California Midwinter Fair of 1894: ’49 Mining Camp glorifies Gold Rush Fantasies

Historical Essay

by Barbara Berglund

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The ’49 Mining Camp with the Rest for the Weary Hotel and Restaurant on the left. Visitors, including elite businessmen and journalists, partook of flapjacks, beans, and bad manners here in order to capture the experience of the wild west.

Photo: I. W. Taber, photographer. Souvenir of the California Midwinter International Exposition 1894, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Existing literally and symbolically outside of the Orientalist theme of Sunset City, the ’49 Mining Camp was one of the most popular exhibits at the Midwinter Fair. While Sunset City’s Orientalist architecture expressed dreams of a future filled with imperial grandeur grounded in white racial dominance, the ’49 Mining Camp transformed the history of the disordered gold rush years into a nostalgic fantasy of a racially and economically simpler past.(23) The concession sought to create a replica of a mining camp against a “well constructed and artistically painted” panorama of Mount Shasta. It featured a gambling saloon, hotel, restaurant, “charming senoritas” dancing the fandango, old cabins literally hauled down from the Gold Country, stagecoach rides, periodic gunfights, and a frontier press—the Midwinter Appeal and Journal of ’49—to name just a few of its attractions. The ’49 Mining Camp sat at the far western end of the exposition grounds at the base of Strawberry Hill. Occupying 150,000 square feet, it was the largest single concession at the fair. To reach it, visitors could either walk by way of North Drive, or “if desiring to enter in the proper pioneer frame of mind,” they could travel by a stagecoach—purportedly the same one ridden in by Horace Greeley on his visit to the West—which took hourly trips from the Administration Building.(24)

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Stagecoach at the ’49 Mining Camp.

Photo: Private collector, via, wnp15.124

A group of journalists and entertainment entrepreneurs created the ’49 Mining Camp. A mining mogul provided most of its financing. Together, these men, along with a few other investors, formed an incorporated company “to establish the concession on business principles.” One of the journalists was Sam Davis, the editor of the Carson, Nevada, Appeal. His participation explained both the name and the existence of the camp’s frontier press. The “well known theatrical manager and newspaper man” James H. Love, Esq., served as the ’49 Mining Camp’s manager and another journalist, Eugene Hahn, assumed the duties of assistant manager and press agent. The president of the ’49 Mining Camp was Frank McLaughlin, a noted engineer who made “a fortune” pioneering the development of hydraulic mining techniques. He entered into the ’49 Mining Camp project “with his whole heart and soul, and with the full power of his purse.”(25)

At the ’49 Mining Camp, promoters, performers, and visitors mobilized the refrain from a popular song—“The days of old, / The days of gold, / The days of ’49”—as a memorable, catchy slogan. These lines, taken from The Days of ’49, published by E. Zimmer in 1876, were repeated in association with the ’49 Mining Camp in numerous guidebooks, souvenirs, and newspaper articles. “A jolly lot of seasoned miners and gentlemen of fortune in woolen shirts and slouch hats crowded the swaying coach inside and out,” wrote one journalist in his description of the ’49 Mining Camp. “There was an adventurer with a banjo on the coach top, and whenever the procession halted he struck up a ditty on ‘the days of old and the days of gold, the days of ’49.’ Miners, gamblers, and the laughing throng joined in the chorus.” The song looked back with longing to the gold rush years. It was narrated by an old pioneer, Tom Moore, who mourned the loss of that earlier time: “And I often grieve and pine, /” he confessed, “For the days of old, the days of gold, / The days of ’49.” The song took the listener through his fond memories. Part of what “old Tom Moore” missed from his younger days were his “comrades . . . a saucy set” who were rough but also “staunch and brave, as true as steel.” Among the men he identified were the typical gold rush figures: gamblers, miners, and hard drinkers. “There was Kentuck Bill, one of the boys, / Who was always in for a game” and “New York Jake, the butcher boy, / So fond of getting tight.” But another part of what Tom Moore lamented were social changes that he believed threatened both the American nation and his place in it as a white man. He made his sentiments clear in the song’s final verse:

Since that time how things have changed In this land of liberty.

