A Gold Rush Libation

As legend has it, the martini was invented for hard-fisted California gold miners in 1849, only back then it was called a “Martinez.” San Francisco was the major port, and gold-seekers journeyed from there to the gold fields on steamboats that plied the Sacramento River. Steamboat travel was heavy and speed was essential, if the ship lines wanted to make money. The fastest ship was the two-wheeler steamship Chrysopolis, which typically left the San Francisco docks at 7:00 a.m. By the time it reached the town of Martinez on the south side of the Carquinez Straight it needed to stop for wood and water, and sometimes it was laid over because of fog. When this happened, passengers left the ship for the saloons in town. Out of pure commercial necessity the ship’s bartender William Garson (or Garrison) was inspired to invent a way to keep paying passengers aboard. He hit upon the formula of 3 parts gin to 1 part Sonoma Valley Sauterne, sometimes substituting vermouth, adding an olive from the trees on the surrounding hills. He named the drink for the town. Miners drank it down and called for more—and remained on ship. Supposedly, Mark Twain introduced the drink to Chicago. Today martini aficionados sip from the wide brim of elegant cone-shaped crystal glassware fluting upward from a thin stem. Gold miners, who disdained “fancy drinks,” probably consumed theirs from something more akin to a jelly jar.

An Ace up the Sleeve

The mostly greenhorn gold rushers who invaded northern California in 1849 were quickly followed by those who came to “fleece” the miners of their hard-gotten gold: saloon owners, professional gamblers from Mississippi riverboats, and free-booting conmen who preyed on the lonely who were far from Continue reading An Ace up the Sleeve


Bells began frantically ringing in Sacramento ten minutes past eleven o’clock on the night of November 2, 1852, when smoke was seen billowing from a millinery shop.  A gale wind had already risen that night, instantly fanning flames greedily fueled by boards, shingles, canvas, gunny-sacked grains; barrels of liquor, kerosene lamps and tallow candles. Firefighters rushed in, but without cisterns they were helpless to control a crackling, roaring wall of flame that some said was visible from 100 miles away. The inferno blasted sporadically across forty square city blocks, claiming 13 lives, devouring most structures yet by-passing others. Several new brick stores, supposedly impervious to flames, were demolished.  More than 80 percent of Sacramento was reduced to rubble; hundreds lost their homes, clothing, provisions and furnishings. The terrible conflagration, known ever afterward as The Great Fire, occurred on election night, prompting many citizens to suspect arson–but this suspicion was never proven.

Gold Towns: Yankee Jim’s

In the 1850s Yankee Jim’s was one of the largest mining centers in Placer County, boasting a population of around 5,000. In Gold Rush days, the town was a raucous place.  Located about 3 miles northwest of Foresthill and gold-rich in itself, Yankee Jim’s was also the site of the rich Jenny Lind Canyon mine, discovered when the severe storms of 1852-53 caused a huge landslide that exposed an abundance of gold. The Jenny Lind Canyon mine alone yielded $2,000 to $2,500 in gold every day. The man who called himself “Yankee Jim” may have been Irish or Australian instead of a Yankee, but for sure he was a horse thief who idled away some hours mining along the river bars in 1849. Seeking to keep his gold find a secret, he built a corral for his stolen horses atop the richest mine in the vicinity. Unfortunately for him, miners who were working the nearby Foresthill area discovered his thievery and the riches he tried to conceal. Although Yankee Jim barely escaped lynching, the mining town that evolved took his name. The town’s post office operated from 1852 until 1940. Over time most of the population moved away, but a small community still exists. Gnarled, long-forgotten orchards and notices of current gold claims can be seen on the old stage road from Foresthill. Yankee Jim’s is California Historical Landmark No. 398—the historical marker is located on the southeast corner of Colfax, Foresthill and Spring Garden Roads.

Gold Towns: Weaverville

Located 2,011 feet up at the foot of the present-day Trinity Alps Wilderness area, Weaverville sprang to life in what was one of the wildest and most inaccessible regions of California. So inaccessible, in fact, that the town didn’t receive stagecoach service until April 29, 1858. Before then, residents had to make their way on horseback to Shasta City to board public transportation. Nevertheless, Weaverville was once the center of great mining activity. Founded in the summer of 1850, it was named for John Weaver, a gold prospector who had arrived in the vicinity the prior year. In 1851 the camp consisted of one round tent and four log cabins, but two years later the settlement had grown so large that a hospital was established, and also a school—evidence of a number of resident families, several of whom established small farms and ranches. However, that year fire destroyed nearly half the town, and two more in 1855 burned 29 houses and many commercial buildings. Townspeople reconstructed with brick; by 1859 twenty brick buildings dotted the streets. Like other mining towns, Weaverville contained several saloons, and experienced its share of booms and busts and violence. Mining apparatus included gold pans, long toms, and rockers, until these techniques were later supplanted by hydraulic mining. The LaGrange mine just out of town was once the world’s largest hydraulic mining operation.  Home to 2,000 Chinese gold miners by 1854, the Chinese Tong War that year occupies a place of note in Weaverville’s history. Easily reached today via State Route 299, Weaverville is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.