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Gold Rush Days

September, 2003

The stagecoach.
1. The stagecoach
Banjo player.
2. Banjo player
Steam locomotive.
3. Steam locomotive
Paddle wheel ferry.
4. Paddle wheel ferry

Old Sacramento is an area along the Sacramento River that was once the heart of the City of Sacramento. Today it has been restored to its mid-nineteenth century appearance. It houses a mixture of the old and the new, ranging from museums and period architecture to tourist shops selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. Each year, Old Sacramento is transformed into what it once was — the transportation hub for Gold Rush era California. Automobiles are banned, sand is brought in to cover the streets, and people dress in period costumes (thumbnail photo #2, at left).

Old Sacramento always has a number of horse drawn carriages to provide tours of the City, but during Gold Rush Days, the streets are filled with horses pulling stage coaches (photo #1), horses pulling wagons, and even horses pulling water tanks used to keep the dust down by watering the streets.

One of Jim's favorite parts of Old Sacramento is the Railroad Museum. The museum is part of the California State Park system. It features a large museum building with displays that document the history of railroading in California. The museum includes locomotives, rail cars of various sorts, and dioramas showing the building of the railroad. The interiors of the cars have been restored to their original appearance. Here are pictures of a passenger car, and a mail car, where the mail was collected, sorted, and delivered to towns along the rail lines.

The Railroad Museum also includes a restored passenger station and some outdoor exhibits. The biggest attraction is certainly the excursion rides that are offered on weekends during the summer months. Museum volunteers maintain and operate a steam locomotive (photo #3) and period passenger cars which are used to provide one-hour trips along the Sacramento River.

For about 18 months, during 1860-61, the Pony Express carried mail from St. Josph, Missouri (the end of the telegraph line) to Sacramento, where it was placed on steamships (photo #4) for the trip to San Francisco. The Pony Express riders were young, light, and sturdy. They rode at maximum speed for about 100 miles, using a fresh horse every 10 miles, then transferred the mail bag to the next rider. They rode day and night through bad weather and dangerous terrain for modest pay. Even so, mail took 10 days to cover the distance and cost about $5.00 per ounce. In the fall of 1861, the telegraph was completed all the way to San Francisco, and the Pony Express was out of business. It had never made a profit.

The best part of Gold Rush Days is the people who put a great deal of effort into looking just right for the roles they play. We saw beautiful women, dangerous men, and entertaining musicians throught Old Sacramento. Among them we saw many soldiers, including this Utah militia member playing a fife during a quiet moment.

Many people are involved in re-enacting old battles and military life in general. We saw several groups of "re-enactors" during Gold Rush Days. The Utah militia demonstrated their marksmanship with percussion lock rifles, while another group portrayed the Union horse artillery. Finally, a number of African Americans portrayed the buffalo soldiers, negro soldiers who made up much of the US cavalry in the American West during the last half of the 19th century.

Once again, we had a great time, and came home with tired feet and hundreds of photos. We have more adventures planned, and will tell you all about them in future articles.

— return to the 2003 Journal Archive


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