Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book Review: Gold Rush Capitalists: Greed and Growth in Early Sacramento:

It all started on an early spring day in 1851 in Sacramento with a game of Monte, a classic game of the Old West. What resulted was the death of two men, Charles Myers, a wheelwright from Ohio, and Frederick Roe, a career thug and gambler from England.

As it turned out, accusations of cheating were discharged toward Roe; he protested, a fight broke out, and when model citizen Myers tried to break up the row, Roe leveled a pistol at his head and pulled the trigger. The results were mayhem and an eventual lynching of the Englishman from a massive oak at the Horse Market, or what would today be where 6th Street rests between “K” and “L” Streets.

Although a simple vignette within Mark Eifler’s larger text, Gold Rush Capitalists: Greed and Growth in Sacramento, the Roe lynching typified the growing pangs of the new American West, a place where few civil institutions existed. Eifler gives careful discussion to the young city’s behavior in the wake of the shooting, where Harvard-educated, landed merchants were driven by blood lust against the will of underpaid and undermanned policemen who implored due process. There is further value in Eifler’s look at one of the American West’s first class wars, known more commonly as the “Squatters Riot.” Child Sacramento was the domain of the wealthy speculator until migrants arrived from far and wide seeking cheap, workable land. The result was revolution on a miniature scale.

To Eifler, both of these events had meaning for a city slowly slouching toward stable economic and political institutions. It’s almost as if life in the antebellum west reflected a social experiment; an academic took a cross-section of America, threw it into a cultural, political and legal vacuum and simply stood back to see what happened. Eifler tells the story well in addition to providing a full history of the early city.

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