Sunday, August 12, 2012

California Research Adventure: Days 11-13

Day 11:

Woke up at the Saga Motor Hotel in Pasadena, California. I grabbed one last complimentary breakfast of coffee, orange juice, and an English muffin with jam, and then my friend came by the Saga to pick me up in his truck.

It was a beautiful, hot (third day of near-100° heat), sunny Southern California morning. We got on I-5 and began our two-hour journey to San Diego. To think that I had started my journey in Berkeley, traveled nearly as far into the Sierra mountains as Reno, Nevada, made my way down to L.A., and now here I was, for the first time in my life, traveling south of L.A. towards the Mexican border.

On the way down I primed myself for San Diego's difference. It is the eighth largest city in the United States, but otherwise has little in common with New York. It is a city with a large U.S. Navy presence, and a long U.S. naval history. The political climate here tends to be, let's say, a bit more conservative than Berkeley. It is also a hotbed of Protestant evangelicalism, strangely located atop this city's unique status as site of the original Spanish Catholic mission in California, way back in the 18th century.

I had thought L.A. and San Diego were one and the same, blending together, but they do not really blend. After a stretch of rural So Cal nature, we approached San Diego's ultra-modern skyline. It looks like the cities I have seen in the People's Republic of China, where every skyscraper is no more than ten years old. It is — I'll just say it — an ugly skyline for a generally ugly — or at least dull — city.

But I'm staying in the coolest quarter of the uncool city, the Gaslamp District. My accommodations for the next three days is the HI-San Diego hostel on Market Street. Located in an old building, my room is on the third floor, facing an inner courtyard. During the day the room fills with light. This, of course, reminds me of Spanish-style housing — much of which we recently saw in Peru — where the finest colonial homes are built like donuts, with a gaping hole in the middle — a courtyard — that bathes the surrounding rooms with natural light.

 My lovely room at the HI-San Diego hostel in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego.

But I'm jumping ahead. Because we arrived in San Diego at 11AM, but my room would not be available for check-in until 3, so I had some hours to kill.

My plan — unsurprisingly — was to look for Hawaiian history. On this research adventure I have been so far pretty unsuccessful in locating remnants of 19th-century Hawaiian immigrant history in 21st-century California, but I have found some things. Little mentions of "Kanakas" here and there in museums and at historic sites, plus, of course, all the references to Hawaiian migrant labor I have discovered in the archives at the Bancroft Library and at the Huntington Library. Would I finally find Hawaiʻi's long shadow here in San Diego? I had to find out.

My first stop was the William Heath Davis house museum right around the corner from my hostel in the Gaslamp District. 

The William Heath Davis house museum in the Gaslamp District, San Diego

Apparently people visit this house to learn about the Gaslamp Quarter, and not Davis, but I wanted to learn more about Davis. He's an interesting guy. Born in Hawaiʻi in the 1820s, his father was a ship captain (from New England, I think?) and his mother was the Hawaiian-born daughter of a haole dude involved in the Hawaiian government who had married a Native Hawaiian woman of royal lineage. So Davis was 1/4 Hawaiian.

His Hawaiian-ness has long intrigued me, because I figured it would mean something to him and he would discuss it in his writings. But perhaps identity politics were different back then in the 19th century than they are now. When Davis moved to Mexican Alta California in the 1840s and eventually stayed in California for the remainder of his life, friends (but perhaps not his real friends) got to calling him "Kanaka Bill" — "Kanaka" being a reference to his Hawaiian-ness. My feeling is that Davis didn't care very much for this nickname. It is interesting that in a copy of Davis' memoirs in the New York Public Library, someone has scribbled onto the title page the words "Kanaka Bill" right next to Davis' name. 

What did it mean for people to call him "Kanaka Bill"? Was this a way of framing Davis as racially impure or inferior to "pure whites"? His memoir was published in the 1880s, at a time when white supremacy in California was at a fever pitch — think, for example, of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the role that white working-class anti-Chinese constituents played in bringing about that legislation. Davis' memoir basically claims that he was one of the important "pioneers" of Alta California — in a sense he is claiming an "Americanness" that was never really his (born in Hawaiʻi, he married a Mexican woman — did he become a Mexican citizen? — and only in 1848 was he somewhat forcibly integrated into the United States as a consequence of the Mexican-American War and the U.S. seizure of Alta California). He and his wife — not sure if she was criollo or mestizo — had, like, seven or more kids. I've stopped counting. And think of their identities: part-Spanish, perhaps part-Indio, part-Anglo (Yankee), 1/8 Native Hawaiian. These are complicated people, although it is not clear that they ever thought of themselves as complicated!

Anyway, I was hoping a bit of the Hawaiian would come through at the house museum, but it did not. In fact, Davis never even lived in this house; rather, it was a house he ordered built, but that he himself never lived in. What is important about the house is that it dates from the founding of "New" San Diego circa 1850, and Davis should rightfully be considered one of the "founding fathers" of this important settlement. As I will discuss shortly, the town of San Diego — that is, apart from the 18th-century Spanish mission — was established in the 1820s many miles north of where the current downtown is. The "Old Town" was situated alongside the San Diego River. "New Town," however, and this must have been Davis' genius, was situated right by the harbor. Since Davis spent much of the 1840s with his hands in trans-Pacific trade, specifically the hide and tallow trade, he knew the importance of harbor access to the commercial city. Davis' "New Town," including this old wooden house from c1850, eventually became the San Diego.

That's an interesting enough story, but it tells us little about Davis and his Hawaiian identity (or lack thereof). You can look around the house, and you see it furnished largely according to the style of the late 19th century, not circa 1850 when the house was built. 

A room in the William Heath Davis house museum, San Diego

After this disappointment, I resolved to walk way across town to the harbor, and to then mosey up to the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Approaching the San Diego Maritime Museum. View of the ship Star of India (built 1863?).

I love maritime museums. But I was disappointed when I found that there was no "museum" here per se, but rather just a collection of historic boats that visitors can board and explore on their own. The admission fee was $15 which I decided wasn't worth it, so I just walked around the exterior of the boats and let my mind do the wandering. The Star of India was definitely my favorite of all the boats. It is apparently the oldest iron-hulled merchant ship that still exists (from circa 1863?). (Civil War buffs know that many iron-hulled ships were game-changers in naval warfare, but this was a merchant ship, and that is apparently its distinction.) It was built in Britain, and later, for many decades, served the Alaska canneries, I guess making sure that mainland U.S. consumers had ready access to canned salmon?

The museum also had a submarine, and even a reproduction 18th-century sailing ship. But Star of India is definitely the gem of their collection. I walked onto the only ship they would let me on without paying admission — the "gift shop" ship — and I was impressed with their maritime book selection. I picked up a cheap copy of Tales of the Pacific, a collection of short stories by Jack London about Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Islands he visited in the early 20th century before his death in 1916. 