Darkies didn’t vote nor plead in court Nor rule this country;
But the Chinese question, the worst of all, In those days did not shine,

For the country was right and the boys all white. In the days of ’49.”(26)

On February 17, 1894, The Midwinter Appeal and Journal of Forty-nine published an illustration that echoed the views expressed by Tom Moore in “The Days of ’49.” It featured Chinese miners working side-by-side with what looked like an Anglo miner. The Chinese appeared to have quite a bit of gold and a more sophisticated sifting system while the white miner panned for gold without, it seemed, much luck. The caption read: “Before Dennis Kearney’s time.” In the late 1870s, Dennis Kearney, a leader of the Workingman’s Party, fomented support for violence against San Francisco’s Chinese, and advocated policies prohibiting Chinese immigration. This illustration and its caption symbolized the belief held by some whites that before immigration restriction and restrictive mining laws, Chinese miners were getting more than their fair share. It also is suggestive of ways in which Chinese immigrants disrupted the nostalgic image of California as a white Jacksonian’s paradise. The Chinese enjoyed, like other ’49ers, a brief period in the earliest days of the gold rush in which it was possible for them to profitably work for themselves. But many also quickly and quite visibly became wage workers in the increasingly industrial enterprises of mining and railroad building in the West. In this capacity, the Chinese came to symbolize industrial capitalism—a system antithetical to an economy of small producers—and provided an easy scapegoat for what many men like Kearney believed they had lost.(27)

In a similar vein but with a different target, the Midwinter Appeal, in one of its typical pieces in which one of San Francisco’s preeminent capitalists, sugar magnate Claus Spreckels, was spoofed as a Wild West Sheriff, reported that “Deputy Sheriff Spreckels went into Buckskin’s saloon last evening and attempted to arrest Johnny Smoker while he was killing a Mexican.” This action was not greeted with popular approval. Instead, the sheriff “was promptly thrown out and several citizens are talking of a mass meeting to ask him to resign his office.” The problem, according to the Midwinter Appeal, was that Sheriff Spreckels had “a large idea of his duties, and when he enters a saloon without being invited and interferes with an American who is putting the quietus on a greaser it’s time to inquire where our boasted land of freedom is tilting to.” Here the category of American excluded people of Mexican descent and freedom meant white men’s ability to guard their position atop the racial hierarchy without interference and with violent means if necessary. On one hand, in its rebuke of the sheriff, this historical vignette spoke nostalgically about non-elite whites’ entitlement to democratic, egalitarian processes—even those that veered toward the extreme of vigilante justice. On the other, given the fact that the local citizenry meted out punishment to the sheriff for attempting to protect “a Mexican,” this story, like Tom Moore’s song, promoted the notion of a “herrenvolk democracy”—a society born out of fear from labor competition from below and loss of control from above in which democracy prevails for the dominant racial group while tyranny and inequality are the order of the day for subordinate groups.(28)

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“Hold up” of the ’49 stage. The ’49 Mining Camp was one of the most popular exhibits at the Midwinter Fair. Its stagecoach was one of the features noted for making visitors feel that they had traveled fifty years back in time.

Photo: I. W. Taber, photographer. Souvenir of the California Midwinter International Exposition 1894, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

As these examples reveal, the basic story about the origins of the state of California that the ’49 Mining Camp told is a familiar one. The primary purpose of the ’49 Mining Camp was to provide profitable amusement. In conjunction with that, however, it was also in the business of proffering potent lessons about history, memory, and identity. At its core, the version of history presented in the ’49 Mining Camp took the form of a creation myth that told a story about the origins of the state of California and its inhabitants that was as much about the present and the future as it was about the past. This creation myth was constructed through two distinct yet interwoven and overlapping stories. The first was a tale of nostalgia for a lost white republic that contained within it lessons about race relations in the West. The second was a story that celebrated the ideals of the independent, self-made man and rugged masculinity in the wake of the increasing dominance of bureaucracy and corporations in everyday life. Thus, although the fair as a whole was a celebration of the coming of civilization to the American West that contrasted San Francisco’s disordered past to its current civilized state as an urban, industrial metropolis, the ’49 Mining Camp looked back with longing to a romanticized notion of a less civilized time in California’s history to construct meaningful identities for the present.

