Agriculture after the Gold Rush – Exhibit Sneak Preview November 13, 2015 at 5:30pm

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Woodland California, Agriculture after the Gold Rush, is a new exhibit at the California Agriculture Museum that features a replica of the town of Bodie, California which is said to be haunted.  The exhibit was developed by Fashion Stables and opens for a sneak preview on Friday the 13th, November 2015 with spirits and a shoot out by the Blue Canyon Gang from 5:30pm – 7pm.  Admission is $15 for adults and it is free to Museum members.

Local folklore indicates that Bodie is cursed. oct2015-2
It is believed that individual spirits of the
community come together as one to protect
what is left of the town. If someone attempts
to remove any aspect of this community,
they are doomed to misfortune until they
return that which they have taken. The
original town, just like the setting at the
California Agriculture Museum, has a history
of haunting and eerie sounds that come out
of nowhere.

Bodie began as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in that region in 1859.  It was established by a number of miners including W.S. Bodey who perished in a blizzard (the spelling of the town’s name was adjusted later in history).  This mining town was California’s second or third largest city by 1880 with a population of between 5000-7000 people and about 2,000 buildings.oct2015-13

Among those buildings are a general store, bank, Miner’s Union Hall, and a funeral parlor.  The local mines produced gold valued at nearly $34,000,000.  The town also supported the Standard Pioneer Journal of Mono County first published in October 10, 1877.

Located at an altitude of 8,400 feet and exposed on a flat plateau, Bodie inhabitants transported lumber, crops, and other agricultural products to survive in very hot and cold climates.

Other pioneers arrived in California who didn’t spend much time digging for gold.  Instead they grew crops and raised herds.  Some failed.  Other’s succeeded.  When the weather, water, livestock, and machinery cooperated, they turned a good profit.  While mining was the cornerstone of the economy, farmers, ranchers and agriculture related businesses were also prospering.

Before the Gold Rush: Agriculture

oct2015-3 Long before the Gold Rush, California’s population was made up of Native American cultures.  By the mid-1700’s the population experienced colonization from Spain (1769) and then Mexico (1823).  The territory was isolated and sparsely populated.  Early ranching families referred to themselves as Californios and  they exported agricultural products around the world.

These early years developed many of California’s land laws and customs.  By the 1830’s Californios had assimilated elements of culture and law from the missions, pueblos, and rancheros.  The constantly changing cultural values created opportunity to develop extensive ranching along the California coast and in the Sacramento Valley that would eventually lend itself to farming.

California Gold: Agriculture

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It was Sam Brannan, a storekeeper from Sutter Creek, who traveled through San Francisco holding a bottle filled with gold dust shouting: “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” Those words began the greatest and most diverse immigration in California’s history!

Because of the massive immigration that had settled in California during the Gold Rush, there was a need for food production.  The demand for food and other agricultural commodities spurred California’s agricultural business development and competed with mining as the number one economic driver.

There were challenges for farmer’s and ranchers to overcome.  Part of the California agriculture story was overcoming the lack of labor pools, environmental challenges, and a lack of infrastructure that modern food producers expect today such as irrigation, electricity, transport, and equipment designed to function in California’s varied terrain and climate.  The California terrain and isolation encouraged invention.  By the 1913’s most every farm in California owned a tractor, and not coincidentally this is also the time when prosperity came to rural areas of our State. 

Although raising herds of cattle, cultivating indigenous plants, and planting small orchards and grape vines were established years before the California Gold Rush, the continued demand for wheat after the Gold Rush drove California crop production.  California had the acreage to cultivate large areas of fertile land.  In 1870 a bushel of wheat could be sold for $1.82 helping farmers to pay for their production investment.

As farming conditions fluctuated from good to bad, and the consumer’s demand for food also changed, farmers in California learned to diversify their crops and grow other commodities.  It wasn’t unusual to hear about early settlers who lost everything several times over before they succeeded.  Farming like the Gold Rush was equivalent to gambling.  The hearty immigrants that arrived in California from Europe, Asian, Australia, and South America each took calculated challenges and made personal sacrifices to succeed. Each culture added to the science and production of crops in a cooperative atmosphere geared toward survival.

