Book Review: New England to Gold Rush California: The Journal of Alfred and Chastina W. Rix, 1849-1854, edited and with commentary by Lynn A. Bonfield
reviewed by Beth Kanell
Hunting treasure, whether prospecting for gold or looking for long-hidden valuable objects, always requires a dash of luck and a lot of skill. Lynn Bonfield first held in her hands a copy of the journal of Peacham residents Alfred and Chastina Walbridge Rix when she found it at the California Historical Society in 1972, where it had lingered since Lynn herself was ten years old. It was luck that she found it – she was the curator, but not every curator touches every bit of paper in a historical society collection – and then she applied to this document a combination of skilled research and determined investigation, over nearly four decades.
Now, thanks to the University of Oklahoma Press, Bonfield’s treasure is available as a 380-page book crammed with stories of and insight into life in a Vermont village in the middle of the 1800s. In a country not yet a century old, people in Peacham argued over whether liberty belonged to everyone, no matter their skin color (or gender!). In 1849, disagreements over slavery and its proper ending split families and towns, and would soon split the nation.
. . .
There’s a tragic reason why the journal and book cover only five years, even though Alfred and Chastina did reach California, where Alfred learned to earn a living that didn’t depend on a lucky strike of gold, and Chastina gave birth to their second son. But I won’t tell you how it ends – get a copy of the book, and enjoy it for yourself.
Bonfield returns to Vermont this year in mid May, and will speak about the book in several locations through the summer and fall. Copies can be obtained locally. In addition to the very readable journal and commentary, there are photos of homes, people, and scenes that add to the pleasures of this true story that’s become a treasure close at hand.