Sacramento History / The Steamboat

Sacramento history is all about the California Gold Rush and the thousands of gold seekers arriving in this area of northern California in the late 1840’s. When you tour Sacramento today, and in particular the Sacramento Old Town district, gold rush stories and historic buildings are aplenty.

old town sacramento

Today's Old Town Sacramento

Walk the streets of Old Town Sacramento and you’ll see names connected to the city’s earliest days. Sutter, Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins…these are just a few. The fact is that Sacramento grew tremendously because of it’s close proximity to the gold mines in the Sierra Nevada foothills and to the Sacramento River which was a natural waterway to both the port of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.

The Gold Rush Transformed the Sacramento

There was no other river than the Sacramento that played such an important role in the growth and development of northern California. It also played a key role in the history of Sacramento. There is no other river west of the Rocky Mountains that is as rich in history and adventure than the Sacramento.

The California Gold Rush changed this river from a sleepy waterway to a bustling transportation highway. Before the gold rush no steamboats actually worked San Francisco Bay. Before the gold rush, San Francisco was a relatively small settlement with a few shacks.

california steam navigation company

The California Steam Navigation Company

Steam Navigation on the Sacramento

By the year 1850 it’s estimated that there were no less than twenty-eight steamers operating on the Sacramento River. Each year added to these numbers. During the very early years a passenger might have paid up to $30 for a trip between San Francisco and Sacramento. Stiff competition would eventually drive down fares to about one dollar. The competition was so fierce and the steamboats numbers grew so high that safety was completely overshadowed in the quest for maximum profits. Steamboat accidents on the Sacramento were many.

The competition became so intense that as soon as one steamboat operator would lower fares the others would soon follow. Eventually, the steamboat operators met and formed a monopoly to stop the madness. This was the birth of the California Steam Navigation Company. Nearly all would claim that this was a monopoly and indeed it was. Ridiculously low fares were a thing of the past but so was the chaos. Transportation fares stabilized and river transportation benefited.

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The Steamboat "Chrysopolis"

Those Great Sacramento River Steamers

Arguably, the most famous and popular steamboat ever to ply the waters of the Sacramento was the “Chrysopolis“. The steamers nickname at the time was the “Chryssie“. The 245 foot long Chrysopolis was built in 1860. The ship’s beam was forty feet and it’s depth ten feet. This magnificent steamboat had a 1,357 horsepower steam engine and huge paddle wheels that were thirty-six feet in diameter. This was an impressive steamboat which held the fastest speed record between San Francisco to Sacramento.

The Chrysopolis was built every bit as luxurious as the best steamboats on the Mississippi. Red plush upholstery, rosewood paneling,crystal chandeliers…the Chryssie had it all. In addition to the beautiful accommodations, the Chryssie offered passengers “all you could eat for one dollar“.

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The side wheeler Yosemite

The Yosemite

Constructed in 1862, the Yosemite  was placed in service in 1863 by the California Steam Navigation Company to operate along with the Chrysopolis.

In 1865, only two years after she was put into service, the Yosemite suffered a fatal boiler explosion as she was pulling out of Rio Vista Landing along the Sacramento. Fifty-five people were reported killed and many more injured. The history books are filled with incidents of steam boiler explosions. Indeed, this was the dangerous part of early steamboating. In the case of the Yosemite, her boilers were said to be of the safer, lower pressure design. Obviously, the safer design was a failure, at least in this instance. The steamboat itself was not destroyed in the blast and she was eventually equipped with new boilers.

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Side wheeler Wilson G. Hunt

The Wilson G. Hunt

The side wheeler Wilson G. Hunt was built in New York in 1849. The steamer had a single cylinder engine powered by a low pressure boiler. Her dimensions were 185.5 feet long, 25.8 feet abeam and with a depth of 6.75 feet. The 250 horsepower steam engine could drive the boat at about 15 knots.

