California got its name before anyone knew what or where it was. In 1510 author Garcia Ordonez de Montevaldo published The Sergas de Esplandian in Seville, Spain. The fantasy romance novel about the exploits of a swashbuckling cavalier, who traveled to a mythical island named California, became wildly popular. This island, located “on the right hand of the Indies,” was populated by tall, black female warriors who had shields and swords and ornaments made of gold. Their ruler was the beautiful queen Calafia. Subsequent to Hernan Cortéz’s conquest of Mexico in 1519, his officers Francisco de Ulloa or Hernando Grixalva (accounts differ) discovered that the mystical island was actually a mainland. There weren’t any Amazon-like black women toting golden shields, either. If he was disappointed, Ulloa (or Grixalva) nevertheless named his find California. However, the myth lived on. As late as 1696, European cartographers were still drawing California as a large island in the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the coastline of the New World.
The first major gold rush in the United States occurred in northern Georgia, predating the California Gold Rush by nearly twenty years. A deer hunter accidentally kicked up an “interesting” rock near the Chestatee River, circa 1828. By June 1830, thousands of hopeful miners from all over had swarmed into Continue reading Gold Mining Tools
In the early 1850s Amelia Jenks Bloomer introduced trousers to women, garnering much ridicule and limited acceptance. The design wasn’t hers. Amelia was an early campaigner for women’s rights and the temperance movement, founding a temperance newspaper named The Lily in 1849. In addition to temperance Continue reading Pioneer Women: Scandalous Fashion
Mary Frances Sherwood (or Frances, as her husband always called her), and her bridegroom Mark Hopkins, departed New York by ship for California just hours after their wedding ceremony. Frances was 36 on her wedding day September 20, 1854—an age considered quite old for a bride—although presumably they had Continue reading Pioneer Women: Frances Hopkins
Pennsylvania born Laura de Force was 17 when her brother’s death in 1855 brought profound, and lasting, changes to her life view. Laura adopted Spiritualism, the comforting faith her grief-stricken mother turned to, a faith that not only promoted contact with the departed but espoused equality between genders. Continue reading Pioneer Women: Laura de Force Gordon