At the heart of this creation myth were the hardy pioneer miners, generally represented as young, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men. The majority, as the Midwinter Fair’s Official Guide told its readers, were “possessed of neither astonishing virtues or astonishing vices; they were simply honest, earnest men who in their own strong, rough way gradually curbed the vicious propensities of the criminal minority, forced law and order out of the turbulent chaos, and laid the foundations of the future State.” These men were part of a larger contingent of nineteenth-century American expansionism embodied in sturdy, purified yeomanry spreading out over the accessible, undeveloped land of the frontier, supplanting savagery with civilization and blazing a fresh trail for egalitarian democracy and individual freedom along the way. One of the most coherent expressions of this ideology had occurred less than a year before at the Columbian Exposition. It was there that Frederick Jackson Turner articulated his theory of the formative role of the Western frontier on America’s character and development and effectively marked this version of its history as integral to America’s national identity.(29)

Despite the complicated multicultural terrain of many actual mining camps, this exhibit of California’s founding moment made the white, American conquerors—otherwise known as pioneers—the central actors in its triumphal, progressive story. Other racial groups, when included, were relegated to the margins. This tactic of inclusion at the margins resonated in both the past and the present because it provided a way to incorporate yet simultaneously subordinate nonwhite groups in the historical record and, by extension, in California society. This story about California’s origins offered solace to white Americans looking for order in the face of the racialized anxieties of the 1890s. Although the conquest of the Californios, Indian genocide, and Chinese exclusion were already history, in the 1890s issues of mixture and inclusion remained fractious in San Francisco—a city with the largest proportion of foreign-born residents in the United States.(30)

Although the Midwinter Appeal did not accord people of Mexican descent a place in the American body politic, an appropriated version of Mexican culture lived on in the dance hall—a telling indicator of the symbolic centrality of socially peripheral, racially subordinate groups to the ’49 Mining Camp’s representational goals.(31) The dance hall was a place, for both the miner of yore and the fair-going spectator of the 1890s, where gender and race came together in powerful ways. A visit to the dance hall, according to the Monarch Souvenir, provided an opportunity for “the unhappy lot of the argonautic goldseekers” to have some much-needed fun, providing “a ray of bright sunshine athwart the gloom of an existence devoted to hard work, flapjacks, beans and bacon.” Its promotional literature was laden with the language of conquest and dominance. The Official Guide feminized and infantilized Mexicans as “dark-eyed, soft-voiced children of the South” and contrasted them to “a tribe of men only, bearded, rough of speech and manner, mighty in strength and endurance.” A large part of the appeal and popularity of the dance hall revolved around the prospect of the contact with “charming senoritas.” The female dancers at the ’49 Mining Camp allowed white American men to partake of an exoticized sensuality and to indulge in fantasies of more “primitive” styles of masculinity. Such fantasies permitted white men to both transgress the constraints of allowable expression of middle-class masculinity and to reaffirm their own sense of gender and racial superiority. Some of the dancers, however, were men. Descriptions such as—“The pretty Spaniards, girls and men, were at the prettiest part of one of their graceful dances”—in which men were described as pretty and thus feminized bolstered the sense of superior masculinity of the white male spectators. In keeping with the nostalgic thread present in Tom Moore’s song, here again the ’49 Mining Camp represented a thoroughly conquered California in which white men’s dominant racial position was unquestionably secure.(32)

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The dance hall at the ’49 Mining Camp. Here, in the dancing of the fandango, argonauts mingled with charming señoritas, and an appropriated, racialized version of Mexican culture thrived.

Photo: I. W. Taber, photographer. Souvenir of the California Midwinter International Exposition 1894, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Although Native Americans were marginal to the performance of the white man’s West enacted at the ’49 Mining Camp—included only as local color or as a component of the landscape—they were featured at two concessions located on the same side of the fairgrounds approximately the equivalent of a city block away. “One of these,” the Official History explained, “was an encampment of Sioux Indians, where characteristic dances were given every day and evening.” The other “was at the Arizona Indian Village, where a company of Yaqui Indians lived in huts similar to those they occupy at home, and made baskets and pottery.” At the Sioux Village, which had also been exhibited at the Chicago Fair, a report in the Chronicle disclosed that the Native Americans “live just as they do in their native wilds where Government rations are given out.” If one got to the fair early enough, the account continued, one could “gather in the rear of the Southern California Building and watch the whole tribe garnering in oranges which went wrong in the citrus display the night before.” Descriptions of the Arizona Indian Village tended to stress its inhabitants’ barbarism, particularly evident in the descriptions of their dancing and the assumptions made about their gender relations that, according to observers, positioned women as drudges and men as loafers. “Three Indians sit cross-legged inside the dance ring,” an article in the Overland Monthly related, “their rude voices keeping time to the rubbing together of sticks and drumming on gourds . . . the barbaric play ends with . . . a general hubbub of cries and drumming.” In general, when Native Americans were presented as active, their activities were scripted by negative stereotypes: dependent, barbaric, and drunk. When they served as part of the landscape or local color, Native Americans were represented as both passive and pacified, no longer part of the “wild” West. Tellingly, such representations were in keeping with the recent end of Native American resistance in the West, symbolized by the horrific massacre of Sioux men, women, and children by the U.S. Army four years earlier at Wounded Knee. Although these kinds of ethnographic representations of Native Americans obscured this recent history, they nevertheless succeeded in reinforcing the image of domesticated, dependent Native Americans that spoke to the kind of subordinate status that government policies frequently now relegated them.(33)

