While many North Americans are familiar with the term “Gold Rush of 1849”, they likely have a romantic idea of picturesque covered wagons slowly heading west over the prairie, of bearded miners panning for gold (as the cover depicts), and so on. The reality is quite different, as Forty-Niner: The Extraordinary Gold Rush Odyssey of Joseph Goldsborough Bruff by Ken Lizzio (2017, Countryman Press) informs us.Drawing on the detailed journal and sketches by J.G.Bruff, we learn that the trail west was littered not only with broken dreams but abandoned excess goods, broken wagons, livestock, and graves as well. There were hostile natives to contend with (their land and hunting grounds were being invaded by a steady stream of thousands of whites), disease, adverse weather, and the formidable Rockies themselves. “Captain” Bruff of the Washington City Company recorded it all, and his meticulously kept journal (despite all odds) remains one of the best accounts of the events of 1849 and its sad aftermath.
I read this book with great enthusiasm, as I was learning about a portion of North American history I was heretofore unfamiliar with. I was startled to learn of the hardships endured by thousands in their quest for riches. Today we have extravagant lotteries that promise the hope of riches and a superior lifestyle. In 1849, it was the “Great California Lottery” (as it has been referred to) that promised the same if one could only get there fast enough. Myriads of people from all walks of life, professional and layman alike, sold everything they had in their blind quest for a better life. Why, one only had to pick the stuff up in riverbeds, streams, and beaches in California, no hard labor required, it was said. The reality was that few made any money.
You can read the rest of my review over at the Books & Benches website: http://ow.ly/CGOd30bMfaM