Sunday, November 27, 2016

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

The site of Marshall's discovery of gold is on the South Fork
of the American River, in Coloma, California.
Go stand where it all started.

After the Old Town Sacramento Gold Rush Days, I figured that the best place to start exploring the California Gold Rush was to travel to where it all started. Most people call the place “Sutter’s Mill” but since it is the site where James Marshall discovered gold, it is now the location of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

John Sutter, a Swedish immigrant, came to California in 1839. His eventual aim was to create an agricultural empire he called “New Helvetia.” The settlement he built would for the most part become Sacramento. More about his story in another post. By 1847, one of Sutter’s planned ventures was to build a saw mill up in the foothills, where the trees are. Fortunately, a carpenter and craftsman, James W. Marshall, had recently arrived in California and agreed to work
for Sutter in building such a mill. They chose a site on the south fork of the American River about 45 miles east of Sacramento.

Replica of Sutter's Mill at Marshall Gold
Discovery State Historic Park.
Marshall’s work force consisted of native Americans and former members of the U.S. Army’s Mormon Battalion that were lingering in California on their way home after the Mexican War. The mill was to be water driven, so the crew had dug a small canal that diverted water from the river to power the mill. The tailrace is the part of the canal that takes the water back to the river. During the day, the workers would dig in the canal. Each night water was allowed through to wash away that days digging. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall was inspecting the tailrace when he noticed shiny flecks and pebbles on the ground. He scooped them up and over the next several days had run some tests and traveled to Sutter’s Fort to share the samples with John Sutter. Sutter ran some tests as well and the two men were convinced they had discovered gold. They initially tried to keep the news a secret, but soon the word got out and the news spread around the world.

Today the site is a California State Park in Coloma, California, a little less than nine miles north of Placerville along Highway 49, “The Gold Rush Trail.” If you get there early, stop off at the Sierra Rizing Coffeehouse and Bakery. Good coffee and
This is believed to be the actual tailrace dug in 1847.
friendly people. Besides, you won’t find Starbucks or any other chain restaurants. You’ll probably only spend a half day at Marshall Gold Discovery park. It’s a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch. Or you can head down Highway 49 to one of the Gold Rush towns for lunch or dinner. The state park doesn’t charge any fees. There is a small museum that is very good if you are unfamiliar with the Gold Rush. However, the best part of the visit is outdoors. There is a replica of the mill to look over. There are also some period buildings and outdoor exhibits with wayside markers. My favorite part of the visit was the monument that noted the location of the actual discovery. I stood on the edge of the American river and tried to imagine, as I often do, what it was like in 1848, before the crowds and development that came with California being such a populated state. It’s easier to do here than at most Gold Rush towns, except for the voices of a few other visitors, we had the beautiful river to ourselves.
A large stone marker approximates the spot where Marshall
made his find that started the Gold Rush.

P.S. I just finished a pretty good book for reference on the California Gold Rush. Enough information, in an entertaining voice, and not so much detail to become boring for the casual reader. Try "The Rush: America's Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853" by Edward Dolnick.



There is a small, modern, museum at the park as well. Nice
little museum bookstore and gift shop too.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sacramento Gold Rush Days...

...and the California Gold Rush!

Old Town Sacramento is part of the California
State Parks system.
If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know that since moving back to California a couple of years ago we've been visiting historical sites around the state while I bone up on my California history. You know that we've visited some of the missions, and a couple of WWII sites. However, we also spent some time this summer visiting sites that have to do with the California Gold Rush.

I'll share our excursion to the gold rush areas of California in a later post. But I wanted to share our trip on Labor Day weekend first. Now you have to understand that typically, historically, usually and almost always, I want to avoid traveling on a holiday like the plague. But this year our anniversary fell on Labor Day and Sheila surprised me with a little history weekend by getting a reservation on a riverboat that is now a floating hotel on the Sacramento River. This would give us the opportunity to see several sites in Sacramento that have been on the history bucket list for some time.

