California Gold Rush Christmas Was Difficult Time to Cope


Gold Trails Hotel built in 1868 now houses a gift store at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. The Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm allows visitors to see California buildings from the mid 1800’s. Calico Ghost Town in Yermo, Calif. also is worth a visit.

By Craig MacDonald

The Holiday Season during the early days of the Gold Rush was for many a very harsh, lonely and difficult time to cope with. Miner Elisha Perkins wrote in his diary in 1849: “Oh, how I wish I could spend this day at home, what a ”Merry Christmas” I would have and what happy faces I should see, instead of the disappointed set around me, Christmas Day was ushered in by the firing of guns...This is about the amount of celebration.”

Some miners spent a cold, hungry day together but managed to temporarily dodge the pain by singing old Christmas Carols like “Jingle Bells” or “Away in a Manger.” Others lucky enough to make it to a hotel might splurge for a feast and enjoy the company of others. Occasionally, Preachers who came West in the Gold Rush actually held short Christmas services in saloons or out under trees.

“This has been a sad Christmas for mother,” wrote 14-year-old Sallie Hester in 1849. “She’s homesick and longs for her old friends.”

“I wish I could be home today,” echoed miner Andrew Gilmore in an 1851 letter to his brother. “We would have a Christmas party with turkey, hens and pound cakes. Best of all would be the pleasure of seeing you all. If we live, we may be with you next Christmas.”

Many of the people in the California Gold Rush needed holiday sparkle. Life during much of this period was bleak, harsh, lonely and difficult to cope with, especially at Christmas time.

Read about how settlers got a boost of holiday spirit when they needed it most in the book, Old West Christmas – Tales with a Twist.

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