By Frank Lorey III, Arcadia Publishing
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
If you've never been to California's Gold Rush Country, Frank Lorey's book will give you a good look at the remnants from one of the greatest migrations in history.
After gold was discovered in Coloma (east of Sacramento) on January 24, 1848, thousands of eager people from all over the world started coming to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to claim their share of the riches.
From 1850-64, more than 1 million ounces of gold was produced each year from the streams and mountains of what became known as "the Golden State." In 1852 alone, $82 million in gold was produced!
Over 550 mining camps popped up with colorful names like Bedbug, Sucker Town, Humbug, You Bet, Git-Up-And-Git, Pinch'em Tight, Last Chance, Chuckhead Diggings, Rough and Ready, Volcano, Fiddletown & Dutch Flat.
The Gold Rush changed California forever. It had a brutal impact on many Native Americans and others, as well as the environment. Yet it also created a dynamic spirit, a spirit still thriving today, a spirit which developed a culture of optimism, independence, creativity, taking chances, adapting to change, bouncing back from failures and making the impossible, possible.
This book's author, who wrote for California Geology and California Mining Journal, provides historic and contemporary photos to bring life to his text as he journeys through 11 counties, exploring past and present mining camps. It will make you want to get into your car and go visit these amazing relics, many along Highway 49.
Some of the camps are still booming today. "Sonora hardly looks different than mining camp days," Lorey writes. St. James Episcopal Church (built in 1859) is still in use today. In Columbia, nearly 100 structures remain, half in State Park control. At Murphys Historic Hotel you can see the register with signatures from such past guests as Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and Charles Bolton (alias stagecoach robber Black Bart).
With 26 saloons, Drytown was anything but dry. The name came from Dry Creek. Be sure and visit the El Dorado County Historical Museum (on the Fairgrounds in Placerville) to see an actual wooden wheelbarrow made for miners by John Studebaker (who later gained fame for his automobiles). Coloma's definitely worth a stop at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Readers will be amused that Yankee Jims was named after a horse thief, who quickly left town to save his neck. Little did he know that underneath his corral for stolen horses was a very rich gold deposit!
You can still see damage done by hydraulic mining in places like Dutch Flat, where more than $50 million came out of the ground. Near Grass Valley, the Empire Mine State Historic Park shows off California's largest and deepest gold mine that had 200 miles of underground workings and produced over $100 million. Cherokee was discovered by a New England schoolteacher, who led a group of Cherokee Indians to the area in 1850.
The author writes that Cherokee "had another claim to fame. It was the first location to have confirmed finds of diamonds but only 500 were found."
In the appendix, people will read how gold was found and see what's left of the picturesque mining camp at Bodie State Historic Park (in the Eastern Sierra).
The Sierra still has much gold waiting to be discovered. And, many companies and individuals are still pursuing the hidden wealth. But exploring the California Gold Country--in person or in books like this-- can be just as rewarding.
(Pulitzer Prize nominee Craig MacDonald has studied the California Gold Rush for 50 years. The historian, who wrote for Sierra Heritage Magazine, lectures at museums, universities and national conferences.)