Gold Rush Christmas

Before the Gold Rush, Christmas was just another working day tending livestock or repairing equipment for those Americans who had settled in California, although many took time out for a few hours of quiet celebration. On December 24, 1845, Captain John Sutter’s logbook records that a worker completed a pump that day. In 1847 he noted that several women who lived at his fort were doing laundry on Christmas Eve. Within a year of the January 1848 gold discovery, though, California was overrun with men who had come for just one thing—to get rich quick. In 1849, certain hard-bitten gold seekers spent Christmas Eve quietly drinking and gambling in Sacramento’s Elephant House saloon. The following year in the same city, an observer noted “yelling, and hallooing, and shouting and singing and firing of guns and firecrackers and bands of music” on Christmas Eve, adding the wry comment that “The aspect of things is essentially different from that of this same holiday last year.”

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