While the first part of the story of California’s origins represented by the ’49 Mining Camp offered lessons about race relations in the West told through the lens of nostalgia for a lost white republic, the second component told a story that celebrated the ideals of the self-made man and independent, rugged masculinity. At first glance, these two gender identities might appear to be a study in contrasts: the hard-scrabble life of pioneer miner as the epitome of independent, rugged masculinity versus the economic and political success and elite social standing that marked the self-made man. At the ’49 Mining Camp, however, the two were interrelated. Independence and rugged masculinity were represented as preconditions for self-made manhood and self-made manhood often had its roots in independent, rugged masculinity. These gender identities, moreover, undergirded the racial ideology at the heart of the other strand of the ’49 Mining Camp’s creation myth—the nostalgia for a lost white republic. Reinvigorated for the 1890s, they continued to link white male power to white racial superiority. In addition, in the figure of the pioneer miner, Americans found a masculine image that was especially appealing in the wake of the increasing dominance of wage work, bureaucracies, and corporations—all of which could easily lead to a sense of compromised independence in everyday life.(34)

In the 1890s, middle-class Americans—especially those who were white and male—began to react against the constraints of both Victorian and industrial America: time discipline, carefully controlled emotions, parlor culture, urban living, and sexual restraint. One outcome of this reaction was the development of a new gender ideology—a rugged masculinity oriented around the ideal of the “strenuous life.” This was set in contrast to what some viewed as the artificiality and effeteness of a different gender ideology—manliness— that had held sway since mid-century. Manliness was associated with possession of a solid character and exercising masterful control over one’s interior and exterior self. The emergence of rugged masculinity was accompanied by an increased interest in sports and wilderness experiences; the elevation of science, business, and realism; and a desire for “authentic” experiences that sometimes drew upon pre-modern symbols such as the medieval craftsman, warrior, and saint. Theodore Roosevelt—the imperialist, capitalist, cowboy, athlete, and politician who feared “race suicide”—became the embodiment of this new construction of powerful white masculinity via the strenuous life.(35) Displays at the ’49 Mining Camp venerated the independent, rugged masculinity of the heroic pioneer miner. Its exhibits sought to capture “the rough-and-ready scenes when men were reckless and daring.” Visitors to the office of the Midwinter Appeal and the Journal of ’49 were “invited to come into the sanctum, make free use of our corncob pipe, spit on the floor, and utilize the copy hook as they see fit.” “If the gatekeeper gives you any palaver,” they were told, “knock him down and walk in.” At the barbershop customers could “indulge their inclination or have their whiskers either shot off or shaved off,” and the saloons were “fitted up as saloons were when men were as likely to shoot the bartender as to take a drink.” Even the food was tough. “After looking at the food of the ancients,” wrote one account, “one need be told no more that the Argonauts were hardy people; the flapjacks show it.”(36)

These miners were not only ruggedly masculine, they were also independent—free from wage work, bureaucracy, and the corporation. By choosing to represent a mining camp in the earliest days of the gold rush, the ’49 Mining Camp focused its exhibit of life in the diggings on the very short span of time in which placer rather than hydraulic mining predominated. The exhibit proudly showcased “a placer mine showing the method of washing gold from gravel with sluice boxes, rockers, and all the primitive paraphernalia of the early prospector . . . in full operation.” During the placer mining period, men could and did work independently, as the image of the lone miner with pan, pick, and shovel would suggest. For many of the men who flocked to California after gold was found at Sutter’s Mill, mining offered a chance to return to an economy of small producers. It presented an opportunity to escape wage work in the industrial Northeast or farm work on the prairie. The halcyon days of placer mining, however, were quickly superseded by hydraulic mining, which came with a very different set of relations of production. Using the force of water to get at the gold deposits that the pan, pick, and shovel method could not reach, hydraulic mining required a large amount of start-up capital and large numbers of wage workers. It also concentrated the profits in the hands of the few and wreaked havoc on the natural environment. Ironically, the capital behind the representation of placer mining at the ’49 Mining Camp came from Frank McLaughlin, renowned for developing the techniques of hydraulic mining on the Feather River.(37)