The Wilson G. Hunt, like most of the steamers of the 1850’s, traveled to the west coast via Cape Horn. This in itself was a dangerous journey. During her lifetime she saw service in Puget Sound, the Fraser River, the Columbia River and then on the Sacramento River. On the Sacramento, the William G. Hunt operated beginning in 1850 by the California Steamship Navigation Company.

Steamboat racing on the Sacramento River was forbidden. Too many boiler explosions occurred when steamer captains tried to race one another. By the same token, expediency was desired and regardless of the prohibition against racing, it did occur. One such incident involving the Wilson G. Hunt occurred just above Benicia California when the steamboat New World suffered a boiler explosion while racing the Hunt. It was not long after this mishap that the owners of the Hunt joined in with the California Steam Navigation Company.

Following are links to three additional Trips Into History articles you’ll enjoy. The Stolen Boat the New World…the Fort Yuma Steamboats….and the King of the Steamboat Men on the Columbia River.

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Paddle wheel display at San Francisco Maritime Historical Park

Learn About the Great Steamboats

Here are few great venues to learn more about the steamboats that operated on the Sacramento River and offered ferry service during the gold rush era and beyond as well as on the great rivers of the northwest such as the Columbia.

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is located adjacent to Fishermans Wharf. The vessels on display there make it the largest museum collection in the National Park Service. Walk onto the pier to visit the park’s collection of historic ships and for great views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. The park is open year round. Nearby to it is the park’s Maritime Museum in a 1939 Streamline Moderne Bathhouse Building.

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Historic steamboat wheel display at Columbia River Maritime Museum

The Columbia River Maritime Museum is located in Astoria Oregon, northwest of Portland at the mouth of the Columbia River. The museum is open all year and everyday with the exception on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Here you’ll see a great display of ship artifacts including bells, fog horns, whistles and navigation equipment. Included within this excellent museum is the Ted M. Natt Research Library which contains a large collection of historical resources pertaining to the maritime history of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest. This is a world famous maritime museum with visitors from around the globe.

Two excellent books on this subject are Water Trails West by The Western Writers of America and Steamboats on the Western Rivers by author Louis C. Hunter and Beatrice Jones Hunter.

(Photos and images of steamboats are from the public domain. Photos of Old Town Sacramento, California Steam Navigation sign, paddle wheel and steamboat wheel are from author’s collection)



The First California Theaters

Trips Into History visits some of the old California theaters, many of which trace their beginnings back to the days of the Gold Rush. Several of these theaters are still standing and make great additions to your California vacation planner.

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Nevada Theater, Nevada City California

Interestingly enough, the theaters not only sprouted up to offer some type of “refined” entertainment to the gold prospectors, but in places like San Francisco, even warred against each other to compete for the money and gold streaming into that city.

Add These Sites to Your California Trip Planner

Nevada Theater– Located in Nevada City California up in the Sierra Nevada this is the oldest continuously operating live theater in California. Nevada City was at one time a booming mining town and attracted as performers such notable names as the Lotta Crabtree, Edwin Booth and Mark Twain.

Eagle Theater– This reconstructed theater is located in Old Town Sacramento California. The original theater which was built with canvas and wood was washed away by a flood in January 1850 just three months after it’s construction. The story is that Gold Rush miners attended live performances even while the theater was being filled with water. Eventually it collapsed and floated down the Sacramento River.

Napa Valley Opera House– This opera house opened in Napa California in 1880. The Italianate style building was the venue for the 1896 exhibition featuring the famous fighter, John L. Sullivan. The writer Jack London also read from his works at the opera house.

eagle theater in sacramento california

Reconstructed Eagle Theater, Old Town Sacramento California

Live Theater and the Gold Miner

The first entertainers to reach the remote mining camps in the Sierra Nevada foothills might be someone with a guitar and a song. Nothing spectacular. The venue might have been a saloon and a tent saloon at that. These were really traveling shows. What was realized by the traveling minstrels was that a prospector would gladly pay for entertainment. The San Francisco theater business was right around the corner. The gold rush of 1849 was soon to enrich the city in another way.

