Life in Old California

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Highlighting Historical with Pamela Gibson who reflects on life in old California.

In my book, Return of the Fox, set in pre-gold rush California, the first few chapters take place during the festivities associated with a wedding. In Alta California’s rancho days, weddings of the upper classes—always Catholic—were followed by many outdoor activities including barbecues, horse races, bull games, and rodeo competitions generally followed by dancing. Sometimes the festivities lasted three days.

One game, described in books about San Juan Capistrano, involves tying a pouch of coins on the horn of a confined bull. The bull is then let loose in a corral. Contestants enter the enclosure with the bull and the one who is able to grab the pouch, gets to keep it. Watchers often placed wagers on who the successful candidate would be. As you can imagine, the sport was often a bit bloody.

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The most popular wagering activity, however, was horse racing. The most famous took place in 1852 between a horse called Sarco and another called Black Swan. Historian Robert Glass Cleland wrote, “The race…was run over a nine-mile course and at least $50,000 in money, land, horses, and cattle was wagered on the result.” This flamboyant period of California’s history would come to an end with the introduction of American institutions and—of course—the gold rush.

About the Book

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The year is 1847…

Gabriel de la Vega, disgraced son of a Mexican ranchero, returns to his Alta California home when Americans take power to help his countrymen with the bewildering transition and make amends to the woman he once wronged.

Fiercely independent, Isabella Fuentes swore she’d never forgive Gabriel for abandoning her on the night they were to elope. Now he’s back, playing a dangerous game, pretending to be meek and repentant when she knows the handsome, former outlaw is anything but contrite.

When a series of accidents threaten Isabella’s safety, Gabriel offers an outrageous solution: the protection of a brief civil marriage.  Isabella is tempted. But can she rely on a man who once betrayed her and can she trust her foolish heart to let him go when the danger has passed?

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About the Author

Author of eight books on California history and fourteen romance novels, Pamela Gibson is a former City Manager who lives in the Nevada desert. Having spent the last three years messing about in boats, a hobby that included a five-thousand-mile trip in a 32-foot Nordic Tug, she now spends most of her time indoors happily reading, writing, cooking and keeping up with the antics of Ralph, the Rescue Cat. If you want to learn more about her activities go to and sign up for her quarterly newsletter and occasional blog.

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2 thoughts on “Life in Old California

  1. Thank you Caroline, for hosting me. This is an unusual subgenre, but the cultural richness of the time makes it one of my favorites.

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Contact Info

Caroline Warfield, Author

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