I had visited two historic sites, and yet still had over two hours to kill before I could check into the hostel! So I decided to board a trolley out of the center of the city to see the "Old Town," the one that Davis et al had put to ruin in the second half of the 19th century.

As I arrived by helicopter, this was my incredible view:

Aerial view of the San Diego "Old Town"

No, just kidding! The above photograph shows a diorama of what Old Town probably looked like back in the 19th century.

This was my real view, as I approached on foot:

The historic Plaza de Armas in San Diego Old Town, plotted in the 1820s.

It was really great to see a Plaza de Armas, especially since we had spent three weeks in Peru in July and every city we visited was centered on a Plaza de Armas. If the Spanish got anything right in their imperial project, it was urban design. Plazas attract people to come together, recreate, and socialize, and at best, they foster a sense of civic engagement and democracy. That's surely how I characterize the plazas we witnessed in Peru. Now, Spanish and Mexican California probably had lots of plazas once,  but how many Californian cities and towns have maintained their center of gravity upon these historic plazas? San Diego's story, at least, is of their Plaza de Armas becoming a marginal, peripheral place, only fifty years after it was first mapped on the ground.

Old Town's plaza is surrounded with historic buildings.

Historic buildings line every side of the Plaza de Armas. San Diego Old Town.

It's all part of the San Diego Old Town State Historic Park. Some of the buildings are original 19th-century adobe and wooden edifices, but many are 20th-century reconstructions. Some of the buildings house museums about early San Diego history, while most house private businesses such as restaurants and gift shops. It is an interesting place; at night Old Town comes alive as the drinking classes live out their own dreams of Mexican-American history by scarfing down tacos and drinking margaritas in the shadows of the edifices where real Mexican pioneers once lived. (And it is important to be clear here that this place was Mexican before it was American. Old Town was founded in the 1820s right as Mexico claimed independence from imperial Spain. Only in 1848 did Old Town become an American city, and that's right when William Heath Davis started moving traffic to New Town anyway. So my experience of this place was more as Mexican history than as American history.)

Think about it. Everywhere I have been on this California Research Adventure was once, at least nominally, part of Mexico. This history, from the 1820s to 1848 — a crucial period of development — is Mexican history. And if this makes you imagine that everybody running around in San Diego Old Town during this era was "Mexican," think again. This was a cosmopolitan place, and what it meant to be "Mexican" in Alta California was probably a very complicated thing. 

The Old Town State Historic Site Visitor Center does, I think, a great job explaining this: that Mexican Alta California was more cosmopolitan than we probably at first imagine. Most interesting of their "people profiles," for me, was the profile of Allen B. Light, an African-American pioneer in Mexican California.

Wall panel about Allen B. Light and his saloon/hotel in Mexican San Diego.

Light is an immensely fascinating character. He had come from the United States in the 1830s serving as the steward on a Pacific Ocean-bound ship. African-Americans quite frequently served as cooks and stewards on U.S. ships in the 18th and 19th centuries, so this was not uncommon. In Mexican Alta California in the 1830s he deserted ship and began to live on shore as a sea otter hunter. That might not sound like a promising way to make a living, but in the 1830s it was. Indeed, Light — who was often nicknamed "Black Steward" — was one of the most important sea otter hunters on the California coast, tracking the remaining otters to where they could be found along the coastlines of Southern California's Channel Islands. He sometimes hired Native Hawaiians to help with sea otter hunting. Pretty strange and fascinating stuff, right?

Anyway, turns out he settled in Mexican San Diego and opened up a saloon with another African-American expatriate. According to this exhibit, they became Mexican citizens. One wonders what happened in 1849 when "the world rushed in" (the Gold Rush) and Euro-Americans began to attempt to lay claim to California as the white man's "manifest destiny"? I can only guess that Light — the successful African-Mexican entrepreneur — faced serious prejudice and discrimination. Well, I hope not, but you know, the Anglo men who came to California after 1848 had some pretty crazy ideas about their "destiny"!

Anyway, my favorite house in all of San Diego Old Town was the alcalde's house, a colonial-style mansion built in the 1820s for the small city's alcalde, who was sort of like a mayor in the Spanish colonial system (which I guess was continued by the Mexican municipalities?). 

Entrance to La Casa de Estudillo, San Diego Old Town

In a way, I wasn't really convinced that California was once part of Mexico, and before that part of imperial Spain, until I visited this casa. Sure, I had read about pre-1848 Alta California quite a bit, and I acknowledged when museums and historic sites mentioned pre-1848 people, places, and processes. But it only really came alive for me when I stepped into this casa, instantly reminding me of similar 18th and early 19th century homes we had visited in Peru, and making clear to me in no uncertain terms that in the 1820s when this adobe mansion was built, this was Mexico and in the 1840s the U.S. took it over. I think we as Americans prefer to ignore our own history of empire, how we took over so many different peoples' lands (just as the Spanish had done before us, I should note). So much of California is wiped clean of this history, and just like Hawaiʻi, it is this history of erasure — this erasure of any representations of colonial rule — that allows us to imagine California and Hawaiʻi as Pacific — and pacific (with a lower-case "p") — paradises.

Anyway, I'm probably making too much of it, but having just returned from South America, this casa in San Diego really spoke to me as an important relic in the nearly-forgotten history of California's many-layered colonial past.

View from the inner courtyard of La Casa de Estudillo, San Diego Old Town

I had a wonderful time exploring San Diego Old Town, but, alas, I found no sign of Hawaiians here. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., in his travelogue Two Years Before the Mast (written in the 1830s), does write of how Hawaiians living on the beach at San Diego harbor "went into town" now and then to purchase foodstuffs. So, at least now I can imagine what that town looked like, with its Plaza de Armas ringed by small adobe houses and stores. There were Hawaiians here in Mexican San Diego, but they didn't leave anything tangible behind that we can look at. Too bad.

I returned downtown to check into my hostel, cleaned myself up, and then headed back out via trolley and bus to the University of San Diego to attend the opening reception of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association's (PCB-AHA) annual conference. This is the whole reason, of course, that I had come to California in the first place.

The reception was lovely, as was the opportunity to call it a night at 8 PM and get into bed at the hostel. 

Day 12:

The hostel offers free breakfast from 8 to 10 AM, but I had to be up by 6:30 and out the door by 7 to get to the University by 8 for the first panels at 8:30AM. I had been hopeful that there might be morning munchies at the conference, but when I got there I only found coffee, tea, and water. I grabbed a cup of coffee on my empty stomach and began attending panels.

