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Woodbridge resident's book explores human stories behind Gold Rush glitter

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Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013 12:00 am

A Woodbridge woman has written a book about the Gold Rush that she hopes will be accepted by school districts and used to teach children.

However, the emphasis is not on the names and dates that made the Gold Rush famous, but on the human stories — some gleaned from 19th-century diaries — of people who made the trek to California in search of gold.

"The complex interweavings are fascinating — the stuff of spy novels and the way history really happens," Marshall wrote in her book.

Titled "Discovery of California Gold," Kathy Marshall produced a 104-page book and 17-minute video for any willing teachers to use in their classrooms. Some teachers, including in the San Diego Unified School District, use it as supplementary material, said Micheline Wagner, program manager for history and social studies at San Diego Unified.

"The larger context of the Gold Rush era involves overlapping storylines and competing agendas," Marshall said. "The United States was orchestrating an ambitious, highly complex international strategy to secure the Oregon Country from Great Britain by treaty, (and) Alta California from Mexico by purchase or war, while it was also annexing Texas."

A history buff, Marshall said she did some extensive research on the Gold Rush and read many diaries from the 1800s. In addition to the search for gold, Marshall includes the stories of local Indian tribes and how the thirsty gold seekers co-existed with them. And there was another competing interest — the Canadian fur traders who came south to California searching for bears and other wild animals.

Some of the Canadian fur trappers ended up in French Camp, where the wild animals were plentiful.

"It's the first time the settlers were exposed to diverse cultures," Marshall said. "It was such a moment of enlightenment."

Marshall also focuses on the Mormon immigration to California. She highlights a ship called Brooklyn, which carried a group of 238 people — mostly Mormons from New England — when it left New York, sailed around Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America and came up to California.

Though she is Mormon, Marshall said she's very careful to avoid her faith in the book.

"It's very carefully not a religious book," she said. "I'm an academic."

Marshall's Gold Rush book is available at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in old-town San Diego, where the city's students learn about the Gold Rush.

"Some teachers have asked for it as a supplement," said Mormon Battalion director Ed Seegmiller. "They say it's been very helpful. We thought it was very helpful."

In addition to having her book used in the classroom, Marshall said she is willing to send Gold Rush re-enactors to show up in the classroom wearing period costume. They are provided by the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation, which promotes the contributions of California settlers prior to 1869, with particular emphasis on Mormon pioneers, according to its website.

"Whatever we can do to make history come alive, not just dates and places," Marshall said. "These were real people who went through hard times."

For more information about the book or to request Gold Rush re-enactors, call Marshall at 209-334-7515 or the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation in Placerville at 530-626-5558, or email cphf1@sbcglobal.net.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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