Immigrating from Hopeless to Hopeful :: CR99 220201

For: Carli Mill’s Carrot Ranch, #99WordStories and the January 29 2022, prompt:
In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the ’49ers.” Who or what are they?

Dear mother,

I want to share my news.

After surviving being snowbound with Mr. Donner, I’ve been trying to forgive myself for how we survived.

With the gold rush I obtained a stake near Placerville, but even modest supplies cost every dollar I had — and I found no gold.

I wanted to marry the nurse who helped me recover, but would not because I was broke.

I’m writing to report that I’ve accepted an offer from her father to manage his tarp business thanks to my textile experience in Boston.

His name is, Levi Strauss.

With Love, James.

gold dust

photo credit:


1) My story above, is fiction — historic micro-fiction to be exact.

The people who were and survived the Donner Party disaster are not.  To stay alive, the survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The survivors staggered or were carried down the mountain to where gold was about to be discovered and they recovered in the months running up to its discovery at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848, just east of today’s Sacramento.  Can you imagine living with that as part of your immigration story?

The fact that most of the 49ers who immigrated to California the next year, during the only part of the year when the mountains on California’s eastern boarder would allow animal-drawn wagons hugely multiplied between 1848 as compared to 1849.  This brought chaos to the laws of supply and demand where a simple egg was costing the equivalent of $20-25 in current money.  Tools, and clothing prices also skyrocketed.

Much more money was made by various merchants selling goods to the miners than was ever to be made by miners actually finding gold. One of those companies was Levi Strauss which remains the most popular provider of the iconic blue denim jeans loved by so many today. Mr. Strauss started his business only a few months before the gold rush began and adapted his business to accommodate the miners and their need for tough clothing and thus created his very popular company.

2) Regarding the Donner Party, the book, “Ordeal by Hunger” by George R. Stewart. This book is the definitive story of the disaster that California’s Donner Pass, on the California and Nevada border, is named for. It is a challenging but wonderful read.

Excerpts from a good summary from: The Donner Summit Historical Society

The story starts with characters turning left for California while the “greater number of the [1846] emigrants turned their wagons off to the right.”  This was the fateful decision.”

Stewart gives information about wagon trains, wagons, and how they all operated but the main focus is on the human element.  The emigrants were farmers and business men “the strong timber of which commonwealths are built” but the qualities needed at home were not the qualities needed for a journey across the continent.  The emigrants were used to comforts, not hardships.  “Many had never seen a mountain.”  They also lacked the requisite skills: trail reading, finding water, or dealing with desert and snowstorms.

As they got close to the Sierra the party missed the turn to go into Coldstream Canyon to Roller or Coldstream Passes that had been used by emigrants in 1846. Instead, half the group ended up at Donner Lake under the granite walls of what would be called Donner Pass.  The snow was five feet deep.  The Donner family was miles away from the rest of the group.

The cannibalism though, although sometimes almost graphic, is not something Stewart blames the emigrants for.  Who, in the most dire circumstances, would not eat human flesh to stay alive?

3) The Levi Strauss Company:  This from: Ref #7 One of the biggest mercantile success stories was that of Levi Strauss. A German-born tailor, Strauss arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with plans to open a store selling canvas tarps and wagon coverings to the miners. After hearing that sturdy work pants—ones that could withstand the punishing 16-hour days regularly put in by miners—were more in demand, he shifted gears, opening a store in downtown San Francisco that would eventually become a manufacturing empire, producing Levi’s denim jeans.


GW bio card 4

35 thoughts on “Immigrating from Hopeless to Hopeful :: CR99 220201

  1. Wow! I had no idea that’s how Levi’s came to be, so interesting that pants were needed more than tarps. I also love your letter you wrote in 99 words. I also enjoyed all the history snippets you provided. What a great post Gary! Loved it! 👍❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Diana.
      Thanks so much for reading so many of my creations. This 99 word story thing is a fascinating take on story telling and sure stops me from being so verbose.
      Being a Calif gal, you likely knew the Donner story, but outside of us I bet many will not recognize that history.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes, I knew and have read about the Donner’s story and I think have seen documentary about it with the gold rush here in CA. I didn’t know about Levi Strauss though, very fascinating. I think it’s good to challenge yourself in different ways and 99 words is a good exercise! I remember reading others here on WP with photos and 100 words prompts a year or two ago but I never did partake. (Not sure who hosted that one?) Fun to read what others come up with, just like you did here! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remembered in 4th grade we learned about Levi Strauss — that year we learned all about California history. Hopefully, James married the nurse after a few years as a textile manager.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Julie. In 4th grade?
      Wow! Was this from a particularly gifted or inspired teacher or was your school private and have an advanced curriculum because such detail so early is not the norm in my experience?


  4. Fantastic research, Gary and a gold nugget of a story! I grew up on the eastern slopes of the Sierras near Kit Carson Pass. The granite box canyons of the Sierras required the hoisting of wagons and oxen to get over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah – you mean those white rocks speckled with black dots the size of mid sized buildings all strewn about.
      Yea. I seen them and climbed many in my days of backpacking.
      There were so many stories to play with in these three scenes but – um – 99 words means 99 words. . .
      I’m thrilled that you liked it.


    2. And you do know that many of those wagons and oxen didn’t make it over those mountains. The immigrants. . . They were a different breed of people for sure.


    1. I thought his story was a nice bookend opposite that if the Donnor party disaster. I don’t know if any of the survivors found their way to Mr. Strauss’ employ, but for them any life must have been better than their time stuck at Donnor Pass.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi DA.
      This one took several versions and passes at rearranging to pull it off, but thank you for saying so. Historical fiction is a favorite but it takes a huge amount of work to not break against the known facts.
      Thank you for the kind feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You have made me want to read more about the Donner Party Disaster. It was quite clear to me in your story that cannabilism was a feature so you showed that beautifully without spelling it out. I believe a lot more money was made by the provisioners to the miners than was made by mining itself. I didn’t know levi strauss was one of them. I have canabilism in my family history and like Stewart I can understand it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ordeal by hunger by G S Stewart.
      I met him while in college.
      A brilliant and amazing man.
      He also wrote a book about the California immigration. I revisited his work while researching this essay.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anne.
      Do you recall the name of that novel and did the author handle the history & story well?
      Thanks for giving my piece a read. It gave me the chance to correctly order the events of the Donnor party disaster, the gold rush and the creation of the Levi Strauss company which previously were only distinct events in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great story, Gary and I love the letter format. Wouldn’t it be great t come up with an idea like Levi Strauss and have it take off! Not everyone is destined to remain a dreamer.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rowena.
      This proved to be a fun item to work on.
      Historical fiction in 99 words, who knew that was possible?
      We live close enough to drive 4 hours and visit the site of the Donnor party’s camp and I used to walk past the headquarters of Levi Strauss on my way to work in San Francisco back in the day.
      I never knew the connection and thought it to be a cool factoid to turn into a miniature story.
      So glad you liked it.

      Liked by 1 person

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