California: The Not-So-Wild West by Keli Gwyn

Thanks so much for having me as your guest, Beth. Spending time with you and your blog’s visitors is a pleasure.  Delighted to have you, Keli. I love you in this period gown! Wonderful pic.

Now back to Keli’s not-so-wild west:

If you hear the words “California history,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many of us, that would be the Gold Rush.

As a native Californian, I first learned about James Marshall finding those famous gold nuggets when I studied our state’s history in fourth grade. Little did I know then that I’d end up living just seven miles from the site of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, where Marshall made the discovery that launched one of the world’s largest mass migrations.

In the early days of the Gold Rush, things in this untamed land were wild. My town of Placerville, first known as Dry Diggings, earned its most notorious moniker, Old Hangtown, when three men accused of robbery in January 1849 met their fate at the end of a rope following an impromptu trial.

The heyday of the Gold Rush lasted from 1849 to 1852. After that, mining was done primarily by large operations making use of hydraulic methods, since the easy-to-find gold had played out. The number of businessmen, farmers, and those in other occupations soon exceeded the number of miners, and refinement replaced roughness.

You might think culture was centered around San Francisco and Sacramento City—as it was called then—but that was not the case. While doing research for my stories set in the heart of the Gold Country in the 1870s, I unearthed many interesting facts, some of which I worked into my debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California.

At one point in the story, the hero, mercantile owner Miles Rutledge, tells newly arrived widow ElenoraWatkins, “I think you’re in for some surprises. California is no longer the Wild West. Over in Placerville the hotels have running water, the streets are lit with gaslights, and they have a Philharmonic Society.”

Miles relayed only a few facts. Placerville also boasted a brass band, a roller skating rink, and a 1,500-seat theater. And it wasn’t the only town with quality entertainment. Many of those up and down the Mother Lode had theaters, musical groups, skating rinks, etc. as well.

The presence of culture in itself doesn’t tell the whole story. The lack of crime was another factor that proved how quickly the state had been tamed. There were still outlaws and crimes, but as the stagecoach driver reassures Elenora following an unsettling encounter upon her arrival in California, “I hear tell the papers back East are full of stories about outlaws and Injuns attackin’ travelers, but them things are more likely to happen in open country. Not here where folks has settled.”

(*Placerville Hangmans’ Tree)

Many stories set in the West include a sheriff’s office in a town of any size. A Bride Opens Shop is no exception. However, the inclusion of Sheriff Hank Henderson is pure fiction. El Dorado didn’t have a sheriff. The nearest one would have been located in Placerville, which was nearly ten miles away. Law and order were well established within a few years of California’s statehood.

In the span of one generation, California had left behind her ignoble beginnings. While settled by an influx of people eager for instant wealth, a shift took place. The hardworking people who chose to stay put their energies into creating a forward-thinking state in the not-so-wild West, one that continues to make significant contributions to the U.S. and the world today.

I’d like to end with a question for all of you. When you think of California and the many things it’s known for today, which are the first to come to your mind?

***One commenter who answers the question will win an autographed copy of my debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California.

This is an extremely generous offer, Keli, and how I won my copy of your fabulous book earlier on a different site. For my glowing review at Amazon click HERE.

Story Blurb: Widow Elenora Watkins looks forward to meeting her new business partner, Miles Rutledge, who owns a shop in 1870s El Dorado. But Miles is shocked to see a woman step off the stagecoach. His rude behavior forces Elenora to reconsider—so she becomes his competition across the street. Can Miles win her heart while destroying her business?

Keli Gwyn writes stories that transport readers to the 1800s, where she brings historic towns to life, peoples them with colorful characters, and adds a hint of humor. A California native, she lives in the Gold Rush-era town of Placerville at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Her debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, set in the heart of the Gold Country where she lives is currently available.

