Gary Noy has done it again. A few years ago I read and reviewed his book Sierra Stories. Now he has a new book: Gold Rush Stories: 49 Tales of Seekers, Scoundrels, Loss, and Luck, published by Heyday Books. It came out in 2017 and I wish I had gotten it sooner. Whether you are new to reading about the California gold rush, or an old hand, you will find and enjoy stories that you never heard before.
A few of the characters are old familiars, like James Marshall, Emperor Norton, and Joaquin Murieta, but even then Gary finds something new in their lives. A few of these stories I have written about myself: the fate of Sutter’s Fort or the adventures of Luzena Stanley Wilson.
Many more of them were new to me, and what an invitation to explore further! Who wouldn’t want to know more about Lt. George Horatio Derby, who wrote under the pen name the “Veritable Squibob,” or Alfred Doten, whose alcohol-fueled journal of fifty years reveals the seamier side of life in the camps?
The forty-nine (what else?) chapters are short but packed with careful research and entertaining details. Gary has dug deep into the vast collection of journals, letters, and memoirs that came out of the gold rush. Along with the stories of individual “seekers and scoundrels,” he gives us a look at special groups — the tribulations of the Californios (and how the Peralta family was swindled out of their land holdings), the commercial success and family life of Jewish immigrants, and the struggle of African-Americans against prejudice. He has chapters on catastrophes, gambling, “dissipation” (drunkenness), hangings, and grizzly bears.
John Bidwell even makes an appearance, in the story of the explosion of the steamboat Belle on the Sacramento River.
Really, you can’t go wrong with this collection. There is excitement, surprise, and revelation in every chapter. This is the California Gold Rush in all its splendor and squalor. What Bayard Taylor said of the California Constitutional Convention can be applied to the entire experience: “So wonderful, so dangerous, so magnificent a chaos!”