“There is More in Luck than Work” : The Letters of a Young Kentuckian in the California Gold Rush (1849-1854)
George McKinley Murrell, “There is More in Luck than Work” : The Letters of a Young Kentuckian in the California Gold Rush (1849-1854), ed. Juliette Bourdin, Rennes, Les Perséides, 2023, 351 pages.
This volume provides the hitherto unpublished letters of George McKinley Murrell (1826-1872), a young man who left his native Kentucky with one of the family slaves, Reuben, to participate in the Gold Rush to California in 1849. Until his return to Kentucky in 1854, George Murrell wrote many lengthy letters to his family and friends, thereby offering an abundance of interesting details about the Gold Rush years, such as travel conditions on the trail, daily life in the mining camps, the development of political and legal institutions in California, the presence of various communities such as the Chinese and Hawaiians, and of course his relationship with his slave Reuben. But his correspondence also forms a rich and intimate self-portrait, as we discover a young man endowed with a romantic soul and a pious heart, who is much more versed in poetry and literature than in the down-to-earth mining techniques, and who frankly expresses his hopes and disappointments, as well as a profound homesickness which eventually gives way to an ecstatic description of California. These letters, it is hoped, will provide useful information to the expert and an enjoyable panorama of the gold rush experience to the nonspecialist.