History by Non-Historians: First-Hand Accounts by Gold Rush Prospectors


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Gold Miners in California, Currier & Ives, c. 1871

Gold Mining in California, Currier & Ives (c. 1871)

Writers of historical fiction look for first-hand accounts of the time to give their stories depth and verisimilitude. I wrote an earlier post about a book purportedly by a Gold Rush prospector, California: Four Months Among the Gold-Finders in California; Being the Diary of an Expedition from San Francisco to the Gold Districts, by J. Tyrwhitt Brooks, M.D. (1849). Although a riveting story of prospecting life, it was total fiction. Still, as a contemporaneous account of the era, it was useful in its way. But in my historical novels, I much preferred to rely on writings by actual prospectors, even if their stories were not as sensational.

Good first-hand stories by prospectors can be found on the website, “California Gold Rush: True Tales Of The Forty-niners.” Many of the anecdotes I used in Now I’m Found came from this site.

Johann Sutter’s own account of the discovery of gold at his mill is available in an article titled “The Discovery of Gold in California,” by Gen. John A. Sutter, on the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco website. There are several accounts by Sutter on this website, which make fascinating reading.

Stories of women pioneers in California can be found in the article “The Foremothers Tell of Olden Times” on this same website. And for another female perspective, there is Jessie Benton Frémont’s book about her arrival in California, which I’ve also mentioned before, A Year of American Travel, by Jessie Benton Frémont (1878). Mrs. Frémont doesn’t describe prospecting, but she does describe storing bags of gold from her husband’s mine in their hotel room, which made me laugh.

Another good book I used that contains first-hand accounts from prospectors is A Year of Mud and Gold: San Francisco in Letters and Diaries, 1849-1850, by William Benemann (Editor) (2003). Benemann has compiled excerpts from many early miners’ letters, and the book does an excellent job of depicting San Francisco in the early Gold Rush years.

Most of the letters in the resources I’ve described were written by ordinary people to their families in the East. They had no idea that someday their words would be interesting enough to include in a book or on websites (which they couldn’t even have imagined), nor that novelists would use them for flavor in books about the period. These letter writers were simply describing for their loved ones the experiences they’d had in a strange land, a land where they hoped to better provide for themselves and their families.

Sometimes I wonder whether anything I’ve written will be used for some future author’s research. I suppose the interesting thing about history is that ordinary people often don’t know it when they see it. Yet for all the publicity given to politicians and tycoons and celebrities, what really matters is the impact of their actions on the ordinary people. It is that impact that ultimately determines whether treaties and laws and business decisions, whether arts and entertainment—all the products of the famous—are successes or failures.

What history do you think we are making today?

Haunting Book: The Lake House, by Kate Morton


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lake-house-book-coverThe Lake House was another book I read this past year that played with my sense of time and intrigued me from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective. The story in this novel takes place in three different time periods—in 2003 London detective Sadie Sparrow investigates a cold case while on leave at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall after a career crisis; in the 1930s a baby boy disappears from a nearby estate; and before World War I a couple meets and falls in love.

The eponymous lake house provides a common setting in these three time periods. It is an old estate near Sadie’s grandfather’s house, where the Edevane family lived from before World War I and from which the youngest Edevane child, eleven-month-old Theo, disappeared. The description of Sadie’s discovering of the old Edevane mansion is worthy of Dickens in Great Expectations. The house is vine-covered, crumbling, yet eerily preserved despite its layers of dust—it was obviously abandoned for some traumatic reason. The house ties the time periods together and often provides a context for the time shifts from present to past.

The only other Kate Morton novel I’ve read was The Secret Keeper. That book also was great on atmospheric details. Other readers have said they liked Morton’s earlier books better, but I preferred The Lake House. This novel is slow-paced, but I enjoyed the lush descriptions. Plus, I sympathized with the female narrators—the detective Sadie, teen-aged Alice Edevane, and Alice’s mother Eleanor—and I wanted to find out what happened to Theo, so I kept reading.

Some readers have complained that the ending of The Lake House was too tidy. I can see their point, but I enjoyed the journey so much that I won’t downgrade the novel too much for its wrap-up.


