A Journey to the Gold Diggins

Considered the first ever American comic book, Journey to the Gold Diggins, by Jeremiah Saddlebags, is a humorous look at the California Gold Rush. It was written and illustrated by J. A. and D. F. Read (James Alexander and Donald F. Read). I don’t know anything about the originators of this work, but it showed exactly what gold-seekers could expect — mostly disaster and penury. The two author/illustrators didn’t waste any time in 1849 getting their timely picture book into print.

They probably didn’t have to actually make the trip to know what was in store. Jeremiah Saddlebags, a “man of fashion” is bit by the gold bug and decides to seek his fortune in California. Being totally ignorant and credulous, he buys himself a baby’s cradle to take along.

He makes the journey on the Panama route, where he encounters stereotypical natives and pirates and wrestles an alligator. Arriving in San Francisco, he is disappointed to see that every building is a tent.

He makes it to the diggins, where he finds a lump of gold, but loses it on his journey home.

The original book is rare and certainly quite expensive to acquire. It was reprinted in 1950 by the Grabhorn Press in a limited edition, and one of those can be had for $50 to $100. A knock-off reprint is available on Amazon — you gotta wonder where it’s from, with a vague description like this: “We expect that you will understand our compulsion in these books.”

The best and easiest way to read it is online, either at Yale Digital Collections or at the Internet Archive. I wrote about another illustrated satiric look at the Gold Rush from the same era in an earlier post here.

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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