So this post is long overdue and probably no surprise to anyone who has been keeping track of things here at Evangeline central. The more I learn about early San Francisco history – and believe me I thought I knew a lot before this little quest – the more I want to shift gears ahead a decade or so.
It’s not so much that the land or the people aren’t interesting prior to the era I’m feeling pulled to like a hunk of iron to an industrial strength magnet. It’s that her story just fits so much more cleanly into the time and place that San Francisco was at the start of the Gold Rush. Yep, I had been planning all this time to tell a story of pre Gold Rush San Fran. But the landscape of lawless insanity at the start of the Gold Rush is just screaming for Evangeline’s story.
I kind of thought when we went on the Barbary Coast Tour that we’d hear a little more about Yerba Buena, the place San Francisco was before it was San Francisco and even more about San Francisco before the Gold Rush hit. We did hear some stories and they were interesting. But it became rapidly apparent that San Francisco wasn’t born until the Gold Rush.
Yerba Buena was a sleepy little seaside hamlet. Home to a few hundred people for decades. Even after it was claimed for the United States and the name officially changed to San Francisco, the population stayed pretty much the same and there wasn’t much of a town square to plant a flag in. Don’t ask about streets.
Then they found gold. It was like the city happened in a black out drunk episode. All you remember is the first drink. And you wake up the next morning with a monster headache and a house crammed full of people you don’t know passed out on your furniture. Yeah and it just gets worse, or better depending on if it’s your house or if you’re enjoying the show.
A book was recommended as further reading about the area and the time period while we were on the Barbary Coast Walking Tour. The Barbary Coast An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld by Herbert Asbury written in 1933. Based on newspaper reports, memoirs, and diaries of the time, it has proved to be a juicy read.
So, yep, I’m redirecting Evangeline’s story to 1849. The year of the Gold Rush. She’ll have been in town about a year by then, just before all hell breaks loose in the best kind of way. I think it’s a good move.