Men of means in San Francisco discovered that there was another way, in addition to gambling, to part miners from their gold nuggets. The 49ers gold rush was soon to pour more gold into San Francisco. Live entertainment was just the thing for home sick prospectors. Women at this early year were essentially absent. There was no Saturday night courting. The miners would gladly pay to be entertained and especially entertained with something comical or slapstick. A form of entertainment that would get their thoughts away from the drudgery of mining for gold. The wilder and funnier the better.

napa valley opera house

Napa Valley Opera House, Napa California

In the book Women of the Gold Rush by author Elizabeth Margo, she states that California’s very first concert was performed on June 22, 1849 in San Francisco. The venue was a small schoolhouse located on the plaza which also doubled as a jail. The entertainer was a man named Steve Massett who was a part songwriter and piano player. All reports were that the concert was sold out (in a very small structure) and was accepted well. As it turned out, this was a one time event and things on the theater front were quiet until the end of 1849.

In the winter of 1850, a man referred to as the Doctor, would open San Francisco’s first theater, although using the word theater is a bit of a stretch. A hastily put up shack was a better description. The Doctor, also going by the name of Yankee Robinson, was indeed a doctor who had a medical school degree from the east. Yankee Robinson operated a drug store on the plaza and also had a talent for performing. Robinson was a part mimic, songwriter, guitar player and monologist.

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Crowded San Francisco Harbor in 1851

It was time for the Doctor to start the first San Francisco theater. All accounts say that the Doctor was a hit with the miners. He was especially successful with telling jokes about the gold miners and their quest to conquer El Dorado. The Doctor found out that miners enjoyed being joked about and he had them rolling in the aisles. It was escapism and comedy and the miners loved it.

Fires and San Francisco

The Doctor also took in some decent money with his theater. Not long after the Doctor started his little theater, San Francisco was hit by a devastating fire. These fires in 1850 and 1851 came on a regular basis. They also occurred with regularity in the early mining towns in the Sierra Nevada.

During that era, most structures were either made of wood or were simply tents. Fires occurred almost every month or so. Tents and simple structures would be replaced about as fast as they burned up. It was quite incredible how San Francisco and the other towns rebuilt so many times in the 1850’s. Each rebuilding usually was a bit better than what was there before. Some historians contend that the fires in a way improved the San Francisco theater industry and the city in general.

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Today's Nevada City California

Robinson and Evrard

Yankee Robinson’s second theater was put together with a partner and was called the Robinson and Evrard Museum. While the theater used the word museum, the venue was a theater. At about the same time, a well established gambler by the name of Tom McGuire, also decided that there just might be another way to get miners to part with their gold other than gambling. McGuire owned and operated the Parker House gambling hall and was making a lot of money. He already had women at his gambling hall to help lure men in. Why not have them act on a stage and bring in even more money?

McGuire had also figured out that it might be a good idea to have a second revenue stream. You never knew how long the gambling binge might last. Gold miners who could afford it had no problem catching a steamboat to enjoy the San Francisco live entertainment.

What’s amazing was that the regular fires in San Francisco did not discourage the expansion of the theater industry. In fact, they didn’t seem to discourage anything. Each time a fire would burn the city down, another larger theater would sprout up.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History articles about Nevada City California and Madame Mustache and the Story of Sacramento’s Eagle Theater.

old town sacramento steamer service

Steamer service from Sacramento to San Francisco

The Theater Battles Between the Doctor and Tom McGuire

Tom McGuire’s theater was named the Jenny Lind. Jenny Lind was a celebrated opera singer from Europe who for whatever reason never did visit San Francisco. In all, McGuire had three different Jenny Lind’s due to the regular¬† fires. The last one was a showplace in 1851 with a capacity of some three thousand. Between the fires and the building of theaters, a competition started up between the Doctor and Tom McGuire.