When Sadie leaves London in disgrace after mishandling a missing person case in London, she retreats to her grandfather’s small home in Cornwall. She discovers Loeanneth (the old Edevane mansion) in ruins, and then learns that baby Theo had disappeared in the 1930s—a mystery that was never solved. For lack of anything better to do and to prove to herself that she is a good detective, Sadie investigates Theo’s disappearance.

Sadie learns that Theo—who had just learned to walk—vanished from his crib while his nanny slept nearby. Theo was never found, and the family never knew if he died or was kidnapped. The loss of Theo so devastated the family that a few months later they left Loeanneth and never returned. Hence, the mansion’s deterioration.

In the course of her unauthorized investigation of this cold case, Sadie meets Theo’s older sister, Alice Edevane. Alice became a famous mystery writer and is now quite elderly. Alice has suspicions about what happened when she was sixteen, and she feels some guilt for Theo’s disappearance because of her own actions that night.

The characters in The Lake House were well-developed, including Sadie, her grandfather Bertie, Alice, Eleanor, and many of the Cornwall neighbors in both the past and present. I particularly liked the different perspectives Morton gives us of the female characters—of Alice at sixteen and as an elderly woman, of her mother Eleanor as a teenager and as a mature wife and mother, and even of Constance (Eleanor’s mother) as she ages.

I also liked the depiction of Edwardian England and of a way of life now lost—actually, there were two old generations depicted, first Alice’s parents and their families before WWI, and then Alice’s own youth in the 1930s. The losses the English gentry incurred through the Great War were neatly capsulized in the Edevane family’s experiences, including the shell shock (which we now call PTSD) of soldiers engulfed in the war.

This was a mystery with many possible paths, and the several potential villains in Theo’s disappearance kept me wondering. I did figure part of it out as the book wound down, and that part felt like a “right” ending. Another aspect of the ending bothered me as too pat, but still provided some closure. The ending was a little rushed for such a long book, but it satisfied me by tying up the loose ends. (Frankly, if Morton had tightened up the earlier parts of her novel—which felt slow albeit lyrical—the ending wouldn’t have seemed rushed.)

After experiencing two of Morton’s novels, I definitely want to read the rest of them. When will I find the time?

Are there authors whose works you want to devour? List your favorite in the comments.

Chihuly Garden and Glass Gallery


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Room-sized Chihuly glass sculpture

I’ve done a fair amount of sightseeing in Seattle, but I’d never been to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Gallery until a trip this autumn. The gallery and gardens sit under the Space Needle, but somehow I’d always passed them by. This time, I made a special visit just to see them.


Chihuly glass piece based on Native American basket

I was disappointed in the gallery itself. Not that the glass pieces aren’t fabulous—they are. But they were displayed in dark rooms, the museum was crowded on the day I went, and I couldn’t spent the time examining the works up close and at length, the way I wanted to.

Plus, I was hungry and thirsty.

So I rushed through the eight rooms in the gallary and found my way to the cafe. There I sat for awhile with iced tea and panna cotta, while I listened to the online audio program of what I’d just seen. [link]

I should have done the visit in reverse—eaten first and put some caffeine in me, then listened to the audio program either before or while I went through the galleries. I should have gone through the museum at my own pace despite the crowds.


In Chihuly glasshouse, showing proximity to Space Needle

But at least I did the gardens right. After my snack in the cafe revived me, I walked through the glasshouse outside to the gardens, not really intending to spend much time there. But it was a lovely fall afternoon, mid-60s and sunny—Seattle on its best behavior. I lingered in the gardens, taking many pictures.

The gardens are a fantastic and fantastical blend of natural and man-made treasures. A juxtaposition of nature and of art.


Log and glass



What is natural? What is man-made?


What is natural? What is man-made?

I took whimsical “selfies” of myself with the Space Needle mirrored in glass globes.



Can you see me?


How about now?

I definitely recommend a vist to the Chihuly Museum and Gardens. And to the cafe. But take your time. And go on a sunny day.

When have you been surprised by an art experience?

