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After the Gold Rush

, 328 pages

4 halftones, 5 line drawings

May 2009



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After the Gold Rush

Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley

"It is a glorious country," exclaimed Stephen J. Field, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, upon arriving in California in 1849. Field's pronouncement was more than just an expression of exuberance. For an electrifying moment, he and another 100,000 hopeful gold miners found themselves face-to-face with something commensurate to their capacity to dream. Most failed to hit pay dirt in gold. Thereafter, one illustrative group of them struggled to make a living in wheat, livestock, and fruit along Putah Creek in the lower Sacramento Valley. Like Field, they never forgot that first "glorious" moment in California when anything seemed possible.

In After the Gold Rush, David Vaught examines the hard-luck miners-turned-farmers—the Pierces, Greenes, Montgomerys, Careys, and others—who refused to admit a second failure, faced flood and drought, endured monumental disputes and confusion over land policy, and struggled to come to grips with the vagaries of local, national, and world markets.

Their dramatic story exposes the underside of the American dream and the haunting consequences of trying to strike it rich.

David Vaught is a professor of history at Texas A&M University. He is the author of Cultivating California: Growers, Specialty Crops, and Labor, 1875–1920, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"I was delighted, even slightly overwhelmed, by the extraordinary scholarship and elegant writing of this book. Because Vaught writes so well, his study reads like a novel in its rich detail and narrative pace. It offers us a unique insight into the environmental history of the Sacramento Valley, banking and credit in California in the mid-nineteenth century, the entrepreneurial spirit of the times, community on the California frontier, the legal culture of the times, and a number of other important topics. It will appeal to scholars of American history, of American social and agricultural history, of the newly developing field of American business history, and Californianists of every sort."

"Tells a powerful story that merits greater attention."

"In this work on California's agricultural history, Vaught also provides a social history of the development of the Putah Creek region in the wake of the California gold rush... Libraries with collections forcusing on California, the Pacific slope, the western US, and agricultural history will want this book."

"An excellent history of farming in the Sacramento Valley in the late nineteenth century."

"Vaught tells a riveting story of two generations of farmers who 'committed themselves not only to the market but to community life as well.' He argues that these twin commitments, born of their failures in the gold fields, were an essential part of the culture of American capitalism that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century."

"A rich account of a rural world that has been overlooked by historians, and it is an important addition to recent work on rural life that has, to date, focused exclusively on the Midwest... very accessible to general and specialist readers alike."

"Useful for those seeking to understand the relationship between California's gold rush and its agricultural communities."

"Vaught set himself the goal of writing a 'new' rural history of California, examining the state's wheat farmers in their social and cultural contexts. In After the Gold Rush, he achieves his goal admirably."

"An agricultural history that weaves together an unpredictable creek, a fluctuating market, and the perseverance of the American Dream."

"Ambitious, richly detailed."

"A detailed and focused study that advances our understanding of nineteenth-century California rural history."

"In providing such a rich story within a unique context, After the Gold Rush does for Putah Creek what John Mack Faragher did for Sugar Creek and similarly will stand as an insightful and model work for years to come."

"Vaught has written an informative and very readable narrative study."

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