The competition was for both the miners gold and for the available talent. Each theater owner tried to snag the best performers. As is the case with theater in general, personality flare ups were an occurrence and performers would change venues often. Promotion was very important. Prominent signs and employing barkers at the door to bring in ticket buyers was important. Simple ticket price cutting wasn’t a wise option because the overhead in owning a theater was substantial and the two owners both knew it. Much more overhead than simply running faro or monte tables at a gambling hall.

A funny story told about Yankee Robinson’s third and final theater, the American, had to do with it’s construction. As you might already know, much of the present day San Francisco waterfront area is landfill. In the 1850’s, roads were being formed on the cities sand hills and the sand would be pushed into the bay. As a result, the land area increased along the shore. It just so happened that the Doctor built his theater on just such landfill.

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Old Town Sacramento California

The Doctor built a three thousand seat showplace. It was considered an architectural wonder. His competitor, McGuire and his associates, however didn’t waste any time spreading rumors around town that Robinson’s new American Theater just might be unsafe on all that landfill. Regardless of the rumors, Yankee Robinson’s theater opened up to a full house. While the opening proved successful it was a bit shaky at first. The story is that Robinson’s theater sank some two inches into the landfill while the opening performance was going on.

While it had nothing to do where Yankee Robinson’s American Theater was built, Tom McGuire in the end did win the theater battle. The Doctor went out of business at the end of 1851. Possibly McGuire’s background in the gambling business worked to outsmart the ex drug store owner/ performer/physician. Regardless, the Doctor was finished, bankrupt and actually ended up working for McGuire. The Doctor after all was a performer.

McGuire himself got into some financial trouble in 1852 and as a result of knowing the right people, sold his Jenny Lind Theater to the city fathers for their first city hall. McGuire reportedly got around $200,000 for the building and turned around and opened another theater. Tom McGuire, the gambling hall owner at heart, always seemed to think a step ahead of others.

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Lotta Crabtree, 1868

Lotta Crabtree Launches Her Career

An interesting fact is that some very prominent entertainers came out of the California gold mining region. The book, Anybody’s Gold by author Joseph Henry Jackson, gives a lot of detail about some of these performers. The most famous would have been Lotta Crabtree who went on to be the first millionaire entertainer. Lotta was from the east and arrived in California with her mother to join the father who had went in advance searching for gold. His gold efforts went nowhere but his young five year old daughter in the early 1850’s would go on to be a nationally recognized star.

The Times Changed and the Theater Changed

In a way, you could say that what played successful at the theater house ran in direct correlation with the amount of women arriving, respectable women, who inhabited both San Francisco and to a lesser degree the gold camps.

The more wives and relatives who arrived to join the prospectors, the more the atmosphere changed. And many would say for the better. If Shakespeare productions were not popular in 1849, and they weren’t, then they would begin to be as the region became, for lack of a better word, civilized. By the mid 1850’s, churches started to sprout up, schools were being established and a sort of moral standard was evoked. The new residents wouldn’t put up with what the first gold prospectors would. They would complain and complain loudly.

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Gold Panning Statue in Placerville California

This change wasn’t lost on the gambling hall and theater owners. The early success of Yankee Robinson’s one man act telling jokes about the miners with the accompanying catcalls from the audience declined by about the same rate as women arrived in San Francisco by steamer.

Theater productions, while possibly still performed without rehearsals, took on more serious and classical plot lines. Wild and rowdy show productions weren’t selling like they used to. While there have always been exceptions, plays and monologues that would be acceptable to both male and female audiences were the new money makers.

An Unintended Social Experiment

To demonstrate just how fast the moral atmosphere changed, the state of California in 1855 passed a law forbidding gambling in the state. Obviously, back room games still popped up behind closed curtains. The gambling prohibition also took a bit longer to take hold in the mining camps and villages. The remote locations and the inability to adequately enforce the law made change much slower in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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Modern day San Francisco California

What is interesting is in just how short of a time these significant changes came about. From 1849 to 1855, things almost came full circle. The entire six year span was like a social experiment. The experiment demonstrated what would take place with an almost all male population placed in a remote area without family influences and while on a quest for riches.

