"What's in a Name?": (Tales, Historical or Fictitious, about 111 California Gold Belt Place Names)

"What's in a Name?": (Tales, Historical or Fictitious, about 111 California Gold Belt Place Names)

"What's in a Name?": (Tales, Historical or Fictitious, about 111 California Gold Belt Place Names)

"What's in a Name?": (Tales, Historical or Fictitious, about 111 California Gold Belt Place Names)

Excerpt

What's in a name? Imagination, Contemplation, Discussion, some Agitation, then finally Selection, Decision. Placenames have a certain amount of Ossification, as in Aino placenames of Japan, Amerind placenames of North America. Into Californian Gold Belt placenames, went some Deliberation, at times, Competition, more often Jollification. This last descriptive noun merits some Interrogation. Why should eager, hectic Goldseekers indulge in christening newborn settlements with such outlandish names as DOGTOWN, LIARS' FLAT, BOOTJACK, HANGTOWN, FIDDLETOWN, ROUGH AND READY, FROG-BAR? Because humor was a valuable antidote for Frontier dangers! Cholera, death by thirst on the alkaline desert, redskin arrows from ambush that could be shot clean through a deer, all these constantly menaced Covered Wagon routes. At Panama, Yellow Jack noiselessly marked his victims. Sailing 'Round the Horn meant scurvy, Antartic storms, then the Doldrums' becalmment. Once the Gold Belt finally was reached, there was disease, disillusionment, despair. Vigilante government could not quickly be transmuted into a real republican state. In a land still lacking law, survival further depended on being "quick-on-the-trigger." Many, too, were unaccustomed to merciless rays of the Sierran piedmont's mid- summer sun. The gentle, soothing hand of woman usually was absent during the DECADE OF NAMES. Consolation by the weak was sought in repeated draughts of "three fingers of rotgut."

Fortunately gold diggers, almost to a man, were young men. Theirs was a contempt for death that fills one a century later with admiration. They snapped their fingers in the face of danger. They deliberately misspelled "UVA DAM" as "YOU-BE-DAMNED." They dubbed their new villages GROWLERSBURG, POKERVILLE, YOU BET. This, while they commenced building this empire we call California.

II

A Downeast Yankee, one of a Covered Wagon company, came to HANGTOWN, continued on to PINCHEMTIGHT. His "Prairie Schooner" had followed the California trail blazed by Bible Toter Jedediah Smith. He had vision beyond the rockpiles accumulating around his Long Tom. He found near it a beautiful valley. Dotted with graceful weeping oaks. Its wild oats reached his saddle's pommel. He "homesteaded" its best "160."

From the "Diggins," he had Wells-Fargoed a tidy sum to a Boston bank. His log cabin completed, he wrote his Vermont sweetheart, "Come West." Married in Sacramento, two girl babies . . .

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