This is what academic conferences are all about: you attend numerous panels every day. On each panel are three or four people who read 15-20 minute papers each on their respective topics. So all in all you end up listening to 10-15 papers each day. It is funny how you just sit and listen like this all day, and yet feel utterly exhausted by the end of it. Our panel, at 3:30 PM, was at the very end of the day, and my paper was, in fact, the last paper of the last panel. So I was pretty tired by the time I had to present my paper on "Native Hawaiian Labor and the California Gold Rush," but I rallied my energy and did a good job. I was able to show photos from this research adventure (!), to show my audience how the past connected with the present, and how the art of historical research involves not just digging through archives but digging through museums and historic sites, as well as camping, swimming, and wandering around towns and cities. (In fact, I wasn't able to say as much in my fifteen minute presentation, but hopefully interested folks will check out this blog to get that side of the story here.)

After a successful day, a number of colleagues invited me to go out with them and grab Mexican food and drinks in the Old Town. It was nice to be there at night, in Old Town as a tourist and consumer, and to contrast that with my experience the day before as historical investigator. 

I only had one margarita, but it was enough to enhance the romance of my walk back through the Plaza de Armas at 10 PM. I could have imagined I was back in Mexican San Diego: the rowdiness, the cosmopolitanism. It is so easy for a historian to make worlds come alive in his or her head. A stiff drink helps, too.

Day 13:

My last day in California. I slept in. I should have jumped out of bed at 6:30 AM to get to the University to attend more panels, but I just didn't feel like I could make it. So I got up at 8 AM and enjoyed the hostel's free continental breakfast. I had raisin bread with peanut butter and jelly, fresh fruit, and pretty darn good coffee. These were pleasantries I needed. I got to the University around 10 AM and began attending panels again. This continued until 5 PM. 

All in all it was an extremely successful conference. I got to meet many, many wonderful, kind and intelligent people working on the most interesting topics in U.S., Pacific, and Asian history. I learned a lot from presenting my own work and hearing colleagues' comments, criticisms, and questions regarding what I had said. And I learned a lot by listening to others' presentations, as well.

But, much like in my California archival research, I can't really tell you what I know now that I didn't know before. All this history is just brewing in my brain, but I have yet to have any "Eureka" moment or see the entire world in a brand new light. But what I think will happen is that over the ensuing months, pieces of this trip will fall into place in my writing. I intend to write two full dissertation chapters this fall, plus begin research on a third chapter. I am a bit nervous about accomplishing this much, but with all that I have seen and learned here in California in two weeks, how could I not fill up two chapters with my experiences. It will simply be a matter of finding the right way to drain this brew out of my brain onto the page so that it is coherent, not just to myself, but to the average reader.

Anyway, at some point you just have to hoist the sails and let the wind take you where you need to go.

If the Star of India was a history dissertation, its sails would be the research notes. At port, you can work on the sails as long as you want, but at some point you have to start writing ("sailing"). And the only way to do that is to stop mending those damn sails, hoist them up, and let the wind take you.

Thanks for following my research adventure! I am now safely back in New York City, having returned from my Pacific dreams to my New York life! :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

California Research Adventure: Days 7-10

Day 7:

Travel day. Woke up in Colfax, California, in Gold Country. It had rained that night — the first rain I had experienced in all of California for a week. And Colfax needed it. Even after the rain the ground remained as dry and dusty as before. But since my tent was soaked, it meant I couldn't pack it up just yet, so I laid the various parts of it out in the trunk and back seat of my rental car to dry, packed everything else up in my backpack, and hit the road around 7:30 AM.

My route? From Colfax to Pasadena, all in one day.

The drive to San Francisco Bay was easy. I arrived in Emery (Emeryville; near Oakland) at 10 AM, and before returning my rental car, I decided to grab a wonderful breakfast at the Emery Bay Cafe.

I returned the rental car at 11 AM and then, while I should have taken the Alameda County trans-Bay bus to San Francisco, I worried about potentially missing my connecting bus southward, so I grabbed a taxi to San Fran...for a whopping $35! (Nearly the cost of my long-distance bus to Los Angeles.) But...to be fair, my thoughtful driver also gave me a free Snapple Fruit Punch beverage to enjoy on the long bus journey ahead of me.

I was pleased with the new San Francisco Greyhound station. Last time I was in this city — in 2008 — Greyhound was using some sort of temporary location as their terminal. The new one is clean and efficient, although it offers far too few seats for customers.

When I boarded my L.A.-bound bus, I found that there were no free seats (and by that I mean "two free seats next to each other, so that I wouldn't have to sit next to anyone") except way in the back. So I settled down right across from the lavatory. [Why did I do this?? Why...??]

Having sworn off Greyhound years ago, I was surprised to discover the upgrades they have made in recent years: free wi-fi, leather seats. Not bad. I'm usually not an apologist for free-market capitalism, but here is one area where I think it is sorely needed: long-distance transportation. Imagine if we had multiple passenger train services in this country, for example, and government only regulated use of the rails — much like how the government manages airspace but otherwise allows competition in the airline industry —, wouldn't the competition in trains help improve speed and service all around? Same with buses. With competition from Megabus and other companies, Greyhound has been forced to make changes that, for much of the first decade of the 21st century as I can attest from my multiple cross-country journeys, they were simply unwilling to previously make. Anyway, to appease my anti-capitalist friends, I should also say that the real problem with Greyhound is that they have for too long monopolized the market, gobbling up all their competitors. Free-market is fine, but there has got to be some fair competition. So I think government needs to do some trust-busting up in here!

Anyway, back to my trip. In San Jose we picked up more passengers, including one who sat next to me, so I lost my extra wiggle room. I varied my time: reading, trying to use the bus's wi-fi (with little success), largely staring out the window at the scenery, which got incredibly monotonous once we entered the Central Valley on I-5. Only after we passed Bakersfield, many hours later, did we see any bumps in the land. But the Central Valley is pretty impressive, I have to admit. I'd bet that if anyone from Iowa or anywhere else in the so-called "heartland" of the United States came out here, and just drove on I-5 this whole stretch, they'd realize that California, and not the middle of the country, is where most of our food comes from. Indeed, I almost found the scenery sickeningly monotonous — to think that so much acreage has been converted completely to the monoculture of just a handful of crops (although they are yummy crops: vegetables, fruits and nuts). Whenever I drink almond milk (which I love), and whenever we eat salads (which my wife loves), this place is what we're eating. Since the place seemed so sickening to me as we drove through it, I feel just that much more motivated to buy local foods from our New York City area farmers.

It was dark when we arrived in the bowl (or multiple bowls) of the greater Los Angeles area. And it was well after 9PM — after over eight hours of bus-riding, and over twelve hours of total travel that day — that I disembarked in North Hollywood and was met by my historian friend, a doctoral candidate at UC-Riverside.