The ’49 Mining Camp also mobilized the rugged masculine histories of numerous self-made men to challenge the commonplace associations of wealth and elite status with effeminacy and overcivilization. As these men had become increasingly successful—often amassing fortunes, political power, and social position—they also became increasingly removed from their roots in rugged masculinity. By emphasizing rugged pasts of these elites, the rightness and desirability of their economic, political, and social position—increasingly challenged not only by their effeteness but also by their capitalistic excesses—could be reaffirmed. One way rugged masculinity and self-made manhood were idealized and linked was through the displays of a number of cabins which “had actually been occupied in those ‘days of gold’” by men “who, years ago, were unknown and poor, but who to-day are rich and powerful from their success in the mines.” One was the cabin John W. Mackay had used “for six years as a home at Allegheny, Sierra County, in his humble mining days” long “before he became a bonanza king.” Another cabin was that in which the U.S. senator from California, George C. Perkins, had been able “to make himself comfortable nearly forty years before he represented the State at Washington.” The cabin of Major Downie, the founder of Downieville, whose name, one account declared, was “familiar in every mining camp on the Pacific Coast from the lower California line to Bering Strait” stood “in a recess in the hillside.” The ’49 Mining Camp also exhibited the cabins of some other men who had become “more than locally prominent”—Senator James G. Fair, Senator J. P. Jones of Nevada, Alvinza Hayward, and the early homes of writers Mark Twain and Bret Harte and John W. Marshall, the discoverer of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Through these displays, the ’49 Mining Camp provided a way for these elites to frame their biographies within California’s creation myth.(38)

The ’49 Mining Camp also functioned as a playground for numerous prominent men to indulge in fantasies of participation in the mythic Wild West. The Midwinter Appeal and the Journal of ’49 filled its pages with jovial yet fantastic spoofs on their supposed frontier antics. For example, not only did the paper report on Claus Spreckels as a racially misguided sugar magnate, it also reported that James G. Fair was the new Presbyterian minister at Jackass Hill, miner John Mackay wandered into Grizzly Gulch “half starved” and “dead broke,” and “Adolph Sutro, a boy from Angel’s Camp was in town yesterday on a big jag with Billy Sharon, one of the boys from Bobtail Canyon.” In reality, James G. Fair was a railroad tycoon and a Comstock Lode millionaire. John Mackay was also a Comstock Lode millionaire. William Sharon was a banker, the owner of the Palace Hotel, and the U.S. senator from Nevada. Adolph Sutro was a mining engineer on the Comstock Lode who built Sutro baths in 1893 and would be elected mayor of San Francisco later in 1894.(39)

Self-made men—many of them the epitome of corporate, elite manhood—also readily partook of the ’49 Mining Camp exhibit. At one o’clock on the exhibit’s opening day, Director General de Young, the members of the Executive Committee, and a few invited guests boarded the old stagecoach at the Administration Building. “There was little ceremony about it,” the Chronicle reported, “as they have none in connection with the camp. The driver cracked his whip and the coach was off to the camp. It rumbled down the street and stopped at the dance hall.” In early February, the Chronicle reported another visit: “Notice having been given that the pack train had got in, forty-two days from ’Frisco, and that there was plenty of grub in the camp, the Director General, the executive committee and members of the press responded yesterday to an invitation to take lunch with Old Man Peakes at the Forty-nine Mining Camp.” They dined at the Rest for the Weary Hotel, where “Papa Peakes and his assistants dispensed beans and other things.” “Everything connected with the banquet,” the reporter assured his readers, “was conducted in the spirit which prevailed in the days of ’49.” Interestingly, much of what passed for authenticity involved flagrant disregard for nineteenth-century middle-class notions of proper etiquette and good manners—to some, surefire markers of feminization and overcivilization. “The guests kept their hats on at table and the waiters wore pistols with which to resent criticisms on the menu. Brown paper served as table-cloths and all the plate and china was of tin”.(40)

A reporter for the Chronicle made clear the didactic intent of these displays. “The child of an investigating mind,” he wrote, “will take much interest in the old cabins of the men who, since they lived in them, have become famous.” He explained that “these gentlemen attended strictly to business when they went to sleep forty years ago” and “did not care whether the pillow had been aired or the mattress had been turned.” Instead, “they went right to off to sleep, as soon as they laid down.” The result, he told readers, was that “to-day they are rich and famous.” The reporter further advised good conduct and a little endurance at home as a recipe for prosperity in the future: “Let little boys learn a moral from this and go to sleep just as soon as they get into bed. If they do, they will live long and prosper. There can be no hope, though, for the boy or girl who rolls around and always wants a drink of water. The Argonauts never asked for water. See the result—most of them are rich to-day and able to vote at the annual election of the Society of California Pioneers.”(41)

