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Forging Community | What life was like in Gold Rush towns

by Johanna M. Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator | May 29, 2015

This is the only hotel in this vicinity, and as there is a really excellent bowling alley attached to it, and the barroom has a floor upon which the miners can dance, and, above all, a cook who can play the violin, it is very popular.
—Louise Clappe, Indian Bar, California, October 7, 1851

In California the richest diggings were isolated in the northern ranges of the Sierra Nevada. The gold camps were often temporary, as most gold seekers did not intend to stay in California after making their fortunes, and this in turn contributed to a rougher character overall. However, these communities were not without their luxuries. Most gold camps contained a sampling of shops and businesses, roadhouses, and drinking and gambling establishments. The camp at Rich Bar even had a bowling alley!

San Francisco served as a hub of social and business activity for the thousands of people coming in to and going out of California during the gold rush. Many who made their fortunes, whether through mining for gold or “mining the miners,” settled in the city and became part of the city’s elite class.

 eliza jane steen johnson-for blog
 Untitled (Eliza Jane Steen-Johnson), ca. 1852
Image courtesy of the Collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Barbara Smith; H96.44.1

Eliza Steen-Johnson and her husband settled in San Francisco after emigrating from Ireland in 1850. They owned and operated a dry goods store and hat shop in the city.

On Saturday May 30 at 2 p.m., join Gold! curator, Johanna Blume, for a gallery talk that explores what life was like in gold rush communities, with a special focus on the stories of women in the California, Black Hills, and Yukon-Klondike gold rushes.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Heide Presse 01 Jun
    Wish I could have heard your talk Johanna....very much an interest of mine :-)
  2. 1 Jack 19 Aug
    It's good to read something which invades history. 

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