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Charlie Reports on the California Trail, Part One

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04/01/2009 - Charlie Reports on the California Trail,

Part One


Jamie Barbe

"M iss Pickle! Miss Pickle!" Dexter's are is waving like a helicopter rotor, threatening to launch him around the room.

Miss Pickle peers down at Dexter. "Ye-e-e-s?"

"Miss Pickle, when will we have another report on the pioneer trails that go through Casper, because after all the trails have been reported on, I get to report on the Transcontinental Railroad which doesn't go through Casper but still affects Casper history, and my report is ready, but what if I start forgetting, so I was just wondering when will we have another trails report?"

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"As a matter of fact, Dexter, Charlie is scheduled to report on the California Trail this very day." Impressed. "That's amazing, Dexter. Do you think you might be psychic?"


Charlie bursts into laughter. "Dexter, tell her!"

Dexter confesses. "We're playing a trick on you, Miss Pickle. On the way in this morning, Charlie told me he was going to give his report today. So we cooked up this trick."

Secretly, Miss Pickle had overheard their conversation as they entered the room and had decided to play along. "Good trick."

Dexter and Charlie beam at each other.

"Now, Class, before Charlie comes up, let's have a quick review. Can you name which trails we've heard reported on so far?"

They call out in unison. "The Pony Express!" Junior stands up and takes a bow. "The Mormon Trail!" Abigail blushes.

"Can you name the other three trails we've yet to hear about?"

A mish-mash of voices call out. "The California!" "The Oregon!" "The Bozeman!"

"Good. Now, let's recite that poem we made up. Ready?"

"Before there was a town, there was a fort. Before there was a fort, there was a bridge. Before there was a bridge, there was a ferry."

"Excellent. All right, Charlie, the floor's all yours."

Miss Pickle takes a seat in the back as Charlie jumps up and walks to the front of the room. He smiles out at the class like a Cheshire cat and points at the jersey he is wearing. "Guess why I wore this today."

A jovial voice from the crowd. "Because you wear it every day."

The class erupts in laughter.

Charlie laughs. "Okay, I guess I had that comin'. But, really, this is my favorite shirt because the San Francisco '49ers is my favorite football team be--…"

"… Because your cousin plays for them. Yeah, yeah, you told us already..."

"…Yeah, about eighty-seven million times."

An excellent surprise is bursting to be revealed. He whispers. "But I wore it today especially because my report is about the California Trail…" Waits. Straightens. "Get it?"

The students stare at him blankly.

Dexter's arm shoots up as he shouts, "I know!"

"Sh-h-h!" Roberta grabs Dexter's arm and forces it down.

Miss Pickle, gently, "Keep your hands to yourself, please."

Charlie continues. "Okay, you guys, now, you remember about the California Trail and that it got made by families in wagon trains looking for a farm land, but then it really got trampled on during the Gold Rush?"

Nods from the group.

"Okay. So in what year did the Gold Rush start?"

Silence. Dexter literally sits on his hands.

Pointing to the lettering on his jersey. "Hint. It has something to do with my jersey."


"Hint. The name for these Gold Rush people was "The… The what?" Stabbing his fingers against the lettering. "The what?"

A couple of students venture a guess. "The '49ers?"

His arms shoot up, signaling a touchdown. "Yes! The great California Gold Rush started in 1849!"

"Oh. I always wondered why San Francisco was called The '49ers."

Charlie smiles. "Well, now you know." He walks to the wall map of the United States and points to a coastal area in north-central California. "Okay, so, here's San Francisco right next to the Pacific Ocean. Now, if you backtrack from San Francisco and go east until you get right here, you're in the Sacramento Valley near the American River which is where the gold was found. The gold was discovered accidentally by a man named James Marshall. He was building a sawmill for a big land tycoon named John Sutter. So, this Marshall-guy was working along one day and he kept seeing out of the corner of his eye these shiny things glittering in the river. Finally, he went over and picked up some of the shiny stuff and, man!… It was gold! Once word got out, people came from all over the world to strike it rich." Charlie pulls out a piece of paper. "Here's a clipping from a newspaper called The Californian from May 29, 1849. 'The whole country from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the sea shore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas, resounds with the sordid cry of "Gold, gold, gold!' while the field is left half-planted, the house half-built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.' Then, on June 14, another newspaper, The California Star, had to suspend its operations because the staff had all rushed off to find gold."

The class laughs.

Charlie pulls down the Wyoming map. "Okay, so here's Casper where all the trails converge." Traces his finger toward the southwest as he speaks. "From Casper you go southwesterly, past Lander about 35 miles, until you get to South Pass. South Pass is the place where the wagons could cross pretty easy from the east side of the Rocky mountains to the west side." As he explains, he moves back and forth between the Wyoming and U.S. maps. "The California-bound wagons and the Oregon-bound wagons would travel along the same trail together from South Pass, up and into Idaho, until they got to the Raft River…" points to a spot in southern Idaho. "…right here. This is the place where the Oregon wagons and the California wagons would split up and go different directions. It was called "The Parting of the Ways." The Oregon wagons would keep going west, but the California wagons turned southwesterly like this. They'd keep going southwesterly all the way across Nevada to where the pointy west side of Nevada pokes into California. Then they'd cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California and then, there they were in the gold fields."

Suddenly, Charlie stops. His face grows sad as he stares out at the class. Some of the students wonder if drew a blank. But no one says anything. Finally, Charlie looks at Miss Pickle. "I don't know… I mean… Miss Pickle?"


"When I was looking up stuff for my report, I came across something that I don't know if I should talk about or not."

Miss Pickle is pretty sure she knows what he came across. "Is what you found a fact of history?"


"Does it pertain to the California trail?"


"Then, I would say, go ahead and tell it."

To Be Continued Next Month…

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