Richard Griswold del Castillo, Book Review Editor
Bonanza West: The Story of the Western Mining Rushes, 1848-1900.
By William S. Greever. Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press 1963, 430 pages, (reprint ed.)
Reviewed by Carlos Larralde, free lance historian and author of Mexican American Movements and Leaders.
This book is mostly about the gold seekers who created a mass exodus to the West after 1848. Greever recounts about Northern California’s Sutter mine and the Mother Lode country; Nevada’s Comstock and Pioche mineral veins; Colorado’s ore like Leadville and Silver Cliff; Montana’s Bannack and Butte mining; Idaho’s Boise and Coeur d’Alene metal industry and the Yukon’s remote mines. Greever’s study completely ignores the quarry industry in New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. As the writer T.H. Watkins noted in 1971, “In spite of the fact that it is one of the most unreadable books in our (mining) literature, it is the single most comprehensive survey yet attempted-with the exception that the Southwest is not covered, for reasons best known to the author and his Maker (the book offers no explanation for the lapse).”
One would think that Greever would have mentioned that in the San Feliciano Canyon, in the Los Angeles region, that gold was first discovered in 1842 by Francisco Lopez, who discovered it by accident when he was hungry and dug up a few wild onions, noticing flakes and nuggets clinging to their roots. Lopez astonished the local population and gold was mined there for several years. One can only speculate how San Diego received the news and several of its citizens probably rushed up to the canyon to seek their fortune.
Greever points out that San Diego after 1849 was part of the major trail for travelers who either took a ship or went overland toward the Mother Lode mining regions. He also stresses that the Pacific ships stopped in 1850 at San Diego with their profitable shipments of silver bullion.
For his research, the author used mostly the Bancroft library. A scholar will have some problems tracing the original sources for further study since footnotes are sparse in several sections of the book. Unlike most historians, Greever wrote about minorities, such as the Chinese and Hispanics in their role in the West. He especially mentions the neglected Nicanor Rodrigues and his era in Nevada. Yet unlike most historians, he did mentioned the Mexican contributions of mining, especially in Nevada. Although originally printed in 1963, the book is still a valuable source on the American West.