The store fronts are stocked and interpreters are present in
period costume.
The Delta King Hotel is a restored paddle wheel river boat that plied the waters of the river between San Francisco Bay and Sacramento from 1927 to 1940, and also saw service in WWII. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only hotel that is actually located in Old Town Sacramento. Now, we were looking forward to a nice quiet weekend. I mean, even though it's Labor Day, who goes to Sacramento anyway? Well, it turns out that it would be us and a few thousand of our new friends. See, the hotel called Sheila to confirm the reservation, and tell her that because of the Gold Rush Days festival, they would have valet parking set up at the nearest parking garage and drive us over to the hotel in a golf cart. We were so clueless, we didn't even know that there was a "festival" going on!

A lot of restored old stuff in Old Town.
Old Town Sacramento is a 28 acre area of restored buildings from the nineteenth century. It is located along Interstate 5, just down from the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The neighborhood is just a few blocks west of the state capital. This area was the terminus of the pony express and where the idea for the Central Pacific Railroad was hatched. I could argue that this is ground zero for the American era of California history. But like Pioneer Square in Seattle or the Fort Worth Stockyards, it is now more tourist attraction than historic site.

We were actually looking forward to the whole thing. We're early risers and beat the traffic. When we arrived and parked in the garage at around 9 am, there was hardly anyone around, but a line of cars was following us in. The first site that greeted
Here comes the cavalry.
us when we turned the corner into Old Town as a small detachment of cavalry coming down the street. We wore ourselves out walking around Old Town, visiting the museums there and people watching. There were people dressed in old west attire putting on demonstrations like how to crack a bull whip or staging a gunfight in the street. As expected, it got more and more crowded as the day progressed.

The Gold Rush Days was a fun event, but I must say that it was more about "festival" than history. California has a rich and varied history, but I have yet to see reenactors that compare to sites we've visited back east. There were a lot of anachronisms easily noticed in the outfits of those who were working the streets. But the museums in Sacramento are first rate and I'll tell you about some of those in future posts.

Our cabin on the Delta King.
By the late afternoon we were ready to collapse and one of the best parts of the weekend was our stay at the Delta King. The room was like staying in a museum, but it was very comfortable and had the necessary modern conveniences of cable television and wifi. We had lunch and breakfast the next morning in hotel's excellent restaurant (I recommend the fish and chips). But we were so exhausted from the day's activities that we had a pizza delivered for dinner, which if you wanted to you could eat at a cafe table set up on deck right outside of your stateroom.

If you are going to have a trip through California Gold Rush History, Old Town Sacramento is a good place to start. The California Railroad Museum is worth the visit to Sacramento alone. The small Wells Fargo museum is also good. Walk the streets, buy a t-shirt and some chocolate, and if you want to stay the night, choose the Delta King rather than the downtown motels. Enjoy your stay. Then head two miles across town to Sutter's Fort to start your real gold rush history trip.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book Review – American Daredevil



In “American Daredevil,” author Cathryn Prince quotes writer Joe David Brown who said, “If Richard Halliburton had not actually lived, no novelist or satirist would dare have invented him. Any fictional character who had the time, ability, or inclination to do all the exciting, grueling, and often ridiculous things he did simply would not be believable.” This was written in Sports Illustrated twenty-four years after Halliburton disappeared at sea in 1939 while trying to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

Halliburton was the first adventure travel writer. Travel writing was an unconventional if not unheard of career when he graduated from Princeton University in 1921. Halliburton really pioneered the field of adventure journalism. He documented adventures during the 1920s and 30s, like retracing the path of the Spanish Conquistador Cortex, climbing Mount Fuji, or swimming the Panama Canal. He was dashing. He was handsome. He wrote books and gave lectures. The media of the day covered his exploits. Travel writers like Charles Kuralt and Paul Theroux read his work when they were young. And although he is all but unknown today, he influenced a generation.

When Chicago Review Press offered me a copy of “American Daredevil” to review, I readily accepted because Cathryn Prince is not only a Facebook friend, but also the author of the excellent book “Death in the Baltic.” I have to admit my ignorance in that I had never heard of Richard Halliburton before reading about his life in this outstanding book. However, once I started reading about this guy I was hooked. The book is well written of course and reads at the same comfortable pace and author's voice as “Death in the Baltic.” The reader feels like they are on the adventures with Dick Halliburton, a man who “seized the day.” One reason that you also feel close to the action is that Cathryn spins the tale of both Halliburton’s professional persona as well as his private life. This book gets two thumbs up for making history interesting and providing a look at what was popular culture for our society in the first half of the twentieth century, before television and the Internet. I plan on sharing the life of Richard Halliburton with my US History class and adding “American Daredevil” to our classroom library.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rosie the Riveter and Henry J. Kaiser

Day Trip to Rosie the Riveter and WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.