Haunting Book: The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson


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bookseller-coverLike A Murder in Time, The Bookseller haunted me because of how the novel deals with time and reality, though The Bookseller is not a time travel story. In this debut novel by Cynthia Swanson, the protagonist, Kitty Miller, owns an independent bookstore in the early 1960s, together with her friend Frieda. Kitty lives alone with her cat, but at night she dreams of another life, a life set in a slightly different time. In her dream world, she is married to a wonderful husband named Lars, and she is the mother of triplets, two of whom are normal children, and the third is autistic. In that dream life, she is Katharyn Andersson.

Through the course of the novel, Kitty also comes to doubt which world is real. The story becomes like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, with alternate views of reality. Is it autumn in 1962 or spring in 1963? Is she Kitty, the bookseller? Or is she Katharyn, wife to Lars and mother of three children? Which does she want to be? Can she choose?


Kitty likes the freedom of her solitary life as a bookseller, but she finds herself more and more drawn to her dream world, hoping each night to find her way back. She falls in love with blue-eyed Lars and with their children, though she has trouble understanding and dealing with her autistic son. She realizes that she knew Lars in her life as “Kitty” several years earlier, and that the life she dreams of might have been hers, had one conversation been different.

Interwoven with this alternate reality story is the story of women in the 1960s, at the cusp of cultural change from being housewives to having paid careers. Does Kitty want her bookstore—which is hers, though it is failing because of the new shopping center in town—or does she want Katharyn’s Jackie-Kennedy-era life of a housewife dependent on her husband, while raising kids and attending cocktail parties?

Over time, Kitty doubts the choices she’s made in life and comes to wish that her dream world were real. In fact, she starts to think it is real. However, Katharyn’s world is not perfect, and Kitty learns that her parents—alive in her bookseller’s life—died in a plane crash in her fantasy. She also learns that her alter-ego Katharyn has had a falling out with Frieda, the friend with whom Kitty owns the bookstore in the real world.

As Swanson says in The Bookseller, “There is no such thing as a perfect life.” We all discover this for ourselves in our own lives, but part of the reason I read fiction is to watch the characters discover the pros and cons of their choices. In this case, the choice was between two different lives—each with its own rewards and problems. Friendship and career, or family and tragedy—which would you choose?

I won’t tell you where Kitty/Katharyn ended up. But I will say, I enjoyed her journey.

What books have caused you to think about life choices you have made?

A Review of the Amazon Bookstore in Seattle


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On a recent trip to Seattle, I took some time to go to the Amazon bookstore in University Village. I wanted to see what the behemoth online retailer would do with a bookstore. Although Amazon began as an online bookseller, it has morphed into the Wal-Mart of the Internet. It still sells books, but books are not its purpose any more.

What I discovered was a very inviting bookstore. Most bookstores these days seem to cram their merchandise into every nook and cranny. Only the bestsellers get full face treatment, with the bulk of the inventory showing only the spines, so that unless you know what you want, it is hard to browse.

The Amazon bookstore showed the full face of most books. In this store, book covers matter even more than most places. The result was an uncluttered, open feel, more like an art gallery than a library. True, there were fewer titles available than in most large bookstores, but there was still a broad collection—fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, regional books on the Pacific Northwest, various genres, and some displays that tied to Amazon online ratings.

20160930_100529I was intrigued by one display of “Highly Rated Debut Authors” and found a couple of titles I’d like to read. My only criticism of this display was that it appeared to only feature traditionally published titles. Moreover, some of the books were “highly rated” with only fifteen or twenty reviews. Why wouldn’t Amazon feature some self-published authors who have used Amazon’s own CreateSpace imprint on their books and have garnered far more favorable reviews than those featured?

If Amazon expands its bookstore concept to cities around the U.S., I’d like to see a display focused on local authors in each city, including self-published authors with highly rated books. Amazon’s ability to curate its online resources surely gives it the capacity to tailor a display to each store.

I also liked the integration of print and ebook inventory and browsing opportunities. Both the technology and paper books were attractively displayed, with opportunities to browse both. Kindle devices were available for purchase, of course, but Kindles were also available in reading areas in both the children’s and adult’s sections for customers to use for browsing.

