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Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859: A Tale of the Old West

Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859: A Tale of the Old West

4.5 11
by Avi

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Early Whitcomb's family needs a miracle. Their Iowa farm has been in the family for generations, but a long drought has withered their savings and left them in debt. Meanwhile, the great Chicago and Northwestern Railroad wants their land, and if the Whitcombs can't pay their loans, the local banker, Judge Fuslin, will foreclose and sell the farm as his own. Early's


Early Whitcomb's family needs a miracle. Their Iowa farm has been in the family for generations, but a long drought has withered their savings and left them in debt. Meanwhile, the great Chicago and Northwestern Railroad wants their land, and if the Whitcombs can't pay their loans, the local banker, Judge Fuslin, will foreclose and sell the farm as his own. Early's uncle (though he's more like a brother), Jesse, thinks he has the solution: to head West and dig for gold. Early is wild to go with him, as much for the adventure as for the gold. But the journey costs money--more than the boys can afford--and when Jesse flees during the night, after being accused of a robbery, Early doesn't know what to believe. When Jesse sends an electrifying message--that he has found gold, but his life is in danger-- Early knows he must do whatever it takes to find him, even if it means running away and joining a wagon train with a strange family. The journey is dangerous and full of hardships, and the closer the travelers get to their destination, the more ruined lives they encounter--lives consumed by the hunt for gold. Then to his horror, Early learns that Jesse has been accused of another, much bigger crime and has fled to a secret place in the mountains. Somehow, Early must get to him without leading Jesse's pursuers right to his door. And even if he succeeds, Early will still have to make the hardest choice of his life.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Chris Carlson
Determined to find his nineteen-year-old uncle and best friend, Jesse, who left for Colorado to find enough gold to pay the mortgage and save the family's Iowa farm, twelve-year-old Early Whittcomb joins up with a barber, his wife, and his daughter on a wagon train heading for the gold fields near Pike's Peak in 1858. Young Early documents the journey's details and his worry that the mysterious Mr. Mawr is also searching for Jesse as a suspect in a bank robbery. Early discovers an unusual friend in Lizzie, the barber's twelve-year-old daughter. She becomes his confidante and helpmate in locating Jesse when they arrive in Colorado. Early finds that Jesse has found enough gold, but his zest to strike it rich has also changed Jesse into an outlaw, on the run from authorities. Avi brings to life the Colorado Gold Rush, the wagon train experience, and the lust for easy riches. He delivers enough adventure and suspense to keep readers engaged throughout. Written in journal format with illustrations that help in understanding the era, the book includes a useful glossary of unfamiliar historical terms. Readers will empathize with Early's moral dilemma and find his friendship with Lizzie both plausible and refreshing. Better editing on dates in Early's journal is needed. This book should have special appeal to boys and readers who have enjoyed the Dear America series. Reviewer: Chris Carlson
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Avi is the master of a good story that takes younger YA readers into another historical era. The publisher recommends this book for readers 8 to 12, but for several reasons, it would work well in middle schools, with readers up to 14. Early Whitcomb, the protagonist and narrator, is 14 years old—old enough to travel alone across the western frontier, old enough to fall in love. The setting is Iowa, where Early lives with his family struggling to hold on to their farm. Early's Uncle Jesse, only a few years older, has been raised as a brother, and Early is much impressed by Jesse's fascination with going to Colorado to find gold. The bank is trying to get hold of the farm, and Jesse believes the gold he will find will save the family from foreclosure. Jesse disappears, as do a few hundred dollars from the local bank. Early believes Jesse must be innocent of the robbery, but determines to follow him to Colorado to help find gold. Early gets work on a wagon train, helping a family with their struggles. The daughter of the family has red hair and a fiery disposition to go with it�sure enough, Early grows to love her. When they get to Colorado, they discover that the gold fever has more to do with "fever" than actual gold. There is a lot of suspense, action, good character development, and a fine description of the conditions on a wagon train and in mining towns in the Rockies—excellent supplementary reading for any study of the American West at the middle school level. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Debra Lampert-Rudman
Historical fiction for middle grade readers is alive and well in the "I Witness" series and Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 does not disappoint. Filled with illustrations and typeface reminiscent of the era it reflects, this "Tale of the Old West" is written in the first person and features young "Early Wittcomb" and his family. Today's middle grade readers will be able to relate to some of the problems Early's family endures in Iowa including financial struggles and the hope for a better life somewhere else. They will cheer for him as he travels with a wagon train to the West Coast in search of gold. Illustrations in the book include an actual diagram of a wagon that would have taken travelers of this era across country. The book dispels many of the myths surrounding the gold rush and the reader truly feels the struggles and triumphs of gold seekers. Family relationships, a love story and success round out this fast-moving story that will appeal to boys and girls. A four-page glossary, author's notes, and acknowledgments provide well-rounded references. In fact, the author's note includes a "final word" from the author, Avi, who states that he tried a little gold panning in Cherry Creek, near his home in Denver, Colorado, and got "a few flakes of gold." This book provides a "golden" opportunity to spark even reluctant readers with its first-person narration, illustrations and realism. Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7

