How I came to write The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch:
To begin, I had to determine the star of the story. Since I had invented a mold-breaking heroine for Swamp Angel, I wanted to continue defying expectations with my heroes. For The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch, I chose a young girl of no unusual strength or size. She relies instead on skills and attributes that are unique to her. Her gifts are her ability to run like a shooting star, and her ability to heal sick animals, even wild ones.
One of her most important attributes is her Mexican-American identity. This identity is true to history; for in 1848, at the onset of the Gold Rush, half of California’s residents were Mexican-Americans, known as Californios. Many Californios lived on vast Mexican land grants (“ranchos”), where they raised cattle and created a rough yet luxurious life on the California frontier.
By good luck, I was living in Petaluma, California while I wrote this book, near the last remaining ‘rancho’ house --- the Petaluma Adobe, former home of General Mariano Vallejo. Now a state historic park, the Petaluma Adobe provided me with a model home for my heroine. The Vallejo family became the model for Estrella’s family. The State Historic Parks District Interpretation library and the UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library provided many historic details regarding Northern California landscape and life during the early years of the Gold Rush.
Questions and answers: Fact and Fiction in Luckless Gulch
Did you invent the mythic animals that become Estrella’s pets – the Rubberado puppy, the Sidehill Wowser, and the Kickle Snifter?
No, these animals are variants on creatures that were mentioned in early 19th century tall tales in America.
Did you make up the names for Gold Rush towns?
Most are real names of gold rush towns that rose overnight and died just as quickly.
Was the Gold Rush underway in 1848, as the story suggests? If so, why are California prospectors called ‘49ers’?
Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill on the American River on January 24, 1848. News of the discovery spread across the United States in a few months and the rush was on in earnest by summer 1848. But the first prospectors were mainly local residents, and no mining towns were built in 1848, so my story takes a few liberties. The second ‘rush’ in spring 1849 was a true stampede; and that’s when most prospector towns sprang up.
How accurate is your depiction of starved miners and high prices in Gold Rush towns?
Very accurate. Most of the people who got rich in the Gold Rush were store owners and businessmen who supplied the miners. A great example is Levi Strauss, who made their overalls.
Why do you include ‘pourquoi’ stories to explain the origin of natural features such as redwoods or earthquakes?
Pourquoi stories, or origin myths, are found in many tall tales. I’ve always loved those stories, and have made a point of including some (of my own invention) in every tall tale. Earthquakes and redwoods are defining and unique features of California, and therefore worthy of a pourquoi tale to explain their origin!