It also included the element of no standing moral values. In other words, the prospectors first crude mining camps represented the first civilizing step in building a settlement. The difference with this experiment was that the settlement was being built in the middle of nowhere. Some might say that the 49ers situation was like that of a deployed military unit. The difference however is that a military unit has a chain of command and recognized leaders. There were neither during the first years of the California Gold Rush. I’m certain that many letters sent back home to wives or relatives during the first few years omitted much of the extracurricular activities that went on. Excessive drinking and gambling may have been left out of the letters back home. When the first contingent of respectable females arrived in the gold country, the clock started ticking.

When living conditions and social moors changed, so did the San Francisco theater business. There are many historic theaters in California and several of them make great additions to your California vacation planner.

(Photos of San Francisco harbor and Lotta Crabtree from the public domain. Remaining photos are from author’s collection)


Airships / California Gold Rush

While airships to California may sound adventuresome, one of the more interesting museums in New England in the town of Bridgeton Maine is directly connected to this idea. Bridgeton is located about twenty miles west of Interstate 95, about one hundred and forty miles southwest of Bangor and about 143 miles north of Boston, MA. A visit to the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgeton is truly a Trip Into History and very interesting history indeed. While the name of Rufus Porter may not be a household name to many, Porter was a man of science who we might say thought outside of the box. While not necessarily noted for his scientific calculations and achievements, he was a man with a vision and a man with a will to pursue those visions, at least in writing. That vision was to fly people to the California gold fields in three days. Something I would say unheard of in the late 1840’s.

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The Aerial Locomotive advertisement, 1849, Public Domain image

Rufus Porter was the founder and editor of the weekly Scientific American which printed it’s first issue in 1845. In addition to his literary pursuits, Porter was also an inventor. The early years of the Scientific American reported mostly on inventions and patent office news. It’s been said that Rufus Porter actually had an interest in airships as far back as the 1820’s. In the year 1849 however, he came out with a publication entitled, Aerial Navigation… The Practicability of Traveling Pleasantly and Safely to California in Three Days. Two things were certain. The idea of airship travel to the California Gold Rush was unique to say the least. The second thing was that in the year that Porter released his theory and plan in writing, getting to the California gold fields as fast as possible was on many an easterner’s mind. As a result, Porter’s idea had an instant and at least, early audience. Airships to California was truly a unique theory in 1849.

In the book Anybody’s Gold by author Joseph Henry Jackson, the author describes the difficult ways in which easterners traveled to the California gold fields during the great Gold Rush. Overland travel in 1849 was a bit more than harsh. Between the Indians encountered along the way, mountain passes to cross and the diseases which were rampant over such a long journey, most opted for the steamers. This was a time twenty years before the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Long distance travel options were limited.

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Clipper Ship to California advertisement, Public Domain image

Ship travel required one of two routes. Either the long way around Cape Horn and then up the west coasts of South America and then North America or the shorter but not less treacherous route through the Isthmus of Panama and then up the California coast.

Rufus Porter was a dreamer and his dream was to transport the gold seekers by airships over the plains and over the high Rocky Mountains. The proposal in his above mentioned publication was air travel in an era when there was no air travel. Porter’s design was an 800 foot long airship referred to as an “Aerial Locomotive“. The craft’s total weight was estimated at 14,000 pounds. The airship would be held aloft by a bag containing hydrogen gas that would require some 20,000 feet of spruce rods and 8,000 yards of cloth. About 12,000 feet of steel wire would suspend the passenger compartment that was made from wooden boards and painted cloth. Porter estimated that his craft could travel about 100 MPH with the help of steam engines. After all, this was the age of steam power. As far as the threat of a lightening strike, Rufus Porter suggested dragging a small copper wire from the airship that would touch the earth to discharge any electricity. The cost of Porter’s airship design was estimated to be $1,750.