It has been a busy summer with teaching summer school and getting ready to start teaching history, civics, and economics at a new school in August. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t take the opportunity to take a few day trips around California. One Saturday earlier this summer, Sheila and I took a drive up to Richmond, California, to visit the Rosie the Riveter and WWII on the Home Front National Historical Park.

Richmond, California is just north of Oakland and Hayward on the east side of San Francisco Bay. The area was once heavily industrialized and it has a noteworthy history from World War II. Just a few miles further northeast is the Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial (a topic for another trip report) in the city of Martinez, and a little further northeast is the city of Pittsburg, California, where Camp Stoneman was located. Camp Stoneman was a staging area for troops shipping out to the Pacific Theater during WWII and during the Korean War. Notables departing from there included the 503rd PIR during WWII and my dad during the Korean War.


Richmond was an excellent choice for this park. During WWII the city was home to four Kaiser shipyards and a Ford plant that built tanks and jeeps. In all the city could boast 56 different war industries. The yards were built from scratch beginning in 1940. Thousands of workers flocked to California from the Dust Bowl, the South, and all over the United States. The city of Pittsburg grew from a population of 24,000 to 100,000 in a matter of months. Families lived in tents and trailers until the city's infrastructure caught up with the population boom. Housing, schools, and medical facilities had to be built along with the mad rush to produce the equipment of war. Some of the workers had construction experience
from the large Depression era projects like Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams. But very few had any experience building ships and many had no industrial experience at all. The yards on the west coast were integrated. Thousands of workers were African American and Hispanic. Twenty-five percent of the workforce were women, living up to the familiar icon "Rosie the Riveter." And although it was not easy, great strides were made for and by labor, civil rights, and women. People came together to do great things for the war effort. The ultimate example is the Kaiser Shipyard construction of the liberty ship Robert E. Peary in 4 days, 15 hours, and 25 minutes, a world record accomplished in November of 1942.


The genius and drive behind these accomplishments was a man named Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser started out as a road builder in the 1920s. He was a key player in major building projects like the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River during the Depression. Kaiser was an entrepreneur in the truest sense. He bid and won a contract to build ships for Great Britain in 1940 without having a shipyard to build them in. He brought his construction crews down from the Grand Coulee project to begin work on the shipyards in Richmond. When he needed cement and couldn't get it, he started a cement plant. When he needed steel and couldn't get as much as he needed, he built steel mills. When his workers needed medical care he built a hospital and sponsored a health plan, again something never before offered to workers. Kaiser Permanente medical consortium has survived to be one of the giants in the medical services industry today. Henry Kaiser was a problem solver, no doubt about it.



Unfortunately, after the war the Kaiser yards closed. As a result, Richmond went through tough decades of poverty and crime. However, during the latter part of the twentieth century, much of the abandoned industrial infrastructure was removed, and an environmental cleanup took place. Where three of the four Kaiser shipyards stood is now a public marina, park, and blocks of new condos and townhouses. Rosie the Riveter is a partnership park between the National Park Service and the city of Richmond. The city built the Rosie the Riveter memorial in Marina Park in 2000. A bike path connects the memorial to the NPS visitor center next to the Ford plant and Shipyard number three whose buildings are still standing. It is only a one mile walk between the two. It is a pleasant walk with views of the San Francisco skyline. The visitor center is a nice little museum where you will learn more about World War II on the home front and the Kaiser Shipyards. You can also go on board the SS Red Oak Victory, a victory cargo ship being restored and docked at the pier by Shipyard #3.