When Keli’s fingers aren’t hovering over the keyboard of her newfangled laptop, she enjoys strolling past stately Victorian houses in her historic town, burying her nose in reference books as she unearths interesting facts to include in her stories, and interacting with other romance readers. Her favorite places to visit are her fictional worlds, the Coach factory outlet store, and Taco Bell. (*Keli Gwyn at Spot Where Marshall Discovered Gold)

Catch Keli On Her:  Website –

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Twitter –!/KeliGwyn

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28 responses to “California: The Not-So-Wild West by Keli Gwyn

  1. Sounds like a wonderful story! Congratulations on the release and many sales.


  2. Thanks for having Keli visit Beth! I’ve been friends with her on Facebook for a bit now and its nice to hear more about her. Keli, I too love history and your comments prompt me to call my sister right away, and wake her up to tell her we must go to Placerville! I’m moving to Nevada next spring and we have been discussing places we want to go and I can’t wait to visit! Great blog! Love you Beth!


    • Jinny, I wish you well on your move. Placerville is a great place to visit. We’re the only city in the state that has a mine within the city limits. Our historic Main Street is a great place to go shopping. There are two stores in particular that have retained the flavor of the 1800s. Whenever I go inside, I feel like I’m stepping back in time. Let me know if you do plan a trip here. I’d love to meet you for lunch at a great restaurant we have that’s in a lovely Victorian home.


      • Keli, that would be fantastic! Thanks so much! And by the way, when I think of California, I think of my cousins in Burbank and our trip to Forest lawn Cemetary. It is an awesome place! And after that I think about getting lost in Victorville! It was a riot!


  3. Lovely interview, ladies. Congratulations on your new release, Keli!


  4. Keli, nice post. What I think of for modern California is produce. Some of the best produce comes to us from California.


  5. The first thing that comes to my mind is surfing. :Hot surfer guys. Yes please.!! I live in Spain the Med is too calm for surfing. I like the sound of this story.


  6. Congrats on a great sounding book and story!


  7. When I think of California and the many things it’s known for today, which are the first thing that comes to my mind is country side with horses. I love horses. Your book sounds wonders and I love the cover. Thank you for sharing and Beth you are so wonderful..



  8. Melinda, I’m not a horse person myself, but there are many of them around. There are many ranches in the rural area where I live, and it’s fun to drive by and see the horses out in the fields. My sister did own a little Welsh mare when we were kids.


  9. Great interview, Keli! I think of the Gold Rush when I think of California, since my imagination is always in the previous century or two. I’m loving Bride Opens Shop! (No need to enter me in the drawing, Beth. Thanks, anyway!)


  10. What a wonderful story, Keli. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear California are all of those wonderful vineyards I hear so much about. A friend of ours was fortunate enough to visit one last year and said it was divine. Another great post, Beth.


    • Inion, there are indeed many great vineyards. There are lots of them in the Napa Valley area, of course, but we have some here in the Sierra Foothills as well. In fact, you’ll see bumper stickers in our area that say, “El Dorado Country sells wine; Napa sells auto parts.” =)


  11. I’ve only ever been to California once, and I did the whole tourist thing – L.A., Hollywood, hiking up around the Hollywood sign, then dropped down into Tijuana for a day of sight-seeing. So the main picture that comes to mind when I think of California is the big Hollywood sign on the hill. Thanks for the story, Keli! I do love good historical fiction. 🙂


    • Tama, I was born in the L.A. area. There is much to see and do in that part of the state, but Northern California has riches of its own. If you get to pay our great state another visit, you might enjoy seeing the other half. Yes, I’m partial to it. =)


  12. Hi Keli! Nice to meet you. I used to live in Modesto (for almost 20 years) and on my girls’ school field trips we loved the Columbia trips and panning for gold, strolling along the board walkways of the western town. Congrats on your sale and new release!


  13. Calisa, I love your name. It’s beautiful!

    My family and I have visited Columbia. It’s a great place. It’s such fun to see history in action the way you can there.


  14. Your book cover is so pretty. Sounds like a wonderful story. When I think of California I of course think of the gold rush. but; for today I would say Disneyland and Hollywood. Enjoyed your interview.
    Sue B


    • Sue, thanks for the compliment about the cover. The credit goes to my publisher’s design team. They did a great job.

      Disneyland and Hollywood are definitely two of California’s more famous attractions. I’ve been to both. Fun!


  15. The winner of Keli’s debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, is Gerri Bowen. Congrats!


  16. Congrats to Gerri.


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