Hellacious California

Hellacious California

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Hellacious California: Tales of Rascality, Revelry, Dissipation, and Depravity, and the Birth of the Golden State

By Gary Noy


In 1855 an ex-miner lamented that nineteenth-century California “can and does furnish the best bad things,” including “purer liquors…finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtezans [sic]” than anywhere else in America. Lured by boons of gold and other exploitable resources, California’s settler population mushroomed under Mexican and early American control, and this period of rapid transformation gave rise to a freewheeling culture best epitomized by its entertainments. Hellacious California tours the rambunctious and occasionally appalling amusements of the Golden State: gambling, gun duels, knife fights, gracious dining and gluttony, prostitution, fandangos, cigars, con artistry, and the demon drink. Historian Gary Noy unearths myriad primary sources, many of which have never before been published, to spin his true tall tales that are by turns humorous and horrifying. Whether detailing the exploits of an inebriated stallion, gambling parlors as a reinforcement and subversion of racial norms, armed skirmishes over eggs, or the ins and outs of the “Spirit Lover” scam, Noy expertly situates these stories in the context of a live-for-the-moment society characterized by audacity, bigotry, and risk.