Porter set the price of a ticket to California at $200. If this sounded a bit too high, the maiden trip, or actually trips, would cost a passenger only $50 with carrying no more than three-hundred people at that low price.

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Ships in San Francisco harbor, circa 1850-51, Public Domain image

The sad but true story regarding the Aerial Locomotive or Porter’s Locomotive is that it never, as a fact, got off the ground even though it was reported that about 200 people did sign up for the first flight. Author Jackson points out that there was never any record that the aircraft was ever actually built. Apparently, a journal at the time, called ” Sherwood’s Pocket Guide to California” , advised anyone of not opting for the air route. It’s also thought that perhaps a real scientist stepped forward and pointed out some of the glaring flaws to Porter’s design. Two problems with the Porter design had to do with air resistance itself which Rufus may not have figured into his equations. Wind direction was another matter altogether. The other problem had to do with pounds of weight per horse-power. In other words, it seems that most if not all of the early enthusiasts had a change of heart and opted for either the cross country route or the sea route of the steamers and sailing ships. To be certain, airships had been experimented with very early on in Europe as well as other places but the grand idea of Rufus Porter was decades ahead of itself. The type of air travel envisioned by Porter would actually occur almost a century later during the era of the mighty German airships such as the Hindenberg dirigible.

The Scientific American that was founded in 1845 by Rufus Porter still publishes to this very day. The first foreign publication went to the presses in 1890. Such world famous scientists as Albert Einstein contributed articles and the magazine is noted as being the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in America.

Rufus Porter passed away in 1884 and even though he actually sold his new magazine not long after it was founded remained an editor at the Scientific American until his death. In addition to his scientific experiments and his revolutionary airship idea, Porter was a well known New England artist. He was a very talented muralist and his works decorated over 150 inns and houses in New England. Some of his works were in monochrome and others in full color.

You will be interested in our related articles Nevada City California and Madame Mustache and the famous gold mining town of Bodie California.

The Rufus Porter Museum and Cultural Heritage Center showcases the contributions of Rufus Porter to American arts, literature, science, and industry. The museum building itself is quite historic, built in 1789 and is located at 67 N. High Street, Bridgton, Maine.

Nevada City California and the Gambler Madame Mustache

When you travel high into the Sierra Nevada foothills between Sacramento and Donner Pass, the entire town of Nevada City California stands out as a living historic site of what was once a roaring gold mining camp and town. Nevada City stood apart from some of the other California gold towns. Nevada City in it’s heyday sported about three dozen saloons, many with beautiful mahogany and plate glass. There was another thing that Nevada City had. It was an incredibly successful, at least early in life, female gambler.

Famous National Hotel, Neveda City California

Gold Dust and the Frenchwoman / Enter Madame Dumont

Stepping off a stagecoach in 1854, Eleanore Dumont knew exactly why she came to Nevada City. Like other professional gamblers, Eleanore’s aim was to extract as much gold dust and nuggets from the miners as possible without actually mining herself. Interestingly enough, the professional gamblers collectively did an excellent job of doing just that.

In the history books, Madame Dumont is often referred to as Madame Mustache. This nickname apparently came about when a Californian who noticed a darkening line of Latin down on her upper lip used the term to describe her. For whatever reason, the name stuck and this was the nickname that Eleanore Dumont, the Frenchwoman gambler, was known as to many a gold miner.

Starting a New Gambling House

After hanging around Nevada City’s hotel for a few days, Madame Dumont set up a gambling parlor where she specialized in “vingt-et-un”, better known as Twenty One. The Madame excelled in dealing out the cards. She had gained much of her ability in San Francisco. She also excelled in producing happy losers. Probably a invaluable trait for a professional gambler.

Prospectors, working hard all day in the diggings looked forward to hanging out at Dumont’s gambling parlor because the proprietor was a woman. This was the era of the California gold mining towns where females in general were quite rare. Especially an unattached charming female, such as Dumont. A chance to spend time with one was not easily ignored. The story was that these miners actually cleaned up and dressed up before paying a visit to Madame Dumont. This in itself was quite rare for any Sierra Nevada gold miner to do. One’s attire was not an up front issue in the early 1850’s at a gold mining camp.

