(Above: Historic Angels Camp Downtown, Calaveras County) California Gold Rush is one of the most important defining moments in American history and culture. Much of the literature from this period comprises of a variety of storytelling forms: newspaper reports, published letters and diaries, such as those by Dame Shirley; traveler’s guidebooks; short stories and poems by Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and Jack London; popular legends; and, more recently, films and cartoons. Of particular note is the extent to which Gold Rush writing developed alternately as a literature of humor and as a literature of grief-acquired wealth was a relatively rare aspect of the experience.
Many Gold Rush titles are in stock at Sustenance Books & in Murphys, CA. Of course, most famous is Mark Twain. Born Samuel Clemens, who headed West for the Gold Rush and became a famous writer of his experiences. Mark Twain’s second-best book draws not on the Missouri towns he made so famous, nor on his long attraction to the Middle Ages, but on his little-known sojourn in the Wild West. Roughing It, published in 1872, deserves to be better known. So does Samuel Clemens’s literary apprenticeship in the gold rush mining camps of California and Nevada and the frontier newspaper offices of Nevada City and San Francisco.
(Above: Reconstructed Mark Twain’s Cabin, Calaveras County) In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the California gold rush comes Gold Rush: A Literary Exploration by Michael Kowalewski, a definitive literary anthology. Another jewel of a find is Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow, an excellent story on the California Gold Rush and growth of San Francisco 1848–1851. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H.W. Brands is the story of the California Gold Rush, its impact on the American people then and now, and its contribution to the Civil War and the ultimate forging of the American nation.
(Above: Columbia Historic State Park in Calaveras County) To experience the period of history in person would be a visit to Columbia State Historic Park. It is a living gold rush town featuring the largest single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in the state. Visiting Columbia is like traveling back in time to the sights, smells, and sounds of a nineteenth century mining town—merchants dressed in 1850′s attire, a whiff of coal smoke from the blacksmith shop, and the rumble of a stagecoach pulling into town!