American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture

By Brian Roberts | Go to book overview

Ten
The End of the
Flush Times

According to gold rush lore, the failure of Eliza Farnham's mission devastated the forty-niners. Two years later a writer in the San Francisco Alta California recalled that word of the Angelique's voyage had been met as a “cheering intelligence.” While his comrade miners thought its “precious cargo” was a full one, “joy sat upon many a bachelor's countenance that had been weathered in sorrow at the thought that his days were to end in this country, with no wife, no dear loved one to pass through the weary world with him.” But soon came word that the “speculation” had “busted up.” Then “came the old sorrow again,” as he added, “and from that time to this, no attempt has been made to introduce amongst us in any number, respectable and virtuous young women who should become helpmates to those who have made this God-blessed land their permanent home.” With the “old sorrow” came the usual result. As another San Franciscan remembered: “there was more drunkenness, more gambling, more fighting, and more of everything that was bad that night than ever before.” 1 In effect, the failure of Farnham's mission of redemption unleashed another round of the forty-niner bacchanal. And yet, if indeed this was her mission's result, it may not have been a failure at all, or at least not a failure in terms of naturalizing the gender dynamics of an emerging middle class.

The public drama of Farnham's mission seemed to confirm what many forty-niners had professed since shortly after their arrival in California. Women were necessary to a respectable society. At the same time, the rough world of the gold country was simply too dirty for their presence. With this equation, women would be central to the gold rush yet absent from its daily life, Farnham both a heroine for

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American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • American Alchemy *
  • Introduction 1
  • One - California Gold and Filthy Lucre 17
  • Two - Gold Fever as a Cure 43
  • Three - Husbands and Wives 69
  • Four - Numberless Highways to Fairy Grottos 93
  • Five - A Great and Perverse Paradise 119
  • Six - California Is a Humbug 143
  • Seven - Widows and Helpmates 169
  • Eight - A Wild, Free, Disorderly, Grotesque Society 197
  • Nine - The Prude Fails 221
  • Ten - The End of the Flush Times 243
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 277
  • Index 321
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