Success Had It’s Limits

Nevada City California Theater

Madame Eleanore Dumont had spent time previously in San Francisco where she came into contact with the more successful miners. She had a knack of understanding them and figured out what they liked and disliked.

It was probably with this educated knowledge that she journeyed to Nevada City to try her luck with her own establishment. Knowing your customer is one of the best attributes of any business owner and Madame Dumont was a master at it.

A perfect example of this is described in the book Anybody’s Gold by author Joseph Henry Jackson when he describes how she was able to actually make a man feel privileged to lose an entire weeks sifting of gold in her gambling parlor. After just one week in Nevada City, with the early success she experienced in relieving men of their money, Madame Dumont knew very well that she would remain in town for some time to come. All of her goals were unfolding like clockwork.

The built in problem that Dumont faced was that a dealer could operate only one table. Perhaps a half dozen gamblers at any one time would gamble at her single table. She knew well that there was much more of the miner’s gold to tap with more than one “Twenty One” table. She wanted more volume. As a result, Madame Dumont went into a partnership with a young professional gambler, a male.

The partnership worked quite well and business grew and additional games were added such as Keno and Chuck-A-Luck. Profits grew at a fast clip and this cash flow wasn’t lost to Dumont’s new male partner. The partner demanded more of the profits than he had originally agreed to. He pressed the issue with Dumont. For whatever reason, the Frenchwoman was determined that her partner would get not one dollar more than what they previously had agreed to. With that, the partnership dissolved, her partner taking whatever his then share was worth and left town. He not only left Nevada City but he traveled all the way to New York and ended up establishing his own very successful gambling house in that bustling city.

See our Trips Into History article on the link below…

A Visit to Old Town Sacramento CA

Time to Leave Nevada City

Nevada City California today

Madame Dumont’s luck in Nevada City California was starting to wane. It just so happened that her new one person gambling operation began at about the time that the easy pickings were starting to dry up in the surrounding area.

The dry diggings and the river mining were on a downtrend and quartz mining was starting to take over. The tremendous values to come out of the quartz mines would not be felt for a little while. With this backdrop, the Madame found herself in a transitional time for Nevada City. Her original scheme was to arrive in Nevada City at it’s peak, with her knowledge and charm, take as much gold from the miners as possible and then leave town. The year 1856 was when Madame Eleanore Dumont decided to leave Nevada City.

Whatever Happened to Madame Mustache?

The exact facts of what happened to Eleanore Dumont over the next twenty years of her life is not etched in granite. What is known comes in bits and pieces of stories shared among the gold miners and others all over the west.

The story is that Eleanore Dumont traveled a lot. She was reported seen in such far away places as Deadwood Dakota Territory, Virginia City Montana, Tombstone Arizona and the wild mining town of Bodie California. The story also contends that in Madame Dumont’s later years she resorted to prostitution to earn her living. It appears that it was at Bodie that Madame Mustache took her own life in 1879.

While Bodie was a well known wild mining town with it’s share of violence, it’s not as well known as some other western frontier mining towns because it didn’t have star characters such as Doc Holliday or the Earp’s. Madame Mustache could very well have been the most notorious female gambler to have ever stepped foot in both Nevada City and Bodie California. It’s one of those stories that could only have come out of the Gold Rush days.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)


Historic Old Town Albuquerque / A Spanish Settlement in the New World

Old Town Albuquerque New Mexico is very representative of most of the Spanish settlements in the southwest United States. The most distinguishing characteristic is the town plaza. Old Town Albuquerque resides in about ten blocks filled with adobe structures. Today it is a very popular tourist destination with a wide assortment of shops, unique art galleries and restaurants. Old Town is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town. On the banks of the Rio Grande, Old Town Albuquerque has thrived for three centuries. Vacations in New Mexico offer many alternatives. If you’re searching for things to do in Albuquerque, the Old Town Historic District is a great choice.

old town albuquerque plaza

Old Town Albuquerque Plaza

The plaza didn’t come into being until 1780. Prior to that the Albuquerque area was a scattered agricultural area. The plaza appeared after settlers built adobe homes around a defensible center for protection against the Comanche and Apache Indian attacks. The defensible area became what is now the plaza. Prior to that, the fortress would have been the church.