We got some Mexican food. We drank horchata (I love horchata...and it is one of the things I love most about Southern California). And then I checked into the Saga Motor Hotel in Pasadena...

A tile mural at the Saga Motor Hotel. Pasadena. 

Day 8:

Woke at 6:30AM, and the sun was already blaring. The Saga is great. After staying at the YMCA, and then camping for three nights, finally — on Day 8 — I acquired the first private bathroom of my trip, which I've got to say, was a welcome change of pace. I took a long shower for the first time in four days. It felt good to clean myself up. They provided an iron and ironing board in my room, and I fluffed up a few shirts and pants that had been scrunched in my camping backpack for way too long.

The Saga offers a free continental breakfast. I had coffee and an English muffin, and by 8 AM I was ready to start researching! My friend picked me up in his truck, with a bicycle in the back for my later use, and we made the journey (a very short one) from Pasadena to San Marino, to the Huntington Library.

The Huntington Library. San Marino.

People had warned me that the Huntington could be a strange place. That the library follows some rather antiquated rules of engagement, and that you should definitely not veer from those unwritten rules. To conduct research at the Huntington, you must become a "reader," which I did, but I was only able to do so with a letter of introduction from my dissertation advisor attesting that I had passed my examinations and was officially A.B.D. ("all but dissertation") in my program. Admittedly, that's not a very high bar to cross, in my opinion, to become a "reader," but I guess we might (and should) wonder about who that potentially leaves out.

Then there is the reading room. Collections cannot be paged in advance (unlike the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, where, as I described in an earlier post, all my collections were waiting and ready for me the moment I arrived), but must be paged in person. The paging takes a while, maybe thirty to forty-five minutes per request. Readers are not notified when their material has arrived; instead you have to somewhat awkwardly check-in with the reading room staff and see if your materials are there or not. I, unfortunately, spent most of my first day at the Huntington acting pretty awkwardly. 

I'm not sure what I did wrong, or whether I was just perceiving that I was doing everything wrong, but the entire morning of my first day passed with only one of three collections I requested ever arriving. The one that did arrive was on microfilm, and my eyes despise reading microfilm for any significant period of time — as a colleague at Stony Brook has adeptly put it, reading microfilm tends to give one the nauseating feeling of being "seasick." So I vacillated between my seasickness and awkwardness, asking for my materials only to learn that, due to my novice errors, they still weren't ready.

And then, at 11:45 AM, a loud bell was rung, and readers began closing laptops, returning archival materials, and exiting the room en masse. What is going on?? I thought. Turns out, like "Pavlov's dogs," as one reader put it to me, scholars at the Huntington have become conditioned to salivate whenever they hear this bell. (Maybe this is why the Library asks everyone to turn their cellphone ringers off before entering the reading room?) Lunch time. That's what it means. Of course I, like the subjects in another famous psychological experiment that proved that people will do whatever they are told to, also closed my laptop, returned my collections, and exited the building, only to follow this crowd of readers wherever they may go. I knew not where we walked — at first it seemed as if we were all going for a mandatory 11:45 AM stroll through the gardens — but no, we ended up at a wonderful little cafe on the Huntington campus, with delicious food actually, and very reasonable prices (readers get a 40% discount!). I immediately understood why the conditioning experiment with the bell had worked — that is, why readers salivate when they hear that bell — and it's because lunch here is good. And it's not only good food, but a good period of rest and a good venue for social interaction, which is especially important for a group of people not known for their social prowess. (Yes, I mean academics.)

A beautiful scene on the path to lunch. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

After lunch, at 1 PM, readers return to their researches (or, as I've found, some wander into gardens or galleries and put off their real work; or perhaps they are just peripatetic thinkers). 

I was much more successful in the afternoon than in the morning. All my material finally arrived and I got crackin', reading the correspondence of a U.S. Navy midshipman who traveled all across the Pacific, including to Hawaiʻi, in the 1840s. Really interesting stuff.

At 4:45 PM, the bell rings again. Unfortunately, conditioned readers couldn't help but salivate, although there would be no communal lunch this time. Instead, people packed up and left the institution, into their vehicles and other modes of transportation (like the bicycle I was about to ride), and headed elsewhere, maybe home, maybe to a bar. Who knows?

I got on my friend's bicycle and began the journey back to Saga. 

Entrance to the Saga Motor Hotel. Pasadena.

Evenings here are pretty dull. Pasadena City College is across the street, but it is summertime and the students are nowhere to be found. The shops along Colorado Boulevard are eerily quiet, and the dinner options for a reader-in-residence around here are pretty slim. I grabbed some Chinese food. Not bad. Sleep came pretty quickly after that.

Day 9:

Same routine as yesterday. Got up. Had breakfast at the hotel. Today I rode my new bike into the Huntington. It was really a delightful ride, although the scenery along the way — of upper-class suburban residences — was not particularly appealing. I began research at the Huntington Library right at 8:30 AM when they opened. Everything was ready for me this time around, and I also felt braver and more confident. I was going to carpe diem, I said to myself, and I am not going to let any strange or unusual rules or customs of this place slow me down. When 11:45 AM came around, I salivated just like everyone else and was one of the first in line at the cafe to get my lunch. At 1 PM I went right back to work on my research.

On Day 9 I was mostly looking at the papers of a certain Dole of Hawaiʻi. Most Americans know the Dole name because of the Dole Pineapple Company, founded by James Dole, a cousin of some of the Doles I'm looking at. Less Americans are familiar with Sanford Dole, who did not make pineapples, but helped overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom, became President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi that took its place (when the United States at first refused to annex the islands; boy, those were the days), and then, thanking him for the grave injustices he perpetrated against the Hawaiians, the United States awarded him with the first Governorship of Hawaiʻi after U.S. annexation in 1898. Now, all this is to say that both at the Bancroft Library and here at the Huntington, I have been looking at lots of Dole papers, but I am largely not paying much attention to either James or Sanford. There is a whole other cast of Dole characters with various perspectives on late 19th-century Hawaiian topics, and it is in their papers and correspondence that I am conducting some of my most "fruitful" research... (hahaha)

Anyway, Day 9 was Tuesday, and on Tuesdays the Huntington hosts a 3 PM "tea time." I went for the free coffee and cookies and chatted with some readers, and then returned to my researches about twenty minutes later, although I was lightly scolded by a staff member for not taking a "longer break." Other readers seemed to linger at tea time much longer, to chat it up, drink free coffee, tea, and eat snacks. The Huntington Library has scheduled these various "breaks" throughout the days and weeks — sometimes signaled by bells, sometimes not. To the novice reader like myself, it all seems strange and unusual. This is because historians are used to visiting archives where they just go in, look at stuff, and then leave, without talking to anyone. (At least that's how it's done in New York where doing things quickly without looking at or talking to anyone else is basically our culture!) But during my time here I came to appreciate the Huntington's goals. They actually kind of want you to not research. No, really. They want you to explore the gardens, the galleries, to take a full lunch break, to stop working and drink tea and socialize. I believe what they want is to foster a sense of community and a culture of lively intellectual and social exchange. This is a very worthy goal, and I was glad to help contribute to it these three days by taking every opportunity not to do my work. :)

The end of the day came, and I biked back to Saga. I did some work on my conference paper (which I will be presenting on Day 12 of this adventure!) and found a nice Mexican restaurant nearby where I purchased a vegetarian burrito and a "big gulp"-size cup of horchata! Yum!!

