This meticulously researched history novel (1844-1853), 2nd book of the author's California Gold Trilogy, tells the story of a Donner Party survivor against the excitement of the Gold Rush. Each book can be enjoyed without reading the others, though history buffs insist they be read in sequence. The spirit of a Miwok woman lodged in an oak tree narrates all three books. In River of Red Gold, "Indian Mary" or "Maria", the granddaughter of the narrator and the daughter of the headman, carries the Miwok side of the story. For centuries the People have lived in peace along the Cosumnes River. Vaquero-soldier Pedro Valdez loves "Maria" and desires the land for his own rancho, but Perry McCoon stakes his claim on the land and the girl, and then brings his 14-year-old Donner bride to his crude cabin in the wilderness 25 miles from Sutter's Fort (today's Sacramento). Elitha, the eldest daughter of the namesake of the Donner Party, hopes to make a home for her four younger sisters - all frostbitten, suffering nightmares from starving in the mountains, devastated by the death of their parents, and bereft of everything except the clothes on their backs. However McCoon deceives Elitha and thwarts her efforts to gather her sisters under her roof. As the stampede for gold sweeps all before it, Elitha and Indian Mary help each other survive. Also helpful are Indian Mary's umne, The People, and two teenaged sisters married to the owners of a big rancho about 8 miles distant. The fates of these historical characters (names unchanged) parallel the fates of their 3 different cultures.
The primary setting of the book is now the home of the author, who was inspired by artifacts she found on her ranch, and interviews she conducted with local old timers — descendants of characters in the story. A Ph.D and former college teacher, the author availed herself of historical archives, myriad diaries, letters, and books, and in 2013 she updated the novel to include new historical research, including from the internet — inaccessible at the time of her original research. Narrative endnotes (12 pp) tell readers where the characters are buried and add fascinating extra tidbits. Many readers advise others to read the endnotes first to learn how much fiction the author used to flesh out some of the characters. At least twice per year the author leads history-nature walks along the Cosumnes to show readers where the action took place, including the site of the Miwok village and the bloody shootout between miners and ranchers. She also encourages them to smell the medicinal plants that Elitha learned about from Indian Mary.
|Publisher:||Bridge House Books|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|