Everything pertaining to Spain in the southwest first occurred when Francisco Vasquez Coronado explored this area in 1540.The region was inhabited by a combination of Pueblo Indians and the nomadic Apaches and Comanches. It would be about 60 years later that the Spaniards started to settle and colonize the region. It would be about another one hundred years before Albuquerque was officially founded.

For almost three centuries Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest. On the north side of the plaza, which is the focal point of Old Town, is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. The church was first named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Albuquerque in 1706. Valdez named the church after the Viceroy of New Spain. Later, the Duke of Albuquerque ordered that the titular saint for the church be changed to San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Philip of Spain. The original church on the site was founded back in 1706, at the time of original settlement, by Franciscan priest Manuel Moreno.

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San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town

This church however collapsed in 1792 due to very heavy rains. The new church was built in 1793 and is the one that stands there today. When you visit the church you’ll also see the beautiful gardens in the front facing the plaza.

Everything for the church changed in 1821 after Mexico won it’s independence from Spain. Mexico ordered the Franciscan priests to leave which was happening throughout the old Spanish territories. Later in 1853, after the United States took possession of New Mexico Territory, a French priest, Father Joseph Machebeuf, was named pastor of Albuquerque by Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe. At this same time the church was remodeled which included a new roof. It’s a very beautiful structure.

It’s interesting to note that the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Nuevo Mexico territory, which connected Mexico City with New Mexico’s Spanish capitals ran right through Old Town Albuquerque. The capitals were San Gabriel and then later Santa Fe. This was the main route to the new Spanish territory for all commerce until the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri was established in 1821. The U.S. government has now designated the El Camino Real a National Historic Trail. This amazingly long trail from Mexico City went back to the year 1598, about a decade before the founding of Santa Fe.

old town albuquerque shops and galleries

Old Town Albuquerque shops and galleries

Several flags have flown over the Old Town Albuquerque plaza. First it was Spain’s, then Mexico’s beginning in 1821 and then it was the United States flag beginning in 1846. The only interruption with the United States flag from 1846 to today was a thirty-nine day period during the American Civil War when General Henry Sibley’s Texas Volunteer regiment flew the Confederate flag over the plaza. General Sibley would go on to be defeated later by Colorado Volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass which is just to the east of Santa Fe. During the Civil War, southern forces made large inroads into the southern section of the New Mexico Territory. There are two Mountain Howitzer guns that are on display today on the plaza. Both guns were left behind by retreating Confederate troops.

The move east to New Town, downtown today, occurred in 1880 and was a direct result of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad coming into Albuquerque. Eventually there was a Harvey House, named the Alvarado, at the site of today’s train terminals. Unfortunately, the Alvarado was torn down in 1970.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is located at 2000 Mountain Road. This is about 1,000 feet east of the plaza itself. Included in the museum are traveling exhibits, southwestern art, Albuquerque history artifacts and outside is a sculpture garden. You’ll also want to check out Old Town area B & B’s and hotels. There’s a great choice.

Old Town Albuquerque is located about two miles west of the City of Albuquerque downtown area. Of special note, is that Old Town Albuquerque can be reached rather easily from the Santa Fe area by riding the New Mexico Rail Runner train. The NM Rail Runner will take you to the train station in downtown Albuquerque and your train ticket will get you a free bus ride to and from Old Town. It’s a good way to fit in a trip to Albuquerque while visiting Santa Fe.

(Photos from author’s private collection)