Archives for May 2011

Chinese in the Gold Rush

Of all the diverse peoples that poured into California after the discovery of gold, none stood out more than the Chinese. Radically different in dress, language and culture these new men were first welcomed because of their willingness to work hard for low wages at any task presented them. John McDougall, the 2nd Governor of California, described them as “one of the most worthy of our newly adopted citizens.” At the start of 1849 only 54 Chinese were in California. By 1852 there were nearly … [Read more...]

Books in the gold rush

Books in the gold rush were as rare as women were, and maybe more so. The miners valued any reading matter they could get. Books were passed from man to man and camp to camp and read and reread until the pages literally fell apart. Men would sit beside the fire in their cabins at night and read aloud. Others would gather around to listen. Aside from gambling and drinking there wasn’t much nightlife in the early gold country anyway and a good book was a prized possession that brought joy and … [Read more...]

Famous gold rush men, Armour, Studebaker, and Strauss

California, from the discovery of gold to statehood, remained wild, lawless and free. Opportunities abounded, a pure free market, unregulated and unrestrained. The class distinctions of the east coast evaporated. Women earned huge sums of money from simple domestic chores that would be impossible to make elsewhere. And for men with skill, vision, and talent there were no limits to what they could do. One such man, Philip Danford Armour, one of eight children from a farm in Stockbridge, … [Read more...]

Women in the Gold Rush

“Got nearer to a woman this evening than I have been in six months. Came near fainting,” said one lonely California miner. There were few women before the discovery of gold, but as more and more men jumped ship or deserted the army for the mines and the 49ers arrived from across the world having left a wife or girlfriend behind just the sight of a woman was far more rare than a rich gold strike. And yet a woman was there, in person, at the very beginning. Jenny Wimmer cooked for the men … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, tragedy at Donner Pass

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains the emigrants came upon the remains of several log cabins deep in a thick grove of fir trees to the left of the trail just east of Truckee Lake. Shreds of dresses and other clothes, scraps of iron, and many bones, broken to extract every edible taste of marrow, were strewn about. Tree stumps, felled to build the cabins, towered 12 feet above the ground, the depth of the snow pack when the trees had been cut. The 49ers noted the melancholy gloominess of a place … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, the Truckee River

After the Humboldt Sink the gold rush emigrants could head south along the trail the Mormons had pioneered in 1848 or they could continue west to the Truckee River and cross the Sierra at Donner Pass. Either way they had to cross the dreaded 40-mile Desert. This was the worst stretch of road yet faced, without grass or water for most of the way and blisteringly hot during the days, but there was a hot water spring about half way to the Truckee. They traveled at night and by morning came … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers along the Humboldt River

Emigrants to California continued southwest from the City of Rocks through Granite Pass and on about 100 miles to the Humboldt River, the river that would lead them to within sight of the Sierra Nevada, the last major hurdle on the road to California. Fed by melt water from the Ruby Mountains the beautiful river valley was at first a welcome sight, covered with lush grass for their animals and running with a fresh, cool stream filled with trout. But their joy was short lived. The alkali dust … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, Fort Hall to the City of Rocks

West of Soda Springs the main emigrant trail turned northwest along the Portneuf River and on to the Snake River. The trading post of Fort Hall sat on a large plain where Lewis’ Fork met the Snake. Built in 1834 by Nathaniel Wyeth to supply the fur traders and Indians, it was said to be small and poorly made. In 1838 it was sold to Hudson Bay Company. Past the fort the trail continued along the Snake River then, at a narrow gap along the road that came to be called Massacre Rocks because of an … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers, the Bear River divide

Emigrants who expected Fort Bridger to be like Forts Laramie or Kearney were disappointed. “It’s built of poles and dabbed with mud; it is a shabby concern,” said one visitor. Built in 1843 by the famous frontiersman Jim Bridger to sell supplies to the wagon trains and trade with the Indians, the fort did offer much welcome fresh water, shade trees and grass along Black’s Fork of the Green River. Shoshone braves from a nearby village could be seen riding horses atop the nearby bluffs. But … [Read more...]

Gold Rush 49ers cross the Rocky Mountains

The road west was well marked. Even today the deep ruts of iron rimmed wheels scar the land. The emigrants made a slow, steady approach to the 7,550-foot South Pass that sat between two low rocky hills about 60 feet high, with the Antelope Hills to the south and the Wind River Range on the north. A few miles below the pass Pacific Spring rose in the middle of a dry, barren valley. Filled with fresh, clear water and surrounded by lush grass it was named because a stream from it ran off to … [Read more...]