What is a California prayer book? Would you drink tarantula juice? Would you go in for pedestrianism? What was the Egg War? Would you invest in a Patent Hydro Electro Magnetic Goldometer that promised to find gold and water? (Save your money.)
Find all the answers and more in this third book from California historian Gary Noy. Focusing on the vices of 19th century Californians, Hellacious California! tells “Tales of Rascality! Revelry! Dissipation! and Depravity! and the Birth of the Golden State“. If you like history that is both authentic and entertaining, this is your book.
Gary Noy digs deep into primary sources — letters, journals, memoirs, and early newspapers — to find the stories that bring the great bachelor party that was Gold Rush California to rip-snorting life. He has chapters on gambling, drinking, tobacco, dueling, entertainment, sports, and swindles. In the chapter on eating and dining he illustrates the difference between getting a meal at a stagecoach stop and dining in style at The Poodle Dog in San Francisco. Here is J. Ross Browne describing mealtime on the road:
At the first tinkle of the bell the door was burst open with a tremendous crash . . . The whole house actually tottered and trembled at the concussion, as if shaken by an earthquake. Long before the main body had assaulted the table the din of arms was heard above the general uproar; the deafening clatter of plates, knives, and forks, and the dreadful battlecry of “Waiter! Waiter! Pork and beans! Coffee! Beefsteak! Sausage! Potatoes!” . . . It was a scene of destruction and carnage long to be remembered.
If this whets your appetite, take a look at the book trailer for Hellacious California!
By the way, a California prayer book was a deck of cards. Tarantula juice, as you probably guessed, was one of the many names for liquor. Pedestrianism was the popular sport of endurance walking. The Egg War was the competition for murre eggs from the Farallone Islands. With chickens in short supply, food suppliers turned to seabird eggs.