Still a work in progress, eventually the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front Historical Park will include a sample of worker housing, the child development centers built for Kaiser workers, and the first Kaiser Hospital. It's hard to imagine what the area looked like with four shipyards and a Ford assembly plant all working at full capacity. But the park is certainly worth the trip. To know more, I definitely recommend a book I picked up in the gift shop:
"Build 'Em by the Mile, Cut 'Em off by the Yard, How Henry J. Kaiser and the Rosies Helped Win World War II" by Steve Gilford



Monday, July 4, 2016

Bunker Hill, John Adams, and Nathaniel Philbrick

This Book R & R is about "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution" by Nathaniel Philbrick

I know it sounds incredibly geeky, but I just finished reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Bunker Hill,” and I’m watching the HBO series “John Adams,” both on the Fourth of July. Perhaps it is coincidence, but let me briefly tell you how this has come about.

My posts have been few over the last two years due to the fact that I have been completing a masters degree in education and earning my California teaching credential in social studies. Last fall I did my student teaching in US history and economics. The day after that was concluded I began a long term substitution teaching world history for the remainder of the year. I also have the opportunity to teach civics and economics during summer school, which started the week after the spring semester ended. So within the last year I have taught four different classes for the first time. As you can imagine, that required a great deal of preparation time that normally would have been spent reading books of my own choosing. Spending all of that time prepping for classes and grading papers of course did not prevent me from buying new books. My shelves are full of unread titles waiting for their turn.

Nathaniel Philbrick is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. I picked up a copy of Bunker Hill some time ago. Teaching civics this summer brought with it a new excitement for learning about the founding. (I am now working on “Plain, Honest Men” by Richard Beeman.) So I finally picked up Philbrick’s book and it immediately grabbed my attention. Of course, I knew it would. Bunker Hill has the same level of detail that Philbrick put into “The Last Stand” so that while with this book you might not feel like you are with the patriots, you certainly are standing at a window watching the goings on. I actually have a criticism. The book should not have been titled “Bunker Hill” because it gives the potential reader the idea that it is specifically about that battle. I actually asked myself before reading the book, how much do I really need to know about the battle of Bunker Hill? Well, the title is a misnomer.

Bunker Hill, as the subtitle states, is about the siege of Boston. It begins with the arrival of British troops in response to the unrest over the stamp act. It ends with the British withdrawal from the city. In between you will read about the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington and Concord, the formation of the Continental Army and the trials faced by George Washington in attaining his goal of expelling the British from Boston. You will of course read about the battle of Bunker Hill and understand what it was, who took part in it, and what the effects of it were on the larger story of the beginning of the Revolution, although that is actually only a fraction of the book.

At 295 pages, “Bunker Hill” is not a major life commitment. It paces well and keeps the reader’s attention. It’s good history, with no bias, reinterpretation, or analysis. Not only did I enjoy the book, but I feel like I can now see the real history, separated from the modern mythology that has grown up around the founding and the beginning of the revolution. And what does this have to do with binge watching HBO’s “John Adams”? Well…I really did take advantage of the holiday weekend to finish reading “Bunker Hill” and it just put me in the mood to watch “John Adams” again. Am I a geeky patriot or what? But you know, the first hour and a half of that series makes so much more sense now. I understand more of the references made in the dialog now that I have the background on the subject. So this summer, get your patriotic history geek on. 


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book R & R: Alaska History in “Aunt Phil’s Trunk”


Some of the best history books kind of find their way to me. I find many in my travels. I love a good museum bookstore, full of local history written by local authors. Although I’ve never been to Alaska, I have a fascination with the history of the state, particularly with the Klondike Gold Rush. I now have a source for Alaska state history that reads like one of those gems that you can seemingly only find while traveling to the location.

Author Laurel Downing Bill was kind to send me a review copy of “Aunt Phil’s Trunk,” which is actually a set of five volumes of Alaska state history from before the arrival of the Russians through the 1980s. “Aunt Phil” is Phyllis Downing Carlson, who came to Alaska at age 5 in 1914. A dedicated school teacher, Mrs. Carlson collected stories, photographs, and wrote articles about Alaska state history her entire life. This treasure trove was bequeathed to her niece Laurel Downing Bill. An author herself, Laurel has compiled, edited this history and where necessary filled in the gaps. The result is an enjoyable history of their home state.


I have just finished Volume 1 which takes the reader through the Klondike Gold Rush. The book is very readable with an easy conversational style. It’s as if you are talking with the author at the kitchen table. The thing I like most about it is the number of period photographs, some of which I have never seen before. These books are staying on my shelf. When I finally take that trip to Alaska one of these summers I will definitely read the series again.