An appealing debut looks at the history of California in the turbulent 1840s through the eyes of a transplanted New Englander.
Bill Marshall grew up among God-fearing churchgoers in Rhode Island and knew early on that he had to get away. So he signed on with a whaling crew and spent the next ten years at sea. One of his shipmates, a Christian Indian named Pablo, grew up on the other coast, in a mission town near San Diego, and for years he regaled Bill with tales of California’s beauty and climate. By the time their whaling expeditions take them as far as the West Coast, both Bill and Pablo have had enough of life at sea. They jump ship at San Diego in 1845 and arrange to stay on in what is still part of Mexico. Bill falls in love with the beautiful Lugarda Osuna but is rejected by her family and goes away brokenhearted. Pablo then takes him to his tribal village, where Chief No’ka invites him to stay and even offers him the hand of his daughter, Falling Star. The chief’s generosity has as much to do with diplomacy as hospitality, since everyone knows there will soon be a war between the US and Mexico and it will be easier to deal with the likely victors with an American in the tribe. Bill marries Falling Star and manages the nearby Warner ranch for Anglo settlers from the North, but he’s soon drawn into the maelstrom that envelops the region. A rival tribe rises up against the US settlers and attacks the Warner ranch, while the Mexicans threaten Chief No’ka and attempt to turn him against the Americans. After the war, Bill is charged with treason by the US authorities and put on trial. And, oh, yes, gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.
An engaging account of an often-overlooked period, with a good feel for the place and time.