Beginning with the 1848 discovery of gold in California, the next 50 years saw thousands of ``argonauts'' (people searching for gold) leave their families to follow the trail of new discoveries in the American West, Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. Marks ( And Die in the West ) examines these pilgrimages in a scholarly study that considers seemingly every aspect of the prospectors' experiences. Although few remained wealthy from the profits of their ``diggins,'' and many never struck gold at all, Marks posits that the sense of freedom and the spirit of adventure permeating the quest compensated for the failures and hardships. Drawing on firsthand accounts, the author describes the severe weather and transit conditions that killed many seekers, as well as the lack of decent food and shelter at the sites. She also details the difficulties experienced by minority argonauts and provides a historical overview of the Western expansion that resulted from the gold rushes. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Unlike William Greever's Bonanza West (1963), which relies heavily upon secondary sources, Marks ( And Die in the West , LJ 6/15/89) effectively blends diaries and letters into a masterful narrative in this history of the gold rushes. Although most of the miners in these rushes were European American males, Marks is to be credited for including the voices of women and people of color. As with J.S. Holliday's The World Rushed In (1981), Marks places much emphasis on the California rush, although she incorporates material from rushes in other parts of the United States and Canada. The first chapter provides a chronological overview, while subsequent chapters cover the means used to get to the rushes, extracting gold, life in the diggings, community development, and the rushes' larger significance. One strength of the book is the smooth blending of the sources with contemporary historical scholarship. Highly recommended for public libraries and undergraduate collections.-- Daniel Liestman, Seattle Pacific Univ. Lib.
Drawing on hundreds of letters, diaries, and first-hand accounts, the author reconstructs the experiences of nearly one million prospectors who descended on the American and Canadian West during America's great gold-rush era. Marks argues that the search for gold was the single most important force in the development of the American West. She includes the experiences of minorities, women, and families. Contains nine pages of black and white photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Marks provides a fascinating overview of the American frontier during the nineteenth century's long fit of gold mania. From 1848 to 1900, significant discoveries of gold in California, Colorado, Alaska, and the Yukon attracted hordes of novice prospectors to unsettled territories on the fringes of civilization. Precious few of these naively optimistic adventurers ever struck it rich, but Marks successfully mines their letters, diaries, and memoirs, extracting a wealth of insights and information about the American gold rush experience. Topics explored in great depth include the arduous westward journey, daily life on the trail and in the camps, the boomtown phenomenon, law and order, ties to home, and the ephemeral positions of women and minorities in the gold regions. An absorbing cultural, sociological, and historical chronicle of a pivotal epoch that both reaffirmed and redefined the American way of life and the concept of Manifest Destiny.