Day 10:

Woke up. Had breakfast. Biked to the Huntington. Just a normal day in the life of this reader.

But today was my last day and I was determined to have the full Huntington experience: to not just confine myself to my research, but to wander gardens and galleries. So I spent the morning working with the Dole materials and thinking about Doles upon Doles upon Doles until the bell rang out at 11:45 AM. (Actually, I must admit, I have become so conditioned in these three days that it was just minutes prior to 11:45 AM that I started to salivate. I closed my laptop and was ready to leave even before the bell had rung! This can't be a good development, because soon I will start salivating at 8:30 AM when I get in there in anticipation of a bell that won't ring for another 3.25 hours!! Ah, but thankfully, today was my last day, and we don't have to worry about that for now!)

After lunch was my chance to play hooky, and so I did. I wandered off into the gardens...

In the Rose Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino. 

In the Rose Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino. 

From the Rose Garden I wandered through bamboo forests...

A bamboo grove. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

And then, via a route I could never possibly retrace, I ended up in a tropical jungle...

In the Jungle Garden. The Huntington Library. San Marino.

It was a delightful saunter. And it made me think that there actually is something to the idea of peripatetic thinking. Not that I had any "Eureka" moments along my winding path. But, just being outside in the sun and heat, smelling the plants, even physically sensing my breathing in of the oxygen from some of the plants — especially in the humid jungle garden — I was able to clear my head of all the obnoxious and recurrent and trivial things that take up so much space and make understanding history that much harder. No, seriously. I felt lighter and refreshed after this walk. Between the saunter and lunch I was reenergized to do my research.

This place is basically a scholar's playground. There's no other way to describe it. The Huntington offers various long-term fellowships, and many of the readers I met were on some sort of fellowship. They are spending months, some even years, here, in an environment that could not be more conducive to intellectual stimulation and aesthetic satisfaction. Readers can wander the gardens and art galleries for free whenever they want. They can take unlimited numbers of coffee breaks. Indeed, I think that if a reader wanted to spend an entire day just wandering around through gardens and sipping coffees and just thinking, that would be a most productive and satisfying day, not just for the scholar, but for the Huntington, too. I like this place. I would love to come back here and do more research. In fact, in three days I only got through about 10% of the materials I had hoped to peruse. Therefore, I hope some day that I may return to look at the other 90%.

But, alas, this explorer must move on. Tomorrow we journey to the next and last stop of my California Research Adventure: San Diego!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

California Research Adventure: Days 4-6

Day 4:

Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head...

Well, not really — the comb part, anyway. It was my last morning in Berkeley. I checked out of the "Y," grabbed an "F" bus courtesy of Alameda County Transit, and then found myself in somewhere called Emery (or Emeryville), along the shores of San Francisco Bay (near [or in?] Oakland). 

I walked into a fancy Marriott Hotel — me, with my flannel shirt, dark green "Ranger" pants, clunky hiking boots, and big blue backpack. The kind lady at the front desk, without asking any questions, pointed me to the Hertz car rental facility behind the hotel. 

With my compact rental car, I set off for the mountains. I took I-80 East, through the coast range and then down into the Sacramento Delta [a weird inland delta that then recombines itself into a single thread to pass through the Coast Range and dump into San Francisco Bay; or at least that's how things used to be; centuries of hydraulic engineering may have changed things]. But as much as the Sacramento River is still a delta, it seems only so in a very modern form, with the river literally disintegrating into countless numbers of irrigation channels going every which way. Or, at least that's what it looks like from the car. We drive along a causeway, perched above endless flatlands — the great Central Valley —, a patchwork of different crops, each giving off different hues. And, far in the distance on the horizon is a city that rises out of this muck, in the middle of the floodplain, the city of Sacramento.

I'll be coming back to Sacramento on Day 5, but for now I keep driving on I-80 east into the Sierra foothills. The highway follows along the western edge of the American River watershed, one of the principal tributary river systems of the Sacramento. It was here, on the South Fork of the American River, that gold was discovered on January 24 (my birthday!), 1848, at John Sutter's mill in Coloma. But we follow along the western edge of the North Fork of the American River now. (It's an aptly-named river, for the river and its communities remain steeped in the compelling "mythistory" of the California Gold Rush — a seminal moment in American history.)

Anyway, in the town of Auburn, California, I pull over at the Ranger's station for the Auburn State Recreation Area, a state nature preserve that encompasses much of the north and middle forks of the American River. I ask about camping sites, and am offered two options: Ruck-a-Chucky and Mineral Bar. On the map they hand me, Ruck-a-Chucky appears much closer, so I head there first. It is about 2 PM in the afternoon, and the temperature is 95°. 

I drive away from the Ranger's station and eventually come to a road that takes me down, down, downhill — and the quality of the road actually follows a parallel declension. First it is paved, then it is smooth gravel, then it is course gravel, then it is a field of boulders left behind from when the last glaciers receded. (No, probably not; but that's what it felt like to my poor rental car!) When I finally made it to Ruck-a-Chucky, I found the hottest, driest, most desolate campsite imaginable. I thought about my plans for the next three days — to visit countless historic sites and museums across the region; a lot of driving — and I decided that my poor rental car would not survive driving the Ruck-a-Chucky on-and-off-ramp multiple times daily. But before I left, I saw two men returning from the river — the Middle Fork of the American River — holding pans. Gold pans. Placer mining pans. Yup, those pans of American "mythistory" that we believe every Yankee immigrant dipped into the water and pulled up little gold nuggets with. I didn't ask these men if they were successful. Doubtful. But I did later learn that panning is perfectly legal in California state parks and preservation areas, just as long as you aren't ripping up the stream bed, or re-channeling the flow of water, or something like that, which I'm sure our forefathers never, ever did back in the good ole days of the Gold Rush... [More on that later!]

