Cover image for Gold dust and gunsmoke : tales of gold rush outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen, and vigilantes
Gold dust and gunsmoke : tales of gold rush outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen, and vigilantes
Boessenecker, John, 1953-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : John Wiley, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 367 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F865 .B6528 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A lively collection of true tales of villainy and violence during the California Gold Rush

"Boessenecker has done as much as anyone to change and illuminate California's Wild West image . . . if you would like a good read about how gold fever ignited a rush not only of families, but prostitutes, feuds, lynchings, duels, bare-knuckle prizefights, and vigilantes, then is this the place to start."
- Wild West

"A lively, thoughtful, well-researched book, and those interested in the rough, early years of the Mother Lode will not be disappointed."
- Ledger-Dispatch (Jackson, Ca)

"[Boessenecker] has done an amazing job of researching newspapers, legal documents, diaries, and other sources, as well as making skillful use of the recent research. . . . Excellent narrative . . . . Very well done, Gold Dust & Gunsmoke is a 'must.'"
- True West

"Boessenecker's meticulous research and vivid prose make this excellent book a fascinating collection of true stories."
- Tulsa World

Packed with never-before-told tales of the American frontier, Gold Dust & Gunsmoke sends us galloping through the tumultuous California territory of the mid-nineteenth century, where disputes were settled with six-shooters and the lines of justice were in perpetual flux. Armed with meticulous research, John Boessenecker displays a remarkable knack for finding the perfect details to capture all the color, excitement, and hullabaloo of the Gold Rush. Published in tandem with the 150th anniversary of California's statehood, these authentic stories of gunfighters, lawmen, vigilantes, and barroom brawlers are an important contribution to the rich lore of the American West.

Author Notes

John Boessenecker is a San Francisco attorney and historian

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Movies and television have created an image of the Old West as an extremely violent place. This is to a large extent false, for most of the West was relatively peaceful during the frontier era. One outstanding exception was California during the Gold Rush. A lust for gold was the driving force behind the conflicts that developed as a diverse group of participants each fought for a share of the promised fortunes. Violence and lawlessness ran rampant in the 1850s, recording the highest homicide rate in the history of peacetime U.S. This is an outstanding collection of true "Wild West" stories told in a most engaging manner. Not only are the cast of characters profiled and events described but also they are placed in context to show how the actions involved were essential in establishing the California territory, and how they even affect the present. There should be considerable interest as the timing of this publication coincides with the sesquicentennial celebration of the Gold Rush and the statehood of California. --Fred Egloff

Library Journal Review

Most of this work is a collection of barely connected anecdotes of outrages and villainy perpetrated in post-Mexican War California from 1848 to 1860. In the absence of strong law enforcement, and with an enormous number of young male emigrants and transients, violence became the primary means of settling disputes. Banditry, personal disagreements, official corruption, dueling, and tensions between the Mexican and American populations increased the risk of bloodshed. The violence abated as the Gold Rush culture was subsumed into more mainstream American society, but it left an indelible imprint on American culture and popular perceptions. The anecdotes gathered by attorney Boessenecker (Lawman, LJ 2/1/98) are interesting, but the analysis is sketchy, mostly limited to the observation that murder rates were much higher then than now and that popular writers and myth-makers drastically distorted the facts of the era. For subject collections in larger libraries.ÄEdwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
1 "Boys, I Believe I've Found a Gold Mine"p. 1
2 First Bloodp. 13
3 Judge Lynchp. 23
4 Gringos and Greasersp. 44
5 Bring Me the Head of Joaquin Murrietap. 73
6 Pillagers or Patriots?p. 100
7 The Whores in '51p. 134
8 Bears, Bulls, and Bare Knucklesp. 159
9 I'll Die Before I'll Runp. 179
10 The Field of Honorp. 204
11 Pirates of the Placersp. 225
12 Gold Rush Lawmenp. 250
13 Enforcing the Lawp. 273
14 Gold Rush Gunfightersp. 297
Epilogue: A Legacy of Violencep. 321
Notesp. 327
Indexp. 349