More than 500 mining camps existed during the heyday of the California Gold Rush, the vast majority of names have been forgotten. Official dates connected with the rush are January 24, 1848-1855. So many immigrants arrived to seek their fortune in the gold fields that California acquired the needed population count to qualify for statehood. One example is San Francisco. The city went from about 200 residents in 1846 to 36,000 in 1852. Can you imagine the sounds of constant construction as homes and businesses went up?
Mining made a progression from single individuals kneeling at the side of a creek or stream, using a pan to swirl a small amount of water and river bottom to discover flakes.
|I love that this photo from 1850 shows a woman|
The next phrase was the use of sluice or rocker boxes. Here shovelfuls of creek bottom were put into a box that had wire mesh for the bottom held together by a wooden frame. Several people would shake or rock the box to let the water through and then what remained on the wire would be sifted through by hand.
When the majority of the gold flakes and nuggets were gone from the streams, companies bought claims and established operations at the side of a river. Or they dug into the mountains, following a vein or gold to be extracted. Or high-powered hydraulics were use to break up the rocks to locate gold within.
As a historical writer, I like making my stories as true to life as possible. When I start a new story, I debate the issue of using a real place or inventing a fictional location. The freedom of using a real place is that if the story is set in the 19th century—as all mine are—the likelihood that someone will argue about the layout of the town is very small. If I had a habit of incorporating real life figures into my stories, I might be faced with offended descendants. When I have referred to people who lived, I do so in a positive light and as a way to pay homage to the contributions those people made.
My just-released novella, Tilda, is a wagon train story. I knew I wanted both of the protagonists to come to terms with not reaching their hoped-for destinations—Flynn’s was Sutter’s Mill and Tilda’s was Sacramento. In my mind, the fact they alter their goals in the end not only shows personal growth but demonstrates they are more committed to each other.
As a native Californian, I’m familiar with the Sierra Nevada Gold Country (my honeymoon night was spent in a hotel there). What I wanted was a lesser-known name of a town that was in the right region. When the name of a contemporary town is used, readers who might have visited it picture the locale like it is now. I own a book on ghost towns of Colorado and another for Texas ghost towns, which have proved useful in establishing locales for past stories. But I was able to run through a list of towns I’d heard of and picked a name the settlement was known by before official incorporation. Therefore, the Illinoistown in my story is present-day Colfax, California.
BLURB for Tilda, book 31 in Prairie Roses Collection:
Following her parents’ death, Tilda Torsdotter turns to her cousin, Rakel, for help and joins her family’s preparations to head to California. Tilda’s job will be to assist pregnant Rakel with her two children under age five and receive the protection of Rakel’s husband, Albert. Then Rakel sickens and dies, and Albert looks to Tilda to fulfill her cousin’s duties--all of them.
Flynn Mannix has his eye set on reaching the gold fields of California. An easy-going guy, he’s always made his way doing one task or another but now he wants to make something of himself. Hiring on as a driver on a wagon train seems like the easiest way to reach the west coast. Until he witnesses an inappropriate encounter and steps in. Suddenly, he’s committed to a marriage of convenience with Tilda and responsible for her safety until they reach California. At the end of the trail, will the couple go their separate ways, or will they realize the experience has made their marriage real?
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