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After the Gold Rush

Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley

David Vaught

Publication Year: 2009

"It is a glorious country," exclaimed Stephen J. Field, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, upon arriving in California in 1849. Field's pronouncement was more than just an expression of exuberance. For an electrifying moment, he and another 100,000 hopeful gold miners found themselves face-to-face with something commensurate to their capacity to dream. Most failed to hit pay dirt in gold. Thereafter, one illustrative group of them struggled to make a living in wheat, livestock, and fruit along Putah Creek in the lower Sacramento Valley. Like Field, they never forgot that first "glorious" moment in California when anything seemed possible. In After the Gold Rush, David Vaught examines the hard-luck miners-turned-farmers—the Pierces, Greenes, Montgomerys, Careys, and others—who refused to admit a second failure, faced flood and drought, endured monumental disputes and confusion over land policy, and struggled to come to grips with the vagaries of local, national, and world markets. Their dramatic story exposes the underside of the American dream and the haunting consequences of trying to strike it rich.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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Prologue. “Glorious”

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pp. 1-8

“My eye was caught with the glimpse of something shining in the bottom of the ditch. . . . I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and of the shape of a pea. Then I saw another.”1 So recalled James Marshall of that fateful moment of discovery along the south...


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1 Removals

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pp. 13-26

George Washington Pierce and his wife, Eunice, first saw the land along Putah Creek that would be their home for most of the rest of the century (and the family home for generations to come) on February 17, 1854. Permanent settlement was the last thing on their minds that day, however. Not much seemed to be going right for them. They had intended to arrive...

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2 Seduced

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pp. 27-44

Expectations were high when preparations began for the first crop on the Big Ranch in November 1851, just one month after Champion I. Hutchinson had purchased his half-interest in Rancho Laguna de Santos Call

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3 Farms without Titles

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pp. 45-56

The eagerness to keep pumping money into these establishments was all the more astounding given that title to the land itself was in question. No one truly owned the land. In the midst of all their hard work and mounting debts, farmers on Ranchos Rio de los Putos, Los Putos, and Laguna de Santos Call

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4 “A Very Public Place”

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pp. 57-69

A trotting stallion named Rattler died on the ranch of Jerome C. Davis on April 10, 1863. Rattler was no ordinary horse. One of the three purchased by William Montgomery, Fred Werner, and Davis in 1857, Rattler won more races, took more premiums, and earned more in stud fees than any horse in northern California over the course of...


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5 “To Begin Again”

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pp. 73-88

In the winter of 1861–62, a flood of enormous, almost biblical proportions hit the Sacramento Valley. It began in early December, when a series of warm, tropical rains melted several feet of snow that had accumulated in the Sierra Nevada. Rampaging rivers poured out of their channels, filling much of the valley in less than three days. On the morning of December 9, the American River burst though its levee...

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6 Favorite Son

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pp. 89-103

Jerome C. Davis owned one of the finest ranches in the Sacramento Valley in 1860. To this day, the data recorded by the federal census taker that June jump out from the page. The prize-winning stock farm consisted of 7,000 acres of land with a cash value of $70,000. Davis’s machinery and implements were worth almost $5,000. He owned 169 horses, 9 mules, 550 milk cows, 934 other cattle, 898 sheep, and 114...

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7 Prominent Citizens

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pp. 104-123

Given the natural disasters, mass of confusion over land titles, complicated and often contradictory federal and state land policies, and economic chaos, the chances of anyone persevering through the first two decades of settlement in Putah Creek seemed remote. Yet, fully 35 percent of those who paid property taxes in 1858—grantees, speculators...


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8 “As Good As Wheat”

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pp. 127-149

William Dresbach’s general store buzzed with activity throughout the summer of 1869. The twenty-sixth of June was a particularly busy day. Needing cash to pay harvest expenses and to begin settling the year’s accounts, George W. Pierce, Charles E. Greene, James C. Campbell, Francis E. Russell, Bartlett Guthrie, and R. S. Carey all hauled in their first wheat...

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9 “A Devil’s Opportunity”

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pp. 150-171

The Sacramento Daily Union editorial only scratched the surface. Indeed, the second gold rush made many people happy. The wheat boom that began in 1867 gave rise to an extensive export trade, which for the next two decades would play a central role in California’s economic growth—its internal development as well as its commercial relations with...

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10 Looking Back

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pp. 172-193

William Montgomery died on the morning of May 7, 1877, at the ripe age of seventy-four. One of the older gold rushers when he came to California, Montgomery nonetheless managed to live another full quarter-century on the land where he first squatted in 1851. For years, his age made him the target of many a good-natured ribbing. When...


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11 Gold—Wheat—Fruit

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pp. 197-219

While plowing the family’s new, enlarged vineyard on “the overflowed land” along the creek in May 1885, George Pierce Jr. suddenly heard a loud clank. He stopped and walked over to remove the large rocks that he presumed had impeded his progress. He found not only rocks but several other large objects that looked like bone fragments. It was not unusual for farmers near Putah Creek to plow up portions of old Patwin burial...

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12 Legacies

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pp. 220-228

“Five years,” wrote nineteenth-century humorist Prentice Mulford of the gold rush, “was the longest period any one expected to stay.” The first generation of California farmers, it must be remembered, had not intended to farm at all, but having failed in the mines, they became desperate to succeed on the land. In their haste to adapt to their new surroundings, they committed themselves not only to the market but to community...

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Epilogue. Remnants

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pp. 229-231

Driving from Davis to Winters today would seem to pose few complications. The land is flat, and Russell Boulevard, the road between these two bedroom communities in the lower Sacramento Valley, heads due west along the section lines, about a mile north of Putah Creek. On the left, as the trip begins, lies the sprawling campus of UC Davis. Two miles down the road on the right, along the 120- year-old “Avenue of Trees...


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pp. 233-293

Essay on Sources

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pp. 295-300


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pp. 316-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780801897801
E-ISBN-10: 0801897807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801892578
Print-ISBN-10: 0801892570

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 4 halftones, 5 line illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 593239759
MUSE Marc Record: Download for After the Gold Rush

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Subject Headings

  • Agriculture -- Economic aspects -- California -- Sacramento Valley -- History.
  • Sacramento Valley (Calif.) -- History.
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