While the didacticism presented above may appear a little silly, children— “the rising generations of the West”—were some of the primary consumers of the vision of social order served up at the ’49 Mining Camp. The Midwinter Fair hosted a number of Children’s Days on which youngsters were admitted without charge. On February 2, 1894, the Examiner reported, “Good news from the ’49 Mining Camp. They cannot do enough for the children there! They were the first to throw open their concession to the children and they seem to have spent every minute since trying to think up new kinds of fun.” On one such special day at the ’49 Mining Camp, children were given “a bag of candy and an orange apiece.” In late March, “the sixty girls of the Maria Kip Orphanage were special guests of the Forty-nine Mining Camp.” They “were conveyed to the Fair Grounds and back in the old-fashioned coaches” that were a “feature of the camp” and while there, a “nice repast was spread for them in the big private dining room of the manager.” Moreover, it was the belief of one journalist that: “A child can learn more about the . . . magnificent life of the Argonauts by visiting this camp than his father, provided he is a pioneer, would ever tell him.” In many respects, the ’49 Mining Camp spoke for itself, but on these special days, children and the adults that accompanied them were “shown around by guides who will tell the ‘tales of old, the days of gold, the days of ’49.’ ”(42)

Another audience viewed as particularly suited to visit the ’49 Mining Camp were the old pioneer miners themselves. “For the old pioneer who spent a good portion of his life in just such a scene as this depicts, the camp will arouse stirring memories,” declared the Official Guide. “It is the Mecca toward which every man who has at any time in his life been engaged in the seductive occupation of gold-mining turns his footsteps,” announced Taliesin Evans’s guide to the fair. With even greater clarity of the kind of memories the ’49 Mining Camp sought to evoke, it continued, “Here, the visitor finds himself in reality transported to a scene so realistic that, if he has at any time mined, he lives over again the experiences of the free and independent life of the past, all its trials and triumphs, all its hopes and pleasures being arrayed before his mental vision.”(43)

Visitors from the East or from abroad were also target audiences of the ’49 Mining Camp. One of the camp’s self-proclaimed goals was “to show visitors from the East and elsewhere how the hardy California miner worked and lived.” The managers of the ’49 Mining Camp hosted out-of-town journalists, many of them from Chicago, and arranged special festivities for their benefit. “The life of the camp was at its height when the guests of the day arrived in the old stage coach,” one account reported. “The keno game was in progress and the dance hall presented its customary scene of rough gayety, with its pretty girls, miners, gamblers, and Spaniards all in the hearty enjoyment of the fandango. . . . The newspapermen enjoyed it all immensely. It was all new and strange to them.”(44) A writer for the Chronicle delineated at length the kind of coverage the ’49 Mining Camp was getting across the country and around the world:

The leading dailies, weeklies and monthly magazines in every country have for months past published extensive and profusely illustrated accounts of the quaint, unique, and realistic representations of early life in the mines to be found in the Midwinter Fair’s Forty-nine Mining Camp. Harper’s Weekly, Frank Leslie’s, the New York Sun, the New York Herald, the Chicago Record, the Chicago Herald, and papers of Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Louis, Omaha, Philadelphia and of nearly every other Eastern city of note have printed columns after columns about the Forty-nine Mining Camp, and the English, French and German exchanges, in mentioning the Midwinter Fair, never fail to speak of this special feature. To a Californian, this universal approval of a novel enterprise is more than a passing significance. It shows the great and mighty interest the people abroad take in the land of gold, immortalized by Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Joaquin Miller and many others.(45)

In the literature generated to promote and commemorate the Midwinter Fair, the ’49 Mining Camp was repeatedly praised for faithfully and literally capturing historical reality. Visitors, informed the Monarch Souvenir, “see presented the real life as it was in the first days of gold fever, and an exact reproduction of the surroundings of a pioneer mining camp.” “The picture will be realistic to the last degree,” the Chronicle assured its readers, “The life of almost fifty years ago will be lived again.”(46) This notion of reconstituted reality persisted even as promotional material explicitly acknowledged that the exhibit was shaping its representation of history to mesh with literary fiction. Like the writer for the Chronicle quoted above, the Official Guide blatantly told its readers that the exhibition would be of particular interest to those “who have in imagination lost themselves in the Sierras with Bret Harte, crossed the Plains withJoaquin Miller or roughed it on the Comstock with Mark Twain.”(47)

