Luzena in California (at last!)

Luzena Wilson finally made it to the crowded tent city around Sacramento. There she encountered men who were lonesome for the comforts of home.

It was almost dusk of the last day of September, 1849, that we reached the end of our journey in Sacramento. My poor tired babies were asleep on the mattress in the bottom of the wagon, and I peered out into the gathering gloom, trying to catch a glimpse of our destination.

gold coinThe night before I had cooked my supper on the camp fire, as usual, when a hungry miner, attracted by the unusual sight of a woman, said to me, “I’ll give you five dollars, ma’am, for them biscuit.” It sounded like a fortune to me, and I looked at him to see if he meant it. And as I hesitated at such a remarkable proposition, he repeated his offer to purchase, and said he would give ten dollars for bread made by a woman and laid the shining gold piece in my hand. I made some more biscuit for my family, told my husband of my good fortune, and put the precious coin away as a nest-egg for the wealth we were to gain.

In my dreams that night I saw crowds of bearded miners striking gold from the earth with every blow of the pick, each one seeming to leave a share for me. The next day when I looked for my treasure it was gone. The little box where I had put it rolled empty on the bottom of the wagon, and my coin lay hidden in the dust, miles back, up on the mountains. So we came, young, strong, healthy, hopeful, but penniless, into the new world. The nest egg was gone, but the homely bird which laid it—the power and will to work—was still there.

All around us twinkled the camp fires of the new arrivals.  A wilderness of canvas tents glimmered in the firelight; the men cooked and ate, played cards, drank whisky, slept rolled in their blankets, fed their teams, talked, and swore all around; and a few, less occupied than their comrades, stared at me as at a strange creature, and roused my sleeping babies, and passed them from arm to arm to have a look at such a novelty as a child.

Children were indeed a novelty in Gold Rush California, and young men who missed home and family and their younger siblings would go out of their way to see a young child.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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