mud blood and goldMud, Blood, and Gold: San Francisco in 1849 by Rand Richards (2009 nonfiction)

This is a detailed account of the events that transformed a sleepy Indian village into a teeming metropolis, from a peaceful community to a constantly expanding cesspool of uncontrolled greed and licentiousness. The population explosion was inspired by the discovery of gold in the hills a few hundred miles distant. The word spread and the world responded. Overland from the East Coast, round Cape Horn by boat, the combination crossing Panama by land and then boarding ship. A beautiful bay was swamped with abandoned ships. The original village was emptied again and again as hundreds of young men from all over the world hit the ground running for the hills. There were no streets or facilities we now take for granted. The main currencies were gold (dust) and land lots. The main activities were survival and construction. Gambling flourished. Fortunes were made and lost by the hour. Women were few and valuable. Slowly and inevitably, discipline and law emerged and a great city was born. Yerba Buena yielded to San Francisco. Mud mixes with blood and gold.  Rand Richards has provided a well-researched and painfully detailed account of one year. All the names we find identifying SF streets are fleshed out: Geary, Hyde, O’Farrell, Larkin, and Leavenworth wheel and deal.  Fremont and Sherman come and go. I have one quibble. The only reference to an Irish contribution is that when ranking foreigners in a hierarchy of likeability, “the Irish were suspect, partly because many had come from Australia and were therefore assumed to be ex-convicts.” I submit that the Irish, even if convicted by English laws, did and continue to rank atop hierarchies of likeability.

Reviewed by Martin Waldron


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