Unfortunately, the magazines and books loaded on these devices were limited. By contrast, customers who bring their Nooks into Barnes & Noble stores can read any Nook ebook while they are in the store. While it was nice to have Amazon’s recommendations for books as featured on the in-store devices, there was no opportunity to examine other books by those authors, nor to browse for new ebooks from one’s favorite authors. Amazon should at least permit the browsing of all “read inside” portions of ebooks—customers should be able to browse at least as much in the store as they can at home.

Despite this criticism, I enjoyed the opportunity to sit for a few minutes and play with a new Kindle device while reading some periodicals I wouldn’t typically look at.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I’d love to see a bookstore that combines the attractiveness and “browsability” of the Amazon Bookstore with on-demand printing of books. Why not include an Espresso press in the store so customers who want the hard copy of a book not available in inventory can print their own? Many readers are satisfied with the ebook reading experience, but some are not. I believe prices someday will make this possible.

In summary, while the Amazon Bookstore is not the place to go to find a gently used treasure, it is a nice complement to the Amazon online book-buying experience (for both tangible books and ebooks). It is also a worthy competitor to Barnes & Noble and local independent bookstores. Other bookstores can learn from Amazon about the integration of print and digital.

For two good reviews of the Amazon Bookstore, see Amazon Books: 4 months later, the retail giant’s bricks-and-mortar experiment feels like a winner, by Frank Catalano, March 13, 2006, on Geek Wire , and  I shopped at Amazon’s first real-life bookstore ever and it was freaking awesome, by Matt Weinberger, Aug. 13, 2016, on Business Insider.

What do you like best about bookstores?

Haunting Book: Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly


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lilac-girls-coverIt’s hard not to be haunted by any book about the Nazi death camps. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly, tells the story of World War II from the perspective of three women—Kasia Kusmerick, a Polish teenager who becomes a political prisoner in Ravensbrück because she helps the Polish resistance, Herta Oberheuser, a Nazi doctor at Ravensbrück who engages in medical experiments on the prisoners, and Caroline Ferriday, a New York socialite with a long history of aiding French refugees who helps the Ravensbrück survivors after the war is over.

One fascinating aspect of the book for me was that Herta Oberheuser and Caroline Ferriday were real people, though author Martha Kelly clearly stated in her author’s note that she fictionalized aspects of their lives. By contrast, Kasia Kusmerick is a purely fictional character, and Kasia and her family are used to depict the plight of the Ravensbrück prisoners.

Most of us have read about the death camps and medical experiments done on internees in the camp. Still, this book’s gruesome descriptions of the conditions in Ravensbrück and of the operations and deliberate injuries inflicted on the prisoners are heart-wrenching and nauseating. The camp experiences of Kasia and her mother and sister provide the emotional core of the novel.

Just when the reader is overcome by the horror of how the prisoners are treated, Kelly shifts to Caroline Ferriday’s world of New York socialites and their cattiness to each other as they raise money to aid European refuges. Or Kelly switches to Herta Oberheuser’s perspective—that of a female doctor, a German patriot, who has to put up with male chauvinism and the politics among the medical staff while doing her job (however ugly that job is).

The three points of view do provide an interesting composite of World War II that is different than most novels. All the Light We Cannot See also focuses on both the French and German perspectives, but the young German soldier in that book is a much more sympathetic character than Helga Oberheuser. In Lilac Girls, while we might understand Helga’s perspective, we cannot really sympathize.


The novel was a little uneven in places. Part 1 of the book—through the war years—dealt with all three women. But Parts 2 and 3 mostly ignored Herta. I wondered why Kelly even gave Herta a point of view in the novel, only to abandon her later in the book. There was some attempt to humanize Herta in Part 1, to explain how her Germanic pride and need to provide for her family financially drew her into conducting the experiments.

The novel could have been richer if it had dealt more with the aftermath of the war on Herta, rather than dropping her as a character, other than as a means for Kasia to demonstrate how she conquered (or at least stilled) the impact of Ravensbrück and the physical deformities the experiments left her with.

I was also troubled to find out how much fictionalizing Kelly did in creating the Caroline Ferriday character. Ms. Ferriday in reality was an admirable woman. Why did Kelly think it helped her novel to give Caroline a fictional romance with a married man?

