Brief Description: 12 yo boy travels to CA to seek his fortune during the Gold Rush. He and his butler companion have many humorous encounters and adventures.
Geographical Setting: Atlantic Ocean, Boston, Brazil, California, Callao, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Massachusetts, North America, Oceans of the World, Pacific Ocean, Peru, Placerville, Rio de Janeiro, Sacramento, San Francisco, South America, Strait of Magellan, United States
Date Range: 1849
Original Publication: 1963
Suitable for Grades: 4-8th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
Join twelve-year-old Jack and his trusty sidekick butler, Praiseworthy, as they seek gold in the California hills in this fast-paced adventure story. The orphan Jack is determined to make a fortune in order to help his Aunt Arabella, who raised him and is now in danger of running out of money by year’s end. The first part of the story features a five-month ocean journey from Boston to San Francisco through the Strait of Magellan. Jack’s and Praiseworthy’s cleverness is on full display in episodes in which they discover who stole their passage money, save a pig from the cook, solve in one stroke two problems involving dying grapevine seedlings and rotting potatoes, and help their gruff but good-hearted captain beat his unsporting rival in their speed race to San Francisco.
Once they make landfall, the pair must use their cleverness and entrepreneurial spirit to earn steamboat fare to Sacramento. The author writes a vivid description of the rapidly growing city of San Francisco, its many ethnicities of seekers from all over the world, the opportunistic merchants selling supplies, and the harbor crowded with so many tall masts that it looks like a forest. The commerce offers a great illustration of Gold Rush economics. Prices are very high, reflective of the cost of transporting goods great distances. In fact, the gold itself is worth more in San Francisco than in the mining camps.
The adventure continues in Hangtown (based on the real Placerville), the mining camp filled with colorful characters. Jack and Praiseworthy earn themselves new nicknames, again outsmart the same thief they encountered on the sea voyage, make friends, overpower a highwayman, and evade a grizzly bear. Jack gets a long-coveted gun and Praiseworthy improbably defeats a giant in a boxing match. Naturally they hit “pay dirt!” After two weeks among the miners, grizzled and well-muscled from the outdoor activity, the pair returns to San Francisco with a happy surprise awaiting them. I highly recommend this enjoyable read!