For California’s Gold
In April 1849, bitten by the gold bug and feeling that he has “never chosen or decided anything” for himself, Caleb Daniels dreams of going west to prospect for the golden nuggets rumored to be as easily picked up as acorns under a tree. His wife Sarah, content with life in Illinois, must choose whether to stay behind and gamble on his eventual return, or give up everything familiar and risk her children’s well-being in order to hang onto her marriage. Knowing no other life, she does what she sees as her duty and follows her husband.
The Daniels promise that they will stay two years, then return to the red brick house with the pink rosebushes Sarah cherishes in her memory. They will return rich, able to send their children to the best schools. They join together with others in St. Louis, the jumping off place for the westward migration. At one point, cresting a rise, Sarah and some other women look back to see a river of people, conveyances and animals, prompting the observation, “I wonder that anyone has been left behind.”
Along the trail they face daily challenges of strength, sanity and spirituality. Each new vista presents its own set of obstacles. Relationships are tested. Friendships are made and lost in the blink of an eye. Traditional male/female roles break down and realign. Death must be faced at every step. Life, it is learned, is arbitrary. Many lose themselves in regret and grief. And when the worst happens, they must all face answering the question, “Who is to blame?” But that’s just the journey. What will California’s gold fields really yield for them? For Sarah, the journey west presents her with a turning point. She discovers that “We not only can do what we have to do, we can do what we decide to do.”
For California’s Gold is ultimately the story of everyone who took part in the “westering” of America. It is the story of the loss of innocence and the sacrifices made to attain a vision. It is about the changing roles for women occasioned by the westward movement. It is about rebirth in a new land and overcoming the fears left over from the old one. JoAnn Levy joins the roster of distinguished women authors in the Women’s West Series with this absorbing, multi-layered novel, and presents a historically accurate account of the female forty-niner’s experience. I highly recommend reading For California’s Gold.