The Quest For Gold

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I'm in the process of reading about the gold rush days in 1849 in California territory.

The book is titled Seeds of Hope by Kristiana Gregory..

No, it isn't boring because it is told through the eyes of a fourteen year old girl, Susanna, who keeps a diary of her daily life in a gold mining camp. She has a sister, Clara, who is sixteen.

The story begins aboard the steamship California, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. as the family journeys from New York harbor to Oregon to begin a new life.The president, James Polk, has just announced that gold has been discovered near San Francisco.

Their father, a doctor, decides to become a miner after he gets the "fever". So instead of traveling to Oregon as planned, to continue his medical practice, he decides to mine for gold in Sacramento.

He has no experience at mining for gold but he gets help and advice from other miners.

It's a rough life for him and his two young daughters who lost their beloved mother when she was swept overboard the ship. after a wave broke over the bow, sending a flood of water on deck..

It has taken five long months to make the journey by ship. They have traveled from New York to Callao, Peru, to Panama City, through the Strait of Magellen, then to Sacramento.

They settle on the American River not far from Capt. Sutter's sawmill. From there, they follow the river to its North Fork to a settlement called Miner's Creek. There are rows of shacks and dirty tents. There are several stores and saloons, a blacksmith and a hotel and the assayer's office. There are creeks, streams, riverlets and waterfalls, so many places where the miners can pan for gold.

The girls cook by campfire and fetch water from the nearby river. They wash their clothes in a shallow eddy of the river, then spread them over bushes to dry in the sun. They also fish for speckled trout in the streams.

At the mining camp, they sleep on the dirt floor on beds of straw. When it rains, the heavy mud sucks their shoes from their feet.

Fleas are a constant irritant and the girls are bitten raw about the hands and ankles.

And they mourn for their mother.

The first day of mining, their father returns with a few seeds of gold that look like cantaloupe seeds, worth about one dollar.

Gold is sixteen dollars per ounce.

Fresh hen eggs sell for $10 per dozen. The sisters eat lots of dried figs and buy flour for flapjacks and biscuits. The camp supplies arrive by stagecoach from San Francisco.

Once the doctor bought a barrel of flour for forty dollars, but when the lid was removed, Susanna and Clara found that the flour was full of worms and stank like an outhouse. They rolled the barrel to the river and dumped it.

Eventually, the doctor builds a log cabin so that the family can be warmer and safer. They can't afford a window because glass is too expensive.

There are grizzly bears that roam the camps and a mountain lion has been seen, stalking.

The girls latch the door and roll heavy stones against it.after seeing footprints outside the cabin.

Ultimately, the family decides to give up their quest for gold and head to Oregon City where they have relatives living.

I've recently read other books of similar nature. They are of the Dear America series. The characters are fictional but the stories are based on actual historical events which took place in America. Many of the books can be found in elementary school libraries.

One of them is about the dust bowl years in Oklahoma in the 1800's.

It, too, was interesting because it was told through the eyes of an eleven year old who kept a personal diary of the events.

She describes her school years and the hardship that teachers endured with no teaching tools. She tells of the struggles of her family and other farmers who tried to raise crops when the dust storms would sweep through and destroy the crops.. The people knew nothing about conservation or how to protect the land from overuse. Most families would give up, pack up, and move to California to start over. Even there, living conditions were unbearable and jobs hard to find.

I plan to read a Dear America civil war story and another about the Great Depression. They are both written in diary form by young fictional characters.

I always say that if you can read and have a good book, you won't be alone.

You can be entertained, and you can learn, too.