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Editorial Review

Facinating look back -- written by those who lived it! November 30, 2007

Since our home is in the Motherlode area of California, the stories in this book are particularly meaningful. But they will also be of interest to anyone curious about life in the wild, wide-open days of early California.

All of the text, except for photo captions and brief asides, are transcriptions from newspaper articles, letters, journals and other documents from the period. The stories are often hilarious - relating tales of adventures and misadventures by miners, politicians, families, muleskinners, shopkeepers, saloonkeepers, sheriffs, lynch mobs, judges and a variety of ne'r-do-wells who populated the Sierra foothills during the time of the gold rush. There are also many tales of tragedy as greed, accidents and recklessness claimed the lives of many people unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who happened to look at the wrong person in the wrong way.

As entertaining as the text is (and the some of the writing reads almost like poetry), this book is greatly enhanced by the many beautifully restored black and white photos from the 1850s to the early 1900s. They include wonderful images of everyday life in the area, amazing feats of engineering, and the tough conditions in the mines. If you've visited the now-sleepy villages along Highway 49 from Plymouth south to Oakhurst, you'll be amazed at what thriving, busy places they used to be.

In total, the collection paints a vivid picture of the lives...the excesses and extremes that the Americans, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese and others from all over the world faced in trying to extract riches from the ground, or from each other.

I would like to have seen a set of maps with the historic and modern names of the towns, mines, roads and gulches. These would be a handy addition for those of us who like to visit such places and see what remains today. My only complaint with the book itself is with one of the font choices. For me, some of the sidebar text was a little hard to read.

Despite these minor concerns, I found this book to be enlightening and a delightful read. All of the stories are short so I could read for a while, then put it down and pick it up later - just the thing for those of us who can't often sit and read for long stretches of time.

Craig Sheumaker
Co-author of the history travel guidebook America's Living History-The Early Years

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