THE FOOLS OF '49: The California Gold Rush, 1848-1856 by Lawrence I. Seidman

THE FOOLS OF '49: The California Gold Rush, 1848-1856

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The forty-niners, whom Seidman prefers to call ""argonauts,"" left home singing ""I'm bound for San Francisco with my washbowl on my knee"" and often as not changed their tune to ""The Lousy Miner."" This history records--in music, cartoons, and advertisements as well as letters and diaries--their journeys around Cape Horn, across Panama, and overland from the Missouri, and reports instances of sheriffs hauling their prisoners off to pan gold, soldiers deserting, and whole crews jumping ship and leaving their vessels stranded in California. Seidman credits the miners with attempting to create a democratic system of rough justice and includes humorous tales of miners' balls (men with patches on ""a certain part of [their] inexpressibles"" were designated to act as ladies) and of a funeral disrupted when gold was discovered in the grave. But for the most part, the gold rush is viewed here as a tragedy--especially for the Digger Indians, the indigenous ranchers, and the foreign miners who were persecuted in the headlong flight to keep the new wealth in AngloSaxon hands. Like the same author's treatment of cowboys in Once in the Saddle (1973), this is a documentary panorama that conveys the mythmaking excitement of the era and at the same time dispels our romantic notions with pungent commentary on the fate of its many victims.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1976
Publisher: Knopf