Ken Lizzio

A Reader's Opinion

Originally reviewed

on and by:


James Fisher

While many North Americans are familiar with the term "Gold Rush of 1849", they likely have a romantic idea of picturesque covered wagons slowly heading west over the prairie, of bearded miners panning for gold (as the cover depicts), and so on. The reality is quite different, as "Forty-Niner: THE EXTRAORDINARY GOLD RUSH ODYSSEY OF JOSEPH GOLDSBOROUGH BRUFF" by Ken Lizzio informs us. Drawing on the detailed journal and sketches by J.G.Bruff, we learn that the trail west was littered not only with broken dreams but abandoned excess goods, broken wagons, livestock, and graves as well. There were hostile natives to contend with (their land and hunting grounds were being invaded by a steady stream of thousands of whites), disease, adverse weather, and the formidable Rockies themselves. "Captain" Bruff of the Washington City Company recorded it all, and his meticulously kept journal (despite all odds) remains one of the best accounts of the events of 1849 and its sad aftermath. I read this book with great enthusiasm, as I was learning about a portion of North American history I was heretofore unfamiliar with. I was startled to learn of the hardships endured by thousands in their quest for riches. Today we have extravagant lotteries that promise the hope of riches and a superior lifestyle. In 1849, it was the "Great California Lottery" (as it has been referred to) that promised the same if one could only get there fast enough. Myriads of people from all walks of life, professional and layman alike, sold everything they had in their blind quest for a better life. Why, one only had to pick the stuff up in riverbeds, streams, and beaches in California, no hard labor required, it was said. The reality was that few made any money. Mr. Lizzio has composed his account thoroughly refining Mr. Bruff's notes to create a seamless story that follows Bruff from the east coast where he is made Captain of the Washington City Company, to the west where he manages to safely deliver his men with only one loss of life. While sparingly quoting from Bruff's journal, we travel along with the gold-fevered group through every terrain imaginable between Maryland and California. While there is some repetition in his narrative, it is otherwise clean and flowing, sweeping us along on the journey and suffering along with a stranded, starving Bruff through the terrible winter of '49 in the Sierra mountains. Great reading for armchair adventurers and for those who enjoy historical accounts that are authentic and well recounted, without any fabricated dialogue or a superabundance of speculation on the author's behalf.


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