As a writer of historical fiction myself, I found the liberties that Kelly took with real characters disconcerting. I have included historical persons in my books, but I have not built my novels around them, nor have I given them point of view roles. Many authors walk the line between biography and fiction well, and Kelly has told a good story and been upfront about the embellishments she added to Caroline Ferriday’s life. But I would have preferred a novel that stuck closer to the facts with a primary historical character such as Ferriday.

The description of the novel says that the three characters are set on a “collision course” by the events at Ravensbrück. In fact, Caroline never meets Helga. Kasia interacts with both of them, and although the novel begins with Caroline, it is really Kasia’s story.

Still, Lilac Girls is haunting because it covers haunting events in a well-written and realistic (if not historical) story. This novel isn’t of the caliber of All the Light We Cannot See or The Nightingale, but it is a good novel, a solid debut from Ms. Kelly, and I would like to read more of her work.

When have you wondered about what is fact and what is fiction in a novel about a real person?

Announcing Publication of NOW I’M FOUND!


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A year ago I published Lead Me Home, and I immediately turned to editing its sequel, which I had drafted before polishing Lead Me Home. I knew the sequel needed a lot of work, and it has been a long year in the editing. But I am pleased to announce today that [. . . drum roll]

Now I’m Found is published!

NIF front cover 9-2-16

Now I’m Found: Desolation and Discover in the Gold Rush Years is available on Amazon in either paperback or Kindle formats and on Barnes & Noble in the Nook format.

Please take a moment to check out Now I’m Found by clicking on one of the above links.

Here’s the story my novel tells:

After reaching Oregon by wagon with Jenny Calhoun, Caleb (Mac) McDougall must choose—return to the East or remain on the frontier. Mac’s passion for Jenny has grown, but abuse in her past numbs her to his feelings.

Mac starts east, then learns of the California gold strike and joins hordes of prospectors seeking wealth, independence, and adventure. Alone in Oregon, Jenny forges a new life but fears losing her home if neighbors learn she is not Mac’s wife.

Separately, Mac and Jenny confront violence, temptation, and heartache in a savage and abundant land. Their quests for happiness travel paths more tortuous than the Oregon Trail they conquered together.

One early review states:

Now I’m Found is an engaging companion to Lead Me Home. As in the first book, Theresa Hupp weaves a colorful story of the Western frontier . . . historically accurate and worthy of your time.” Sally Jadlow, author of The Late Sooner series.

If you decide to read Now I’m Found and like it, I hope you will also post a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and/or Goodreads. Reviews are one of the best ways that readers can help writers.

And tell your family and friends about the book also—you can simply share this post with them if you would like.

I am so grateful to all the readers who have encouraged me since the publication of Lead Me Home. I truly appreciate your support in reaching this milestone.

P.S. to readers in the Kansas City area: There is an opportunity to check my books out in person, along with books by many other local authors, at the First Friday Fall Book Festival on October 7, from 5:00-8:00pm at 517 Southwest Boulevard in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, MO. See this Facebook link for more information. Come meet and greet the authors and start your holiday shopping early.


Haunting Book: A Murder in Time, by Julie McElwain


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I’ve made a tradition of writing about “haunting books” on this blog each October, though last year I combined my list into a single post. This year, I’m going to try to write about a book that haunts me (stays with me after I’ve read it) each Monday through the month.

a-murder-in-time-cover-41awjnnqfnlAs I selected books to write about, I noticed that many of them haunted me because of how they dealt with time. My first “haunting book” this month is A Murder in Time, by Julie McElwain. This book might not haunt a lot of readers. On one level, it’s simply a time-travel fantasy. On another level, it’s simply a murder mystery.

But the book haunted me because I reflected as I read on how the author had to deal with same issues in writing about other times that I do in my historical fiction—but she got to be more overt about it, because her protagonist was a 21st century woman dumped into the early 19th century.