Anyway, back in the car, and out of Ruck-a-Chucky, I returned to I-80 East until arriving in Colfax, California. If you've never heard of Colfax before, don't worry. Neither had I. Yet lo and behold Colfax would be my home for the next three days. Because when I drove down the hill into the Mineral Bar Campground area — a former Gold Rush site on the North Fork of the American River — I found well-maintained campsites — most of them full — as well as well-paved access roads, and what more? Tons of people were swimming — not panning — in the river. This campsite was, to be blunt, "golden." :)

My camp at Mineral Bar on the North Fork of the American River. 

View of the North Fork of the American River at Mineral Bar. No one was gold panning, but kids were very busy manipulating the stream bed, as shown. And that was historic enough, since Gold Rush immigrants also ripped up and transformed stream beds in their wild search for gold.

The American River Watershed (in green). (Source: Wikipedia)

So there I was, at Mineral Bar, Colfax, California. I had grabbed a burrito and horchata on the road, and I finished my snack at camp. I went for a swim in the river. I read. And then I went to sleep, lullabied by the ridiculously loud country music blaring from my neighbor's pick-up truck. Great.

Day 5:

Woke at 6:30 AM and hit the road by 7. Today was my "Sacramento Exploration Day." I had never been to Sacramento City before. It was a Friday, and I arrived just after 8 AM along with all the morning commuter traffic. I found free parking on 25th & O Streets. [Sacramento is a well-designed city; in one direction the streets are numbered, and in the other they are lettered.] This was just a few blocks from Sutter's Fort State Historic Park. I walked over to poke around...and found Sutter there himself!

Statue of John (Johann Augustus) Sutter, the larger-than-life "founder" of Sacramento City. The statue stands across the street from Sutter's Fort, and in front of a hospital named after him. 
The plaque reads, in part, that Sutter was "a man of vision and compassion who deserves the respect and gratitude of Americans and Swiss." Note that it doesn't say "...and Indians." Because, from all we know about Sutter, historians seem to agree that he treated "his" Indians —at times he had hundreds, even thousands, of Native Californian Indians working for him — pretty poorly.
Also note the body language. With hand outstretched, Sutter seems to be urging Indians to "Come over and let me help you." Or perhaps he is encouraging European and Euro-Americans to "Come over and help me help them."

It was 8 AM, and Sutter's Fort was not yet open. Not until 10. So I began walking downtown. My goal? Old Sacramento State Historic Park. And breakfast, too.

My walk took me through Sacramento's Capitol Park, where I stopped and took many photographs and pondered about the way the park memorializes California history...

Sacramento's Capitol Park. It is likely the best capitol grounds I have ever visited in the United States. You can wander for hours down various pathways examining flower gardens and tree species from all across the state. As I was walking through, I thought of one of our professors at Stony Brook who is currently writing a history of trees in California. I wonder what he thinks of this strange display of redwoods, palms, orange trees, etc. all thrown together. Is this some sort of arboreal representation of Californian empire?

Orange trees growing on the Capitol grounds. Capitol Park, Sacramento.

I was fascinated by the selection of war memorials. Every state capitol is littered with war memorials. Every capitol grounds has a WWII memorial; and every capitol is building a 9/11 memorial. But California has made some interesting choices. Spanish-American War monuments are usually pretty much hidden, if not non-existent. Most Americans are probably not very proud of that war, and we are weary of the idea of America as an "empire" (which we, of course, are, but the term surely bothers many of us). But California's monument to this forgotten war is actually pretty prominent. And, of course, they had a monument to the Mexican-American War, too. But, actually, they don't. [huh?]

Spanish-American War monument. Capitol Park, Sacramento.
Notice how the statue is aptly placed in a jungle-like, tropical, swampy setting, reminiscent of the Philippines where the Spanish-American War did not end, but continued for years until the U.S.A. crushed Filipino resistance fighters and their dreams of independence. Worth remembering.
Also, the plaque lists Cuba, the Philippines, and "Porto Rico," but not Guam. 

Mexican-American War monument. Capitol Park, Sacramento.
It's a mind-boggling monument if you don't read Spanish. That's because the English-language plaque on the ground doesn't mention which war the monument is recognizing (World War II, apparently), and since it is a monument to Mexican-American war heroes, it is easy to misread the monument as a "Mexican-American War" monument, rather than a "Mexican-American" war monument. Got it?

 By 10 AM I finally made it to my destination, Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

A street scene in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

You might be wondering why I would want to wander around streets held hostage to the mid-19th century in "old" Sacramento. Well, Hawaiian migrants lived and worked here, in this neighborhood, and along the shores of the Sacramento River back then. Indeed, I have the addresses for some of the Hawaiian workers I'm writing about in my dissertation, and in one case, I was even able to find the street where one guy had lived...

The alleyway between Front & Second Streets, and I & J Streets. Here, in 1859, a Hawaiian migrant worker lived. One day his landlord tried to evict him by throwing all his furniture out into the alley. Then he punched her in the face and was arrested by the police. 
Yep. Just a little story in the history of Hawaiian migrant labor! And it happened right here, behind the Mechanics' Exchange.

While poking around the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, I also visited the Sacramento History Museum. It was a lot better than I expected. I ended up spending a full hour inside. I was searching for any evidence of Hawaiian settlement in California in the 19th century, and while I didn't find much, I did find this:

Mrs. Jennie Mahuku, c.1880. Sacramento History Museum.

It's a pretty arresting image. And the fascinating thing is that I had seen it before — just days before — in a manuscript collection at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley. Maybe it makes the rounds because it is, as far as I know, the only photograph of Hawaiians immigrants in 19th-century California.

The caption for the photo is pretty amazing. "John Sutter brought over fifty natives from the Sandwich Islands..." I have read in numerous places that Sutter brought over only ten or twelve Native Hawaiians, but fifty? If any reader knows more about this, I'd love to know! The rest of the caption is pretty good. It talks about the "Hawaiian-Indian village" in "Verona," which is what the place is known as today, but back then it was Vernon. And just a quick peak at U.S. census schedules, like the one for Vernon from 1880, shows "Jane Mahuka," 37 years old, living with her husband Ed Mahuka, 41 years old (and whose name pops up in Hawaiian-language newspaper articles now and then in the 1860s and 1870s). The census states that the couple have two kids, both born in the 1870s, and both born in California. The census records Jane and Ed both as "black," and notes that they were both born in the Sandwich Islands. One of their kids is listed as a daughter aged 4, so that is likely "Ellen," pictured at left above. The other girl, standing with her arm on Jennie's shoulder, is more confusing. But as for her story, you'll have to visit the Bancroft Library to figure it out, as I'm not at liberty to publish any of what I read about her yet...

Anyway, it's a great photograph. It's great that is shows women. And children, too. Because the textual evidence of Hawaiians in California is overwhelmingly weighted toward documenting male experiences, so this offers a nice counterbalance, and opens up new windows into the Hawaiian migrant experience in California.