When it came to the soil, local farmers and ranchers sustained their businesses better than the 49ers. After the frantic first years of the California Gold Rush, most gold miners, with more dreams than common sense, dug, then moved on eager for the next gold strike.

Generations of families that followed the gold rush held the community together with their agricultural cooperatives and fraternal organizations.  Names like Heidrick, Veerkamp, Davis, Sheldon, Ghirardeli, Murietta, Snyder, Clark, Knight, Nakagtagi, Stone, Wilkinson and Alvardo show up in edifices like grave yards, old ranch houses, granaries, and barns. Family names like Best, Holt, Harris, and Case were etched into machinery, now considered artifacts that dot our agricultural landscapes.

Agriculture Today

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Drive a few miles out of most any township in California and you’ll see open fields, beautiful views, row crops, wheat, orchards, vineyards and cattle. Most of these areas were founded in the mid 1850s.

Even the foundation for early irrigation dates back to the Gold Rush from the American River which winds through our corridors bringing water to pastures, orchards and gardens in many areas of the valleys that are currently controlled by agencies.

Early-day farmers supplied basic needs, such as wool, dairy products, beef, fruit, nuts, hay, beans, apples, pears and various grains, especially barley. One of the most profitable crops was wine which became established in the pre gold rush era.oct2015-9

Since those early days, agriculture began and continues as one of the main economic drivers of California. Although large farming operations
dominate the economic climate, the California consumer’s demand for the unusual, sophisticated or just plain delicious food became a part of the agricultural landscape and continues to spur the development and expansion of agri-businesses, agri-tourism and California restaurant cuisine
that is renowned for being farm fresh.

Agriculture’s Early History

1850s               Farming cooperatives and clubs are established

1854                Self-governing windmill perfected

1856                Two-horse straddle-row cultivator patented

1858                Mason jars invented

1850’s              Commercial corn and wheat

1858                Grimm alfalfa introducedoct2015-10


Early Transportation

1840                Railroad track constructed

1845-57           Plank road movement

1850’s              Major rail trunk lines cross Appalachian Mountains

Steam and clipper ships improve overseas transportation

Ag Mechanization

1600’s              Farmers near water transportation grow cash crops for trade.

1797                First cast-iron plow by Charles Newbold

1830                Walking plow, brush harrow, hand broadcast of seed, sickle, flail

1831                Cyrus H. McCormick built the first practical grain harvesting machine

1834                McCormick reaper patented

1837                John Deere manufacture steel plows, practical threshing machine is patented

1840                Factory-made agricultural machinery encourages commercial farming

1841                Practical grain drill patented

1849                Jacob J. and Henry F. Mann patented a reaper

1850                Homer Atkins develops a self raking reaper

1858                C. W. and W. W. Marsh  invent a grain harvester

Thank You!

We are grateful for the contributions of Fashion Stables, the Blue Canyon Gang, and our Tuesday Crew for developing this backdrop that dramatizes the agricultural artifacts, transportation and machinery of the era during and following the Gold Rush in California. A special acknowledgement is deserved for Bettina Chandler for donating and supporting the restoration of an early John Deere wagon that dates back to the 1800s and to Lorry Dunning for stewarding the donation.  Many thanks to Cliff Simes who put hours and years into restoring the wagon.

We also want to acknowledge the materials and scholarship that contributed to elements of this exhibit:

  • Haunted Places to Go, Real Haunted Ghost Towns in the United States: Bodie, California
  • Bodie Foundation
  • National Agriculture In the Classroom
  • California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
  • The Evolution of California Agriculture, 1850-200: Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode
  • “After the Gold Rush” by Betty Sederquist
  • Decline of the Californios, by Leonard Pitt
  • Making Tracks, by Ed and Sue Claessen
  • Gold Rush, The American Experience, a PBS production
  • Walnut History and Cultivation by California Walnuts
  • A Stylized History of California Agriculture from 1796 to 2000
  • After the Gold Rush, by David Vaught
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