I read this book because my local library, the Mid-Continent Public Library, participated in a Big Read a few months ago through the Overdrive ebook service. McElwain’s book was selected as the Big Read book. I like the idea of community members all reading the same book, and I’ve tried to read many of the Big Read books the library has suggested in the last few years. Some I’ve really enjoyed, and others I haven’t been able to finish.

I like thrillers, and I like time-travel romances (one of the few forms of fantasy that does appeal to me—you can keep your vampires, werewolves, and most intergalactic aliens to yourself, thank you), so I thought I would like A Murder in Time. However, through the first few chapters, I wondered if this might be one of the books I couldn’t finish.

The novel begins as a typical shoot-em-up thriller with a gunfight in the 21st century in which the protagonist, Kendra Donovan, a young female FBI profiler, is injured. After she recovers, Kendra goes off to England to follow a bad guy, travels through a hidden portal in an English mansion, and abruptly finds herself in that same mansion in 1815. Only her wits will keep her alive—first simply to survive in a strange environment, and later to solve a series of murders that occurs around the mansion.

Despite the action, the first part of the book was boring, and there were also some slow parts later in the book. It wasn’t great literature, and a lot of the Goodreads reviews of the book point out its flaws. But ultimately I became engrossed in the plot.

As I got into A Murder in Time, I started thinking about the relative values of creature comforts and career options on the one hand and love and friendship on the other. If I had the choice between giving up the comforts of our time but following a true love, what would I do? A fantasy scenario, perhaps, but one that does require some self-evaluation.

Time-travel plots consider these types of questions more directly than most historical fiction, but the issues are there whenever authors write about the past. I’d thought about the lack of creature comforts as I wrote my novels about the Oregon Trail emigrants and Gold Rush miners. Much as I admire the emigrants to the West for their fortitude, I am glad I am not one of them, and I doubt I would voluntarily undertake any similar journey in my own lifetime.

McElwain expands on the differences that 200 years have made in society by making Kendra an FBI profiler—a woman, no less—who has to cope with the lack of scientific knowledge as gathers and processes evidence at the crime scenes. Kendra has to deal not only with the inability to examine blood types and DNA, but also with more rudimentary autopsy procedures. She also has to work around the presumptions about women’s roles and capabilities in the early 19th century.

So ultimately, I found the book haunting. And I recommend it if you like time-travel books, or even if you like to ruminate on how technology and mores have changed over time.

Although I won’t go into details about the plot to avoid spoilers, I want to add that the ending of A Murder in Time also haunts me. Did Kendra return to the 21st century or remain in the 19th? If she stayed, she would have had love and friendship that she didn’t have in the 21st century. If she returned, she would have the comforts we have and a promising career that did not exist in 1815. So there were reasons she might have chosen either option, and I won’t say any more.

Which would you have chosen?

Transporting Gold in 1850


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One of the problems I’ve had to deal with in my soon-to-be-published novel, Now I’m Found, is how gold was transported in California in 1848-50. The gold flakes and nuggets had to get from the mines where they were panned from the water or dug from the ground to the surrounding towns, then ultimately to shipping ports to be sent to the mint.

Here are a few facts and figures:

  • The amount of gold reserves found in California in this era was astounding. From a total gold yield of $890,000 in or before 1847, U.S. gold increased to $10,000,000 in 1848, to $40,000,000 in 1849, to $50,000,000 in 1850. (And that wasn’t the end of the California Gold Rush; it’s just the end of the period covered in my novel.)
  • Despite the incredible riches mined during the Gold Rush, there was no bank in San Francisco until January 1849, and the early banks weren’t much to speak of. Merchants were the only businesses that owned safes, so they became the first bankers. The bankers held deposits of gold in their safes, and shipped gold wherever the owners directed—to local exchanges, to the mint in Philadelphia, or to the miners’ families in the States or elsewhere. The same banking practices were true in Sacramento as in San Francisco.
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    No Wells Fargo in 1850

    Wells Fargo was the first express company to operate in California, but it did not begin until 1852. According to the page on the company’s website describing its history, Wells Fargo offered banking services (buying gold and selling paper bank drafts as good as gold) and express (rapid delivery of the gold and anything else valuable)
  • Despite these primitive commercial practices, a lot of gold got moved in California. In November 1848, the first large shipment of gold departed by ship from San Francisco to the mint—a shipment of $500,000. In May 1850, another ship left San Francisco with $1.5 million worth of gold. ($500,000 would be worth more than $15,000,000 today, which means that these two shipments alone carried over $60,000,000 in today’s dollars.)
  • Regular steamship service between Sacramento and San Francisco began in August 1849. Before then, boat traffic was chartered or irregular, and the alternative was to make a week-long overland trip around the south end of the bay past San Jose.
  • The transcontinental railroad connecting California to the East was not completed until 1869.