Joaquin Miller, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain were some of the most popular nineteenth-century myth-makers of the American West. Their stories— brought to life by the ’49 Mining Camp—told the familiar tale of California’s origins that revolved around nostalgia for a lost white republic and independent, rugged masculinity.(48) As the popularity of the ’49 Mining Camp exhibit attested, its version of history—that echoed the mythological fiction of Miller, Harte, and Twain—possessed the cultural power it did because it represented the “reality” of a past that had incredible resonance in the present. In fact, in the 1890s, the relevance of this history had begun to take on a new intensity. It was during this decade that children of California pioneers—often organized in chapters of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, often having grown up on the work of Twain, Harte, and Miller, and often fearing that their forebears’ history would be lost as the remaining material artifacts disappeared with time—began serious efforts to both revisit and preserve places associated with the California Gold Rush.(49)


23. Although Susan Johnson has argued that communities of color frequently kept alive counter-hegemonic memories and histories of the gold rush period, the storytellers who crafted the ’49 Mining Camp chose to perpetuate a strain of what came to be the culturally dominant narrative—tailored to the concerns of the 1890s—that operated in the interests of white, often elite, males. As Johnson asserts, “After the decline of California’s surface diggings in the 1850s, the Gold Rush increasingly came to be remembered as the historical property of Anglo Americans, especially Anglo American men.” See Susan Lee Johnson, Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 11.
24. For testimonials to the ’49 Mining Camp’s popularity, see Official History, 152; and California Midwinter Exposition Illustrated, npn. Mention of “charming senoritas,” can be found in Evans, All about the Midwinter Fair, 2nd. ed., 155–161. Data about the size and the location of the ’49 Mining Camp comes from Evans, All about the Midwinter Fair, 1st ed.; Official Guide, 106; and Chronicle, November 24, 1893. In 1859, the newspaper editor and reformer Horace Greeley traveled overland to California, sending dispatches back to his paper, the New York Tribune, in support of a railroad to the Pacific. The words “go West, young man” are often attributed to him but were actually written by an Indiana editor, John Soule. Greeley, however, was a staunch proponent of organized settlement and did express many similarly phrased versions of this sentiment.
25. The incorporation of the ’49 Mining Camp Company is mentioned in the Chronicle, November 24, 1893. The California Midwinter Exposition Illustrated, npn, contains information about the ’49 Mining Camp Company’s officers and managers.
26. The description of men at the ’49 Mining Camp singing the “Days of ’49” is from the Examiner, January 28, 1894. Robert G. Lee’s work on racialization and popular songs called my attention to the significance of the recurrence of this tune. See Orientals, 50. For some examples of its repetition see Lee, Monarch Souvenir of Sunset City, npn; Official Guide, 106 –107; California Midwinter Exposition Illustrated, npn; San Francisco Examiner, January 6, 1894; Examiner, January 28, 1894; and Chronicle, March 25, 1894. Full text of the lyrics to The Days of ’49 can be found in Richard E. Lingenfelter, comp, Songs of the American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 558 –559.
27. Midwinter Appeal and the Journal of ’49, February 17, 1894. As Lee has shown, “In the 1850s, California was constructed in the popular mind as a Jacksonian community of independent small producers, miners, and pioneers. These men imagined California as a place where a lost American organic community could be reconstructed and their own identities remade.” See Lee, Orientals, 15–31. See also Alexander Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 116 –121.
28. Midwinter Appeal and the Journal of ’49, January 7, 1894. The concept of herrenvolk democracy is drawn from George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914 (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 61. Fredrickson draws upon the ideas of Pierre L. van den Berghe, Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective (New York: Wiley, 1967), 17–18. See also Lee, Orientals, 47.
29. Official Guide, 16 –17. See also Chronicle, January 15, 1894; Chronicle, January 30, 1894; Chronicle, January 14, 1894; Examiner, January 28, 1894. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Proceedings of the Forty-First Meeting of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin, 1894), 79–112. Three important correctives to this history of gold rush society that actively grapple with and disclose its diversity and complexity are Johnson, Roaring Camp; Albert L. Hurtado, Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999); and Malcolm J. Rohrbough, Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
30. Curtis Hinsely has aptly termed this strategy “representation containment.” See Curtis Hinsely, “Strolling through the Colonies,” in Michael P. Sternberg, ed., Walter Benjamin and the Demands of History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996) 119–140.
