In Summer and Fall we have fierce wildfires, as we saw this year with The Rim Fire. In Winter and Spring we’re inundated with heavy rains and snows, rising creeks and icy roads. But then we’re also protected by those modern-day comforts of heating and air-conditioning, the Road Department to get us moving again, great support from firefighting teams and the luxury of just holing up indoors during inclement weather. But what about our Rough-and-Ready fore-bearers? Their story exemplifies the Wild West, its romance, its misery and all too often, its cruelty.
And as a storyteller, I am often called upon to tell the tale of California and its historic Gold Rush. And of course, I do my best to tell the tales well. But I have to be as honest as I can about both the glory and the underbelly of those days.
They were wild and woolly, ’tis true! Fortunes made and lost and made again in a fortnight. Folks coming to California to escape untold bondage of slavery, starvation and subjugation. The path to the gold fields was also the path to freedom for many slaves, some who secretly came to California, or some who came with their masters to mine for freedom. (A wonderful book, Mining for Freedom by Sylvia Roberts, tells their tale). Thousands of Chinese workers fled famine and immense poverty, while also trying to help their families at home. Women ran away from abuse and overbearing control by disguising themselves, changing their identity and disappearing into the wild lands of the Sierra Nevada. Other women traveled with their husbands and children to build new lives in the Free Land, and some of them were widowed along the way but still made the harsh journey. And then let us not ever forget what was done to California’s first people by first the Spaniards and later the argonauts. In 1700, before the onslaught of the Spanish, there were over 300,000 California Natives. By 1900 that number had dwindled to 6,000. What happened to their lineage? Their languages? Their cultures? Their contribution?
So, I tell the tales, but I try to do so with a sense of balance. And joining me for these “Going Up Gold Mountain” programs is musician Peg Reza, who has a vast knowledge of California’s early music. [BTW…THIS PROGRAM IS MOST DEFINITELY RATED “PG-9 & Up–Mayhem, Murder, Madams and a glimpse of California Genocide] Together we weave a program with stories of how the gold got here, Yokut and MeWuk tales, the Legend of Joaquin Murieta, the story of Marie Pantaloons and her life in Amador County, and the tale of “Rider Chan and the Night River” (special thanks to Paul Yee for permission to share his version of this tale). We’ve performed this program for museums, school assemblies and school field trips. We’d love to do some House Concerts that feature this show. Plus, we’re hoping to do a new recording of this program for those days when we just can’t connect for a live show ;-).
If you’d like to know more about our “Going Up Gold Mountain” program or other offerings, just hop over to the Contact Page! Hope to hear from you…