All this research still left me with the question—how did the gold get from the mines to San Francisco?

In my novel, I created a business that began in 1850 to haul gold from the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas to Sacramento, and a second business that ferried the gold from Sacramento to San Francisco. I know the ferry route existed down the Sacramento River as early as August 1849, but I don’t know whether it was used to transport gold.

I haven’t found any definitive support for a gold transport business existing in 1850, but it seems reasonable to me to think that some type of enterprise would have been created to handle this transportation. Maybe it’s fiction only, maybe it’s not true. But I like to think it’s at least “truthy.”

Authors, when has your research for your writing been stymied?

Social Media: Reconnecting and Lurking


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I’ve written before about how social media has helped me reconnect with relatives and friends. Well, I’ve had two new experiences in the last couple of weeks where social media again has warmed my heart in this way.

A second cousin found me on Facebook recently. I’ve met her and her branch of the family a couple of times, but I don’t know her well. In fact, what we most have in common (other than two great-grandparents whom I never knew) is that we have each lost both our parents in close proximity. Mine died six months apart—my mother in July 2014 and my father in January 2015. My cousin and her siblings lost both their parents this year.

I learned about her mother’s death via a post from another family member on Facebook. When I saw that post, I looked for my second cousin’s mailing address on the Internet (armed only with her full name and the city where she lived) and sent her a condolence card. A few months ago, I’d sent her mother a card when her father died earlier this year, but later I learned her mother had Alzheimer’s, so this cousin may never have seen the card I sent her mother.

But after I sent the card, this second cousin searched Facebook, found me, and sent me a message. It’s nice to have a new family connection.

My second recent experience reaches back into my childhood. After my two posts featuring my First Communion class picture (see here and here), I got curious about some of the kids in that photo. I started looking on Facebook for them, as well as for some other grade-school and high-school friends. Really, with half the world on Facebook, there’s a lot of information available, unless people proactively block it.


Rattlesnake Mountain, a landmark seen from Richland, WA

One name I found led me to a closed Facebook group for my high-school class in my hometown of Richland, Washington. I asked to become a member of the group. The next day my request was approved, and I read through all the posts.

The Facebook group has over 100 of my high-school classmates as members. Our class was over 600 strong, so the group certainly hasn’t pulled in everyone, but there were people there I hadn’t thought about in decades. (And people I’d never known. As I said, our class had more than 600 kids in it, and I didn’t know them all.)

I’ve exchanged messages with a few on the group site, become Facebook friends with a couple more, and posted pictures and reminiscences of our common experiences that ended over forty years ago.

It’s been fun to look at recent pictures of the group members I did know. Most of them I look at and say, “Oh, yes. That’s so-and-so.” I probably wouldn’t have recognized these classmates if I’d seen them on the street so many years after graduation. But when Facebook does the work of putting a name with a face, I can see how the teenagers I knew became the sixty-somethings they are today.

I’ve only attended one high-school reunion—my 25th, which was almost twenty years ago. At that time, I was only in touch with a couple of my classmates, though I reconnected with others at the reunion. I have to say, Facebook is an easier way to reconnect. It doesn’t require a plane ticket, a diet, or new clothes. And lurking without seeming anti-social is permitted.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another high-school reunion. I’ve only been to Richland twice in the last decade—on the occasions of my parents’ funerals. I have no connection to Richland now except the crypt where my parents’ ashes are interred.

I might someday be drawn to see the town again. Or I might simply lurk on Facebook. With the Internet, I can see as much of the town as I’d like. And now I can follow the people I knew as well.

Have you reconnected with anyone from your past through social media?