31. See Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986). As they point out, “The low-Other is despised and denied at the level of political organization and social being whilst it is instrumentally constitutive of the shared imaginary repertoires of the dominant culture,” 5–6.
32. Evans, All about the Midwinter Fair, 2nd ed., 155–161; Monarch Souvenir of Sunset City, npn; and Official Guide, 16 –17. The ways in which white middle-class men of the late nineteenth century projected themselves into more “primitive” styles of masculinity has been developed by Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, and E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993). Male dancers were described in the Examiner, January 15, 1894. While the dancers were understood to be Mexican or Spanish—the two terms were used interchangeably—it is likely that some of them were not what they appeared to be. Some names, like Miss Mamie Davidson, Señorita Amalia Monroy, Señor Edward Abrams, and Señorita Irene Hubbard are suggestive of racial masquerading and/or mixed-race descent. The names of some of the other dancers were less ambiguous: Señorita Carmen Martinez, Jose Vincent, Señorita Christina Lopez, and Francisco G. Valenzuela. It is also possible that all of these names were stage names and thus connoted nothing other than the choice of the performer. The names of performers were found in the Chronicle, January 14, 1894.
33. Official History, 162; Ninetta Eames, “The Wild and Woolly at the Fair,” Overland Monthly, 2nd ser., 23 (April 1894): 356 –373. For evidence of Native Americans as local color and landscape, see Official Guide, 106 –107; Call, November 24, 1893.
34. Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 20 –22.
35. See Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 1–44, 170 –215; John Higham, “The Reorientation of American Culture in the 1890s,” in John Weiss, ed., The Origins of Modern Consciousness (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965); Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); Warren I. Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984); Peter Filene, Him/Her/Self: Gender Identities in Modern America, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). While the migrants to the gold fields came from a variety of areas inside and outside the nation, within San Francisco the nascent elite class was dominated by already middle-class if not elite migrants from the East, especially from eastern cities like New York and Boston. See Peter R. Decker, Fortunes and Failures: White-Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978).
36. Chronicle, January 14, 1894; Chronicle, November 24, 1893; and March 25, 1894. See also Examiner, January 28, 1894.
37. Official Guide, 106 –107. Mining’s relationship to an economy of small producers is further developed by Lee, Orientals, 19. Details about Frank McLaughlin can be found in California Midwinter Exposition Illustrated, npn. 38. Official History, 153, and Chronicle, January 8, 1894. Information on John W. Mackay, George C. Perkins, and Major Downie from Evans, All about the Midwinter Fair, 2nd ed., 155–161, and Official History, 153. As Peter Filene has pointed out, biographies in popular magazines in the 1890s frequently positioned businessmen as Napoleonic heroes embodying the militarism, physicality, and individualism of the “strenuous life.” See Filene, Him/Her/Self, 76.
39. Midwinter Appeal and the Journal of ’49, January 17, 1894.
40. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
41. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
42. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
43. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
44. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
45. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
46. Chronicle, January 15, 1894, and February 4, 1894.
47. Official Guide, 106 –107; Chronicle, April 22, 1894. See also Official Catalogue of the California Midwinter International Exposition, 154.
48. Mark Twain needs little in the way of introduction but Joaquin Miller and Bret Harte are less well known. Joaquin Miller, known as “the poet of the Sierras,” migrated to Oregon from Ohio when he was an adolescent. He adopted his name from the legendary California bandit, Joaquin Murietta, and became a colorful character who dressed in a buckskin coat and red shirt and wore his hair in long, blonde tresses. On his visits to Europe he personified the rugged American West and in fact set the prototype for the “Man of the Wild West” whom Buffalo Bill imitated. As a poet he used embellished episodes from his own life—and sometimes even outright fabricated events—to create and sustain an image of the mythic West. Francis Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, in 1839 and migrated to California at the age of fifteen. In 1868, he became the first editor of the Overland Monthly and for it he wrote most of his best-known frontier literature and local color stories although he only had limited experiences in gold rush mining camps.
49. For the development of this trend in preservation, see David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 173–175. Some pioneers also participated in these efforts.


Originally published as chapter 5 “Imagining the City: The California Midwinter International Exposition” in Making San Francisco American: Cultural Frontiers in the Urban West, 1846-1906 by Barbara Berglund (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence KS 2007)

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