popular, colorful account of San Francisco in a transformative year
MUD, BLOOD, AND GOLD – San Francisco in 1849 by Rand Richards. Heritage House Publishers, San Francisco, CA; www.heritagehousesf.com. 2009. 288+xiii pages. $25.95 hardcover, ISBN 978-1-879367-06-7. illustrations, chronology, notes, bibliography, index.
It was the spring of 1848 when gold was discovered in central California and reported in the newspapers. Almost immediately, men and some women started heading for the gold fields in droves. Yet it's hard to believe how San Francisco grew from an ordinary West Coast port city to the bustling, polyglot center it did in the following year. Williams relates how this happened. In keeping with his popular style, he uses mostly primary sources of newspaper accounts, journals, letters, and the like.
Most goldseekers and ones aiming to provide services for them came to California via ship around South America or by breaking the sea travel up by crossing Panama in Central America to board a second ship for the final leg. So San Francisco naturally became the gateway to the gold fields throughout central California. The city was not only a brief stop for goldseekers heading inland, but also a center for the varied services they required. Some of these such as food and building materials moved from the port to the gold fields. The port grew; but so did the city with the supply stores, doctors, hotels, assayers, investors, and others needed to sustain large and changing numbers of individuals in the gold fields. Inevitably, too, such a large number of unattached men, many with large sums of money from finds, drew prostitutes and gamblers. The social situation in 1849 was so mercurial though that "lawyers, doctors, and other professionals without clients sometimes had to wait tables, wash dishes, and black boots to make ends meet." Richards quotes from a letter from the owner of a draying business that he had recently hired a lawyer to drive a mule team.
Public officials including politicians were another type active in 1849 San Francisco. Though California did not become a state until 1850, during the Mexican War, U. S. military personnel assumed other government roles, such as customs officials. With California officially becoming U. S. territory with the treaty ending the War in 1848, regular U.S. officials moved in along with aspiring politicians. With so much wealth flowing through San Francisco, at first there was much corruption among the public officials. But the social situation was so fluid and the need for effective social services and city government so pressing so the wealth would not be lost or usurped by only a few that in the course of the single year, government improved considerably. City government particularly working with religious and educational organizations and institutions helped to bring the first "glimmers of civilization" to San Francisco.
San Francisco has never fully shed the raucous, ribald, freewheeling image it got from its brief time as a center for the California Gold Rush. Richards colorful account moving among notable individuals, memorable vignettes, panoramic views, and pithy summations relates how the city got this image.