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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perils of Gold-Rush California, Bowie Knives Among Them

When gold was discovered in California, footloose fortune-seeking men from all over the world converged on that undeveloped territory. Great Britain had only terminated Australia's status as a penal colony a year before, and many Australians, among them ex-convicts, flocked to the port of San Francisco. Perhaps out of concern that the land down under might quickly depopulate, an article appeared in the Hobart, Tasmania Courier on August 1, 1849, exaggerating the perils of California:
Mr. Ross Cox, the author of the amusing adventures on the Columbia River, writes as follows to a friend in Ireland touching California, a country in which he is well acquainted:--"I am strongly opposed to any of our countrymen proceeding to California. If the country were in a settled state, and that law and order prevailed, their knowledge, sobriety, and industry might undoubtedly soon realise their dreams; but the contrary is notoriously the fact. The territory has been only lately acquired by the United States, and there is no protection for either life or property in it. I know the reckless and daring character of the American back woodsmen; many of them have made their way to the golden valley of the Sacramento. They are all dead shots with the rifle, and when that fails, their close quarters with the bowie knife generally prove fatal. Every native of our islands who should think of going thither should be armed with a rifle, a brace of pistols, a dirk, and a couple of bowie knives. They should go in bands of from 60 to 100--appoint a captain and subalterns--keep watch and ward--study all species of fighting, offensive and, defensive—make themselves perfect masters of the rifle, and provide a good commissariat, with chests for their treasure, etc. Such parties may succeed, but I have no hesitation in saying that straggling adventurers or small isolated parties, ignorant of the country, and of the mode of fighting or robbing practised there, will be shot down like deer or prairie hens."
It's a wonder that anyone made it out of there alive! Actually, the facts suggest that gold-rush era California was not such a dangerous place as long as one stayed out of saloons, avoided mean drunks and psychos, and didn't flash your cash, pick fights, or act like a sore loser in poker games. In other words, observe the Rule of the Three Stupids:
Don't go to stupid places. 
Don't hang out with stupid people.
Don't do stupid things.

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