Next, to Sutter's Fort.

"Sutter's Fort is Open." Sutter's Fort State Historic Park. Sacramento.

As already mentioned, John (Johann Augustus) Sutter came to what is now Sacramento in 1839 with about a dozen Native Hawaiians (men and women) in tow, with dreams of founding a "colony," an "empire" — I've seen it described a million different ways — which he dubbed New Helvetia. He set up shop at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, in- and upland a few miles, which was smart, because the Sacramento River constantly overflows its banks and causes devastating floods. So, Sutter got to work building a fort / trading post, which is what remains today. As already mentioned, as well, Sutter employed hundreds — even thousands — of California Indians to live in his colony and put their sweat into his agricultural empire. He notoriously treated them as his "children," and — as I was just reading about today in a manuscript collection at the Huntington Library — he had a penchant for selling off and trading the Indian children to other white folks, like, as if the kids were just commodities. Sick.

The big question for me is, what did those ten or twelve (or fifty?) Native Hawaiians do in New Helvetia? Did they help build the fort? Possibly. Did they do work around the fort? Possibly. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any mention of "Sutter's Canacas" (Kanakas) at the historic site. It was as if Sutter had arrived all by himself — oh, did I mention he abandoned his wife and kids in Europe, too, and that some even speculate that in California he had an extramarital affair with one of the Hawaiian gals he had brought over? Nice guy.

A typical room at Sutter's Fort. Did one of "Sutter's Canacas" ever live here?

There is a lot more to learn about Hawaiians in 1840s Alta California. I have learned some things on this research adventure, but there is still a long way to go...

Finally, I decided I had to go visit where Mrs. Jennie Mahuka (Mahuku) once lived, a place where I was sure I wouldn't find any remnant of Hawaiian migrant history, but I needed to just stand there: Vernon (present-day Verona, California).

This was the place where, as the Gold Rush waned, and the gold mining industry continued to morph into something uglier than our "mythistory" ever admits it to have been, Hawaiian ex-miners reconnected and reorganized their lives. It was, by 1870, one of the largest non-urban communities of Hawaiian immigrants in all of California. We're talking, like, fifteen people here. Nothing huge, but noticeable enough in Hawaiian-language newspapers of the period. The Hawaiian men worked as fishermen, and there were women and children, too (as the earlier photo suggests, as do the censuses). 

Anyway, there don't seem to be any Hawaiian fishermen in Vernon/Verona anymore, but I did find that this small village still has lots of boats floating around it.

The marina at historic Vernon / present-day Verona.

I did learn one thing from visiting Vernon/Verona. I had looked at maps of the place again and again, trying to make sense of why — of all places — Hawaiians settled there after the Gold Rush. And when I got there, it finally clicked: it's a river confluence. Just like Sacramento City sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, Vernon sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers. River convergences attract port facilities, docks, and become centers of riparian trade. Perhaps our Hawaiian fishermen wanted easy upstream access to both rivers. Well, then, what better place to establish a fishing community than at the confluence of those two rivers?

Historic Vernon / present-day Verona, California, where the Sacramento and Feather Rivers meet.

Back in Colfax, I returned to my campsite around 5:30PM, only to find that my neighbors had been worried about me. Where was I all day, they asked. Did I know that, while I was gone, my tent had blown away and almost fell into the American River? I had to thank them quite a bit for saving my tent — on multiple occasions throughout the day, they professed — and in the process I got to know my neighbors better. They couldn't believe I was from New York City. What the hell was I doing in Colfax, they wondered. I didn't want to tell them that I was doing "field research" for my dissertation on the history of Hawaiian migrant labor, because, honestly, when you are camped along the American River, listening to the water rushing downstream, watching the sun slowly receding over the mountaintops, who wants to talk about that shit? I certainly did not. I'm just exploring, I replied. And so I was. 

Day 6:

If Day 5 was Sacramento day, then Day 6 was Mining day. I left early again, at 7 AM, to drive north on Route 49 to the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

When I arrived, I did not know I had arrived. I drove through what looked like a ghost town. It was 9 AM and I was literally the only person around on a street full of empty buildings. Uh...is there a Visitor Center here? Nope. So I just kept driving around until I realized that I was on my own. 

I pulled off at the trailhead for the "Diggins" trail. (I don't know why, but this place insists on using the spelling "Diggins" rather than "Diggings.") What I saw was pretty amazing: I'll call it a "ruinscape."  Back in the 19th century I would have called it a "minescape," but since mining ended here in the 1880s, the place has just sat like a ruin for over a century.

The "ruinscape" of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

The "ruinscape" of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.

If you've ever visited a surface mine or former surface mine, or quarry, or something of that nature, you probably won't be surprised to see these photos of a huge gaping hole in the ground that has barely recovered in over a century of disuse. Like I, your first reaction upon visiting the mining "ruinscape" in person might perhaps be to say, "okay...."

Grasping the nature of this site involves a little extra knowledge about mining history plus a really good imagination. You have to imagine it is the 1850s, 60s, 70s, or even early 80s. Placed inside this big gaping pit are scores of these:

"Giant." A monitor. This was basically a huge water cannon that shot at rocks instead of protestors.

Imagine all these monitors placed through the Malakoff Diggins pit site, shooting massive amounts of water at high speeds at the surrounding rock walls. All the eerie, sculpted dunes at Malakoff were the product of this high-speed erosion. The place is like a battle site, like the Gettysburg of mining history. But instead of memorializing where people were shot dead with cannons, it memorializes where the land was ripped away by cannons. 

And what was the point of all this? To find gold, of course. Our "mythistory" of the Gold Rush imagines that all immigrants to California in the late 1840s and early 1850s were out there with pick axe and pan sorting through stream bed gravel on their own — every man for himself — picking out nuggets in a race for gold. But if that was ever true, it wasn't true for long. Instead, in the 1850s the number of individuals self-employed by gold prospecting dropped to nil while the number of corporations controlling the gold industry and employing immigrant workers as wage labor increased. Part of this was just unregulated capitalism doing its thing. But part of it was also in response to the fact that gold was just getting harder and harder to find. So technological change spurred changes in the social relations of production (and vice-versa?). By the end of the 1850s placer mining had been replaced by hydraulic mining.

Hydraulic mining? Yes, with water cannons shooting all around.

It is not clear if Hawaiian migrants were ever employed in hydraulic mining. We might imagine them shooting monitors at rock walls, but somehow I just can't imagine it. Maybe not until I find some real evidence. But one thing we can be sure they experienced were the disastrous results of hydraulic mining. 

Part of the Malakoff Diggins drainage system. Waste water from the hydraulic mine was released through an elaborate drainage system all the way into Humbug Creek. And from there, of course, it continued into the Sacramento River watershed.

