in 1799 a young boy found a 17-pound gold nugget near his home. This led to a gold rush there. Later there was a gold rush in the Appalachian Mountains and after the Caifornia gold rush there would be one in Alaska.

As word about gold in California spread across the United States, people started travelling from all around eager to become rich. Someone searching for gold is called a “prospector.” Prospectors travelled to California by land and by sea. Going by land was the cheapest way to go, but was also the longest trip, taking 7 months. Prospectors joined groups of wagons called wagon trains and used the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails to get there. Going by land was very dangerous. They often ran out of water, got diseases, or ran into trouble with Native Americans who didn’t want them on their land. 

The more expensive, but faster way to travel to California, was by sea. Prospectors usually left from New York or Boston and either went all the way around the tip of South America at Cape Horn, which took five or six months, or they took a ship to the Isthmus of Panama. From there they crossed the land at the isthmus (a narrow neck of land) in a wagon, then they boarded a second ship and took it north to California. This was the fastest way to go, but was also dangerous. Prospectors travelling through the jungles of Panama often caught malaria or Yellow Fever along the way.

Once prospectors reached San Francisco, California they usually bought mining supplies and all of the other gear they needed to mine gold. These tools included a knife, a pick to break rocks, a shovel, a round tin pan for panning for gold, a rocker, a tent, and food needed to survive. As more miners came through San Francisco, the town began to grow. More people build stores there to sell tools and other supplies. They also built hotels and places for entertainment to accommodate the prospectors passing through. 

From San Francisco, prospectors travelled another 140 miles into California before they started searching for gold. They usually looked in streams first, using pans to dig up the loose rock and sift through it for flakes of gold. This is called panning for gold. Once the prospector found a spot worth mining they would “stake their claim,” which means reserve it for themselves. Panning for gold was very hard work. Their beards grew long, they became very dirty doing the work, and often the food didn’t give them good nutrition. Many prospectors who travelled all the way to California, and spent all of their money to get there, never found any gold.

The other name for prospectors in California was a “49er,” because the year was 1849. You may have also heard of the team the San Francisco 49ers, which comes from the prospectors who brought fame and more people to California. 

The 49ers who did discover gold took it to cities like Stockton or Sacramento or all the way back to San Francisco to have their gold weighed and sold to the bank. These towns began to grow because prospectors wanted a comfortable place to stay, good food to eat, and entertainment after living out in the wild for so long. In 1849 San Francisco went from having 150 people living there to 6,000! Five years later 50,000 people lived there! It also became known as the Golden Gate, which the Golden Gate Bridge is named after.

Towns nearby the gold became known as “boomtowns.” They were wild, rowdy places where prospectors went for entertainment and to spend the money they earned from mining gold. 

Many miners were unlucky and never became rich during the gold rush, but some did. One of those was John Bidwell. He eventually found $2.5 million dollars worth of gold in today’s money and 600 miners worked there in what became known as Bidwell’s Bar. Brothers John and Daniel Murthy also became very wealthy along with John Fremont. Most people never found large amounts of gold, but instead just small amounts in rivers. But some people became very wealthy not by mining gold, but by building stores and hotels and other businesses to support all of the prospectors coming into San Francisco.

If you’ve ever worn jeans, they became very popular in San Francisco at this time. In 1850 a German businessman named Levi Strauss moved there to start selling his pants. They were made of denim and had pockets and lasted longer than cotton pants. They later became known as Levis and are still a popular jean company today.

Ghihardelli Chocolate Company also started in San Francisco during the gold rush and has been in business for more than 160 years. Our family loves their chocolate chips and if you ever visit San Francisco today be sure to get ice cream with their chocolate topping there.

Once most of the gold nuggets and flakes in rivers had been discovered, miners had to start digging down into the earth to get it. These are called gold deposits. Miners had to tunnel down to get the ore, which is the hard rock with veins of gold inside it. Tunnels were dug and dynamite was used to break up the rock. Mining was very dangerous. Workers went deep into the ground using elevators, which often broke. The air was poor underground and sometimes there were cave-ins. The mining was also bad for the land and water in many of these places. A chemical called mercury was used to separate gold from rock dust. The mercury was poisonous to the miners and much of it got washed into the rivers and killed fish and other animals. Farmland was also destroyed as miners chipped away at the earth. Laws had to be passed to protect the land. The gold rush also caused people to leave other work such as farming and shipping. The other problem was more people moved into California and Native Americans who had lived there for generations were forced off their land onto reservations. 

Over time it became harder to find gold, so prospectors left California for other places. Silver had been discovered in Nevada, so many of them moved there or just decided to do something else with their life. With this, many of the boomtowns turned into what became known as “ghost towns.” This just means that people no longer needed the town, so the buildings were left unmaintained and grew old and fell apart. 

But even though the gold rush was over, the United States would forever be changed. San Franscico became a big city with over 50,000 people living there. While the United States had mostly been populated in the East, it now reached from East to West, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Today almost a million people live in San Francisco and since the advent of the Internet it has seen its success in software as people move to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley to work for large tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook.