I Fell in Love with Old West During a Cross-Country Drive and Gold Rush Days in Sacramento

After over a year living in Greece and Bulgaria back in 2015, the Mister and I decided to take our time getting out to California. We hung out with family, relaxed, and took a looooooong drive from Michigan to the coast. I had been to places like the Black Hills and Yellowstone as a kid. But he’d never gotten the chance to see them, so we loaded up our little Chevy and hit the road.

Buffalo in Yellowstone

I had forgotten that once you get west of my native Minnesota, you are immediately in cowboy country. We ate in restaurants decked out in 100% old West gear and kitschy dives dripping with patriotism. We went into a general store and found not only special cowboy boot stockings, but a pink bedazzled horse brush and special coats for goats. We saw Mount Rushmore, learned the history of Wall Drug, got up close and personal with buffalo, braved the sulphur-scented air of geysers and saw the Grand Tetons from horseback.  In short, it was a marvelous time!

I thought I would have overdosed on all that rugged charm. Instead I found myself drawn to learning more about this unique time and place in history. 

Gold Rush Days at Old Sacramento

Over Labor Day weekend 2016, I attended Sacramento’s annual ode to the buckeroo way of life, Gold Rush Days. When gold was discovered in the American River in 1848, Sacramento wasn’t even a village, let alone a state capitol. Heck, California was barely even a state! The Sacramento River was a great launching point for people trying to reach the gold fields, and due to some enterprising folk it blossomed into a thriving burgh as a result. So, it isn’t at all surprising that the city makes a big deal over Gold Rush Days.

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This weekend-long celebration doesn’t happen every year. In fact, a friendly Sacramento Historical Center volunteer told me that last year they had to take a break because of the drought conditions facing the state. So people were especially excited for this year’s shenanigans. There were tons of people in historical garb enjoying old-timey drinks like sasparilla and birch beer. (Yum!) Plus train rides, carriage rides, and free samples of saltwater taffy. Several actors participated in living history displays all over “tent city”, just outside the Sacramento History Museum.

Inside there was even more to see! I had a great time chatting with the costumed volunteers in “The Lady’s Parlour” where they had lace-making and weaving demonstrations as well as a diorama competition and old maps of the city.

Adding the Wild West to my Fiction

Not too long after this fun event, I became a tour guide at the Sacramento History Museum. It would be my job to guide groups through the Old Sac area the rest of the year. Each guide needed to create a character based on the training we received. As I learned the stories, I was struck by how much of Sacramento’s history had been shaped by gamblers, grifters, and thieve. I decided to make that the theme of my particular tour, and decided to become a sham medium as my character.

Unfortunately, the fates conspired and I never completed the training. (Though I did walk out with a big fat binder full of cool information!) However, my fast-talking, card-shark-turned-hoaxter character continued to grow and evolve until Viola Thorne was born. Unlike my tour guide persona, Vi actually can communicate with the dead. She’d just rather they left her alone. 

My first novel featuring Vi is called No Rest for the Wicked. The story starts after Vi retired to Sacramento with the spoils of her biggest score. But her past (and her partner) refuse to stay buried….

No Rest for the Wicked came out in print on March 28 from Black Rose Writing (ebook is on pre-order and will come out Apr 4), and this inspired me to dedicate the month of April here on the Journal to Steampunk’s cousin, the Weird West. So mosey on back for more western history and fun all month to celebrate my launch!

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