If we think about our friends back in Vernon/Verona in the 1870s, fishing for a living, imagine what was happening to the fisheries in the Sacramento and Feather Rivers as the waste water from hydraulic mining upstream clouded the water. Look at that photo of Malakoff Diggins — that big pit — and imagine where all the rock and gravel and sediment that wasn't gold ended up. It all got flushed away, polluting streams and rivers. Indeed, environmental historians have concluded that a number of fish in the Sacramento River system were extirpated during this era. The Hawaiians at Vernon would have felt that; they would have experienced it first-hand in their own working lives.

Well, if that wasn't interesting enough, I still had to see what gold mining was like after the 1880s, after the state of California banned hydraulic mining. It turns out that hydraulic's replacement was what is termed "hard rock mining."

Scale model of the Empire Mine. Empire Mine State Historic Park.

I learned about hard rock gold mining at the Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California. Empire was an active gold mine from the late 19th century until the 1950s. If we can imagine "placer mining" as a bearded Yankee dude with a pan picking out gold nuggets, and "hydraulic mining" as an army of wage workers shooting water cannons at hillsides, then "hard rock mining" is when industrial wage workers got into little cars and rode down shafts thousands of feet into the core of the earth to find the very last bits of gold left in California.

The scale model, shown in the photograph above, depicts all the shafts built over nearly a century at the Empire Mine. In the 1860s and 1870s, when — theoretically — a Hawaiian migrant miner may have worked there, Empire's shafts only descended one or two hundred feet. But by the mid-20th century the deepest shafts descended 11,000 feet!! That's crazy!!

A rail "car." Each wooden slab could seat one worker. The miners rode the car toboggan-style down into the mine shafts, sometimes traveling as far as 11,000 feet!

I arrived on a "living history" day, so there were some "miners" on hand to tell me about the work conditions. At the head of this shaft, an old miner told me that the "commute" to the mines through the shaft could take as long as one hour. One hour? Yes, he said. And at first the workers weren't even paid for that hour; they traveled down the shafts on their own time. 

Can you imagine descending in a toboggan on a rickety rail in the pitch blackness with a bunch of smelly guys for an hour? And that's just one way. They spent two hours each day just traveling through these pits. And they didn't have iPods, or even books, to entertain them on their daily commute. I wonder if they sang songs? Or talked about news? Local gossip? Mind-boggling.

Looking down a mine shaft, about 150 feet. Empire Mine State Historic Park.

Unlike Malakoff, which used water to destroy the land but now is bone-dry-free of water, the Empire Mine struggled throughout its existence to remove water from their site, because, of course, the mining occurred below the water table and the mines naturally flooded. So part of the technology of hard rock mining was constantly pumping water out of the mines — and pumping air in, too — so that miners could survive. But after the mine closed in the 1950s, the pumps stopped, and the mines, from 11,000 feet all the way up to about 150 feet below the surface, flooded, and remain flooded to this day. Maybe some day they'll offer submarine tours of the Empire Mine. That would be so cool.

My last stop in Gold Country — saving the best for last — was Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. This is where the dream lives on...

A child stands in front of a life-size exhibit depicting a man just reaching down into a stream bed, about to pluck a big ole gold nugget out and place that nugget into his pocket and change his life forever.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Coloma, California.

This is where it began. Here, in Coloma, at Sutter's Mill, built by James Marshall, gold was discovered on my birthday, January 24, in the year 1848.

A reconstruction of Sutter's Mill. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.

Being the fifth state park I had visited in two days, I was a bit "done" by the time I made it to Coloma. I was interested in visiting Coloma only because there was a major Hawaiian migrant worker community living here in the late 1850s and early 1860s that is well documented in the Hawaiian-language sources. But they were camped out at "Irish Creek," and I only had a vague idea where that place is/was (it no longer is, I believe).

But what's cool about the Marshall site is that some of the oldest buildings on Coloma's Main Street have been protected, and I'm sure the Hawaiian migrants at Irish Creek visited those buildings. They visited the post office to pick up mail. They must have visited some of the stores in town. So, walking through Coloma, I got at least a glimpse into part of their world.

In one part of the park, children and their parents were "panning for gold" in a hands-on demonstration, and it was brought to my attention that recreational panning could be done in the American River, too, right alongside the historic site. What is it about GOLD that attracts our attention so much? Is it like the lottery — like people who buy scratch-off tickets every day, and only become the poorer for it, but in their risk-taking they satisfy some primal urge to gamble? For gold mining is just a type of gambling, right? You gamble your health, the quality of your environment, your livelihood, all on the hopes of striking it big. And few did. And few do. But the "mythistory" of the Gold Rush remains so appealing to Americans. Perhaps it is because in the "mythistory" every immigrant is an individual with the "liberty" to make their own decisions. There are no wage workers struggling under oppression in the "mythistory" of the Gold Rush. Everyone is a pioneer. Everyone is a winner because they at least tried. Rugged individualism and entrepreneurship. Yes, the Gold Rush was the foundation of our American capitalist deregulated free-enterprise dreams. Yes, that one bright shining moment, when there were basically no laws, and everyone was just fighting each other over access to the gold commons, killing each other (especially Indians) for the sake of a simple gamble. Oh, what a great thing, this "America." 

A utopia of liberty on the banks of the American River. Let the preacher preach. Let the two dudes dance together (without any fear of being called homosexuals). Let the darker-skinned man participate in some marginal way, for a moment, to give everyone else the impression of inclusion. 

I took the above photograph to document the only instance where Hawaiians were mentioned in all of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park. But look, Hawaiians aren't even mentioned. Other nationalities are mentioned, but one — and only one — group of people is listed by some sort of nickname, in quotation marks, rather than by their commonly-accepted ethnic or national designation. "Kanakas." I have no problem with the use of that term, but how many visitors know who the "Kanakas" were? Why not say Polynesians? Or more confidently, Hawaiians? I find the choice to list "Kanakas" as "Kanakas" pretty strange. 

Anyway, I left Coloma with great tiredness in my eyes and my limbs. It's not easy looking for 19th-century Hawaiian history in 21st-century California. It takes a lot of looking, without a lot of finding. But my travels through Gold Country were worth it. I got to see where people lived, worked, and played. I got to see how places changed, and how some have stayed roughly the same. I learned that the history of gold in California is complicated. It involved a variety of technologies, a diversity of peoples, and most importantly, a long period of time. We focus so much on 1849, when "the world rushed in." But gold mining continued, and changed, for over a century after that. There are more untold stories than told ones, and regrettably, we waste too much time retelling old "mythistories" instead of digging up new ones. There are still so many gold nuggets to be found — in the archives, in the land, in the people. And more exploration to be done.

Next stop, Pasadena, California, and the Huntington Library!