Fourteen-year-old Early Whitcomb's family is trying desperately to hold onto their Iowa farm during hard times. The local banker is pressuring the Whitcombs to sell their land to the Chicago and North Western railway, promising to foreclose on their mortgage if they refuse. This prompts Early's Uncle Jesse, 19, to head west and find gold, disappearing under suspicion of bank robbery. After he writes that he has found gold but suspects that it will be stolen, Early sneaks away and signs on to a wagon train destined for Cherry Creek and Pike's Peak. A representative of the railroad is also traveling with the wagon trains, and the boy suspects that he wants to find Jesse and prevent him from helping his family save the farm. Early makes an unlikely ally in Lizzy Bunderly, the free-spirited daughter of his wagon-train employer, and the two friends face heartache, hardship, and loss while learning the value of endurance on this journey that takes them across the wild, unsettled territory. The novel deals with difficult times in the life of a young person, but emphasizes Early's optimism and hope for better days. The lessons he learns as a result of the choices he makes, as opposed to those made by his uncle, reveal the importance of making decisions wisely. The period reproductions add much to the understanding of an earlier way of life. The chapters are short and broken up into diary format so as to mimic travel journals of the early wagon train adventurers. A rewarding addition.-Debra Banna, Sharon Public Library, MA

Kirkus Reviews
Centering on the more-or-less overlooked American gold rush in Colorado, this historical novel follows Early Wittcomb as he travels from Iowa to Pike's Peak in search of a favorite uncle who set off to find gold and save the family farm from bank foreclosure. Hoping to find his uncle, gold and adventure, Early signs on to help a feckless barber, his sickly wife and his rebellious daughter get to Colorado by Conestoga wagon. This plows some familiar ground in plot and characterization: hardships of the westward crossing, plucky teens who are wiser than their elders, the utter cluelessness of the "Fifty-Niners," as the emigrant miners were known, and the inevitable disappointment that followed most. What will make this interesting for readers who like action is the relentless foreshadowing of evil and heartbreak, the short chapters, the trademark Avi cliffhangers, sharp attention to interesting (but not overwhelming) historical detail and the many period illustrations and photographs. (glossary, author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Disney Press
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File size:
6 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Avi's books are loved by kids and adults everywhere. He has written more than 50 books, several of which have garnered prestigious awards, including the Newbery Medal and two Newbery Honors. His titles with Hyperion include Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Crispin at the Edge of the World, and The Book Without Words. He lives with his family in Colorado.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

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Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859: A Tale of the Old West 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loooooove this book so much. My class is reading it. It's a great book with great chracters. It's about the Colorado Gold Rush and has very exciting events in it. This is worth your money. PLEASE BUY!!!!
MudJM More than 1 year ago
This book provides a good background history of the old West. It focuses on the goldrush period and tells a story filled with relevant history. It tells how they lived in every day life. It's appropriate for grades 5-7.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard gold is a wonderful book i love how early is so sad when he cant wait to see if he finds jesse. Thanks fo making a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You really get a feel for what it was like back when the gold rush happened this everyone should read
Douglas Guenther More than 1 year ago
Very very few flaws
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jadaykennedy More than 1 year ago
This is only the second book I've read by this author. I admire the writing style. His books are absorbing and highly entertaining. The character of Early, a fourteen year old boy is accurate and effortless. The young girl, Lizzy is precocious and bucks against the constraints of being a woman and acting "ladylike." The description of the prairie and barren heat sodden dessert enhance the feeling you are there beside Early. I love a good historical fiction novel. T he gaggle of people travelling is rooted in the mid 1800's and steeped in the get rich dreams of the Gold Rush. The rush of people from the east settling the west in their drive for riches shows the price that was paid. From burying loved ones on the way, to having hard won gold stolen, to a buffalo stampede and people facing the possibility of losing their farms due to greed and progress (the railroad) are all portrayed and plunk readers down in the era of westward expansion and the Colorado Gold Rush. Early experiences a heck of an adventure. Travelling in a wagon train to Colorado he gts his first sweetheart and learns how to fend for himself without his parents. The book is packed full of fiction adventure and historical fact. The only drawback was I listened to an audio version and was deprived of artwork that could have added to the educational and entertainment of reading about the well told fictional history. Read for entertainment or to had to a section of history taught in a classroom.. the book is highly recommended. ???? ½
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a school librarian, Avi has created another great book a reader just can't put down! The story takes you on a journey with Early and Lizzy to the gold hills of Colorado from the Iowa plains. From this you learn about a very important part of our history as a country and the settling of the west. Boomtowns and how present cities like Denver came to be and grew from the migration of many hopeful eastern emigrants hoping to get rich quick.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago