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.

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 Continue reading Gold Rush Christmas

Gold Miner’s Christmas

When Christmas came during the early Gold Rush years, thousands of predominantly male, mostly young gold-seekers were far away from ordinary comforts and the familiar faces back home. A number of preachers in the gold camps or town saloons offered short holiday services, and some miners dodged the pain of Continue reading Gold Miner’s Christmas

The Pioneers: J. Goldsborough Bruff

Joseph Goldsborough Bruff is a well-remembered participant in the California Gold Rush. A committed diarist and talented amateur artist, he left reams of hand-written observations and sketches of his “gold rush hysteria” experiences, starting with his departure from St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1849. Unlike most of his Continue reading The Pioneers: J. Goldsborough Bruff