And that task is associated with a deep-seated interest I’ve pursued I was about 12 years old.
Throughout my life I’ve been fascinated by 19th Century California migration waves the Golden has always been a magnet for dreamers, schemers and the people who supported and even thrived in tidal bore-like waves of immigration and associated with the 1842 discovery of gold by Francisco Lopez in Placercitos canyon and six years later by James Marshall near Placerville, CA.
For more than 50 years, I’ve read everything I could find on California argonauts, including the astounding accounts of their overland journeys from and efforts to speedily reach California by sprinting across Panama’s isthmus to its Pacific coast. But what’s held my interest has been where they initially settled and what territories they pioneered. My first attempt to use a computer to organize my material was with a Macintosh Plus running one of one of two database programs; Panorama and FileMaker.
Although it had outstanding graphics, the Mac was absolutely the wrong choice for a computer dedicated to my passion for California history.
This brings me to the Great Technology Leap of 2013.
A few weeks ago I purchased a new all-in-one desktop with a 27-inch screen. I have a great high speed internet connection that makes it possible to usw Google Earth to isolate and zoom over the immigrant routes and the early settlements in the California Gold Country and here in the lesser known gold fields of Southern California.
The 27-inch screen gives me a raptor’s binocular vision of terrain and settlements. And copious notes I’ve amassed on how the argonauts moved to new diggings help metrack their intrastate movements. Using Google Earth, I zoom in on the area round Placerville CA and scan for evidence of overgrown wagon paths, foot trails and mid-19th century encampments. Surprisingly, many of the trails are still visible. So are the clearings where gold rushers and the merchants who mined the miners settled from 1849 to 1870.
What really surprises me however, are how spider webs of settlements smd trails appear to have quickly expanded, coalescing into the areas that became, Auburn, Grass Valley Marysville, Placerville, and Sonora at the southern end of the Gold districts.
I might have made a different hardware choice for my Google Earth research, but I reined in my choices, since space in my office is at a premium and I thought a full-blown digital battle station with a high speed over-clocked processor, a cooled graphics card with 2GB of memory, and multiple TB drives was a bit much. My new Lenovo A720 all in one tucks nicely onto my desktop, has a 27-inch screen and enough memory and horse power for amateur photogrammetry
Using Google Earth and my new computer, I’ve already found a trail I want to hike later this summer. From the air, you can see where pioneers on horseback and later in wagons forged paths to creeks and granite encrusted ravines in the upper reaches of the American River’s South and Middle Forks.
I think the two generations of surveyors would chuckle if looking at aerial views of the two drainages and saw some crazy dude in red. white and blue tie dyed shirt scrambling up at trail bent forward balancing a 45-pound ruck loaded with an ultrabook computer, a couple of cameras and a solar charger for his personal electronics.
But my inner Huck Finn thirsts for information and proof of how California argonauts explored and where they temporarily settled. And that’s where you can find me later this summer, up in the Gold Country tramping 160 year old trails and sifting through piles of really old trash…Jim Forbes on