What is it about gold? For eons, people have admired it, craved it, hoarded it. King Tut was buried in it. Sure, it’s shiny and doesn’t tarnish. But iron is stronger and more useful. Aluminum is lighter and more versatile. Uranium supports a chain nuclear reaction. Why does gold have such a universal, almost magic power?
Gold was the spark that ignited California. Tens of thousands of men from around the world begged, borrowed, or stole the money for passage to California, irresistibly drawn by the lure of gold. They came from the U.S., from South America, from Europe, from China. The Chinese called California Gum Saan, “Gold Mountain.”
I got the idea for The Second Promise the first time I visited Bodie, California. Today, Bodie is a ghost town, a few lonely buildings maintained in “arrested decay” as a California State Historic Park. But in 1883, more than 5,000 people lived and worked in that remote and rocky place, enduring endless shortages of wood and water, a climate so harsh no trees would grow, a relentless wind blowing either dust or snow, stamp mills pounding ore 24 hours a day, streets doubling as sewers, gunfights and knifings and drunks and lawmen both crooked and straight.
The one-word answer: GOLD. From about 1877 to 1883, Bodie was the biggest, baddest gold-mining town in California. More than $32,000,000 worth of gold was mined in Bodie. For all that wealth, not many of Bodie’s restless gold-seekers made their fortunes. Most of them soon moved on to new strikes, new mining camps.
The header photo, taken by my husband Paul Abernathy, shows Main Street in Bodie today. You can walk into some of the houses and barns, visit a general store, take a guided tour of the stamp mill. Wander around the cemeteries on the hill across from the mines. Listen to the haunting, lonely wind and ask yourself, what was it like for the people who lived here during the boom? What was it like for the women?