2020-2021_Nevada County Gold

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An in depth introduction to Historic Nevada County, California including Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley, Truckee and Sierra County.

historY In the Gold Country Pioneers

Early Days In A

Mining Town – One

Woman’s Story

IN 1881 LUZENA WILSON’S DAUGHTER was

recovering from an illness. To pass the time

Luzena recounted her early years in California,

which was written down by her daughter. What

follows was adapted from that manuscript.

WOMEN WERE NOT OFTEN AMONG

California’s early pioneers. One was the

enterprising Luzena Wilson who arrived

in Sacramento in September of 1849 with her

husband Mason and two toddlers. She was 28,

he 14 years her senior.

Their early efforts and hard work paid off, but a

devastating flood left them with nothing.

Hearing miners were striking it rich in Nevada

City (then called Coyote Diggins), they headed

for the hills. The trip took 12 days.

Nevada City in early 1850 consisted of a row of

canvas tents. Their first view of the town was of

miners wielding picks and shovels, while others

stood in the icy water of Deer Creek washing

soil from their gold.

The family did not have canvas, so used pine

boughs to fashion a shelter. While her husband

cut wood to make a better dwelling, Luzena

opened a “hotel.” Using credit, she bought

provisions, boards for tables and by the light of

torches fed 20 men. They paid $1 each and

became regular customers.

Business thrived, and she made her husband a

partner. A frame house was built around the

shelter, rooms were added and from 75 to 200

boarders paid them $25 a week. Money was

quickly made, and in six months, they had

invested $20,000 in their business.

It was a time of prosperity. Rich placer mines

were all around; everyone had money and

spent it. Nevada City grew quickly. The most

profitable employment was gambling, and

those who pursued it were the aristocracy of

the town. Fortunes were won and lost with the

turn of a card. Men danced, drank and

caroused all night and worked all day.

Shortly after the Wilsons arrived, the first ball

was held. There were 12 ladies and about 300

men. Attire of the day was calico dresses, and

blue woolen shirts with trousers stuffed into

boot tops.

The Wilsons had lived in Nevada City 18

months, when disaster hit again. This time it

was a fire which leveled the town. Some 8,000

were homeless and most penniless as well. Left

with $500 Luzena and Mason sold their city lot

for a few dollars.

Although the rebuilt town was more prosperous

than ever, the Wilsons decided it was time to

leave and headed to the valley. Drawn to the

area beyond Sacramento, the family settled

near what is now Vacaville. They farmed, and

Luzena once again successfully set herself up in

the hotel business.

Hearing miners

were striking it

rich in Nevada

City (then

called Coyote

Diggins), they

headed for the

hills. The trip

took 12

days.

PHOTOS: SEARLS HISTORICAL LIBRARY

122 | NEVADA COUNTY GOLD

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