Synopses & Reviews
Gold Dust & Gunsmoke One moment the California creek beds glimmered with gold; the next, the same creeks ran red with the blood of men and women defending their claims or ceding their bags of gold dust to bandits. Packed with never-before-told tales of the American frontier, Gold Dust & Gunsmoke sends you galloping through the tumultuous California territory of the mid-nineteenth century, where disputes were settled with six-shooters and the lines of justice were in perpetual flux. Armed with meticulous research, John Boessenecker has a remarkable knack for finding the perfect details to capture all the color, excitement, and hullabaloo of the Gold Rush. Gold fever drew a diverse group from around the world to California. San Francisco Bay became a virtual parking lot filled with abandoned vessels whose crews had headed for the hills of the new El Dorado. Remnants of the forces fighting in the Mexican War also got in on the action. These forces included transplanted Bowery Boys, the notorious New York City street gang with ties to Tammany Hall. The Sydney Ducks, a large contingent of new arrivals from Australias penal colony, added a bit of outlaw innovation from down under. With more than enough gold dust to go around early in the Gold Rush, crime was rare, but as the stakes rose and the easily panned gold dwindled, robbery and murder became a part of life on the frontier. Word of the San Miguel massacre rippled from mining camp to mining camp, retelling of the slaying of ten people, an entire family taken down by gunshot and ax. Settlers throughout the frontier followed the exploits of Joaquin Murrieta, the most famous Hispanic outlaw and the most notorious bandit of the Gold Rush. Bandits, highwaymen, and other desperadoes cruised the frontier looking for stakes. The stories of their crimes and their confrontations with justice are recounted here, many for the first time. With virtually no police protection on the frontier, vigilance committees took justice into their own hands. Six penalties were traditionally handed down: hanging, whipping, ear-cropping, head shaving, branding, or banishment. Since few people in this transient society knew each other, vigilantes sought ways of physically marking criminals, cropping their ears or branding their cheek with an "R" for robber, or "H.T." for horse thief. Californias population swelled in these heady days, spawning dozens of saloons, gambling halls, fandango houses, and bordellos. The names of the rapidly sprouting mining camps reflected the rough society therein: Drunkards Bar, Garrote, Hells Delight, Whorehouse Gulch, Git Up and Git. Amusements paralleled the raucous cult of the masculinity of the West. Bare knuckle prizefighting, cock-fights, bullfights, and the brutal bull and bear fights filled the hours not spent drinking, whoring, and gambling. Published in tandem with the one hundred fiftieth anniversaries of the Gold Rush and Californias statehood, these authentic stories of gunfighters, lawmen, vigilantes, and barroom brawlers comprise an important contribution to the rich lore of the American West.
A lively collection of true tales of villainy and violence during the California Gold Rush
"Boessenecker has done as much as anyone to change and illuminate California’s Wild West image . . . if you would like a good read about how gold fever ignited a rush not only of families, but prostitutes, feuds, lynchings, duels, bare-knuckle prizefights, and vigilantes, then is this the place to start."
"A lively, thoughtful, well-researched book, and those interested in the rough, early years of the Mother Lode will not be disappointed."
—Ledger-Dispatch (Jackson, Ca)
"[Boessenecker] has done an amazing job of researching newspapers, legal documents, diaries, and other sources, as well as making skillful use of the recent research. . . . Excellent narrative . . . . Very well done, Gold Dust & Gunsmoke is a 'must.'"
"Boessenecker's meticulous research and vivid prose make this excellent book a fascinating collection of true stories."
Packed with never-before-told tales of the American frontier, Gold Dust & Gunsmoke sends us galloping through the tumultuous California territory of the mid-nineteenth century, where disputes were settled with six-shooters and the lines of justice were in perpetual flux. Armed with meticulous research, John Boessenecker displays a remarkable knack for finding the perfect details to capture all the color, excitement, and hullabaloo of the Gold Rush. Published in tandem with the 150th anniversary of California's statehood, these authentic stories of gunfighters, lawmen, vigilantes, and barroom brawlers are an important contribution to the rich lore of the American West.
About the Author
JOHN BOESSENECKER is a San Francisco attorney and historian. He is the author of Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California and Lawman: The Life and Times of Harry Morse, 1835 - 1912, and he is coauthor of The Grey Fox: The True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old Time Bandits.
Table of Contents
1 "Boys, I Believe I've Found a Gold Mine" 1
2 First Blood 13
3 Judge Lynch 25
4 Gringos and Greasers 44
5 Bring Me the Head of Joaquin Murrieta 73
6 Pillagers or Patriots? 100
7 The Whores in '51 134
8 Bears, Bulls, and Bare Knuckles 159
9 I'll Die Before I'll Run 179
10 The Field of Honor 204
11 Pirates of the Placers 225
12 Gold Rush Lawmen 250
13 Enforcing the Law 273
14 Gold Rush Gunfighters 297
Epilogue: A Legacy of Violence 321