I’m listing all of the Goldtown characters on this one page in the order that they appear in the book series.
Badge of Honor Characters
Jeremiah “Jem” Coulter is twelve and a half years old when Badge of Honor opens. His younger adventures are retold in the Goldtown Beginnings series, when he is seven and a half. He was born in the gold camps in 1851 during the height of the California Gold Rush. Jem has dark-brown hair, brown eyes, and a ready smile. He is a good role model for his younger sister. He sometimes is annoyed at her hanging around, but secretly he likes always having someone who will go along with his ideas. His arch-enemy is William “Will-the Sneak” Sterling. His best friend is his younger sister, his cousin Nathan, and a school chum, Cole.
Jem can throw a rock or an acorn or a baseball and never miss his mark. He keeps their rooster Mordecai behaving with an occasional rock to the bird’s feet. His greatest wish is to strike it rich with his gold pan. He has many dreams of the things he could do and buy if he just had a little more gold. Jem is an expert with his gold pan, having had many years of practice. He is horrified when he learns his father has accepted the job as sheriff of rowdy Goldtown. It’s a dangerous job, and Jem doesn’t understand why their new, broken-down ranch can’t support them, or why doesn’t Pa pan more gold? The answer is that the gold is pretty much gone from this part of the gold fields.
Ellianna “Ellie” Coulter is ten and a half years old when the book opens. She was born two years after Jem, also in the gold fields. She has auburn-red hair, which was hacked short not long before the book opens, and her eyes are hazel. Ellie has more than her fair share of spunk. Whatever Jem does, she believes she can do also, and better. She is afraid of nothing and scrambles in and out of the coyote (mining) holes around the gold camps, catches frogs like an expert, and can hold her own panning gold. She loves animals of all kinds and has cared for and kept as pets a tarantula, an albino turkey chick, wild bunnies, baby squirrels and raccoons (but had to release them back into the wild). She dotes on her favorite setting hen, Miss Cluck, but she is wary of Mordecai. Her world is turned upside down when Aunt Rose and Nathan arrive, mostly because she has to give up her attic space to Nathan and sleep in the big bed with Aunt Rose. She will play with Maybelle Sterling but does not enjoy her snooty ways. When a young Chad Carter and his father showed up in Goldtown (Tunnel of Gold), little did Ellie know that someday she would be his wife. Read more about Ellie on Chad Carter’s page >>
Matthew “Matt” Coulter is Jem and Ellie’s father. He and his wife, Ellen, headed for the gold fields of California on their honeymoon in 1849, the year of the 49ers. They hoped to find a good spot before the rest of the world found California. They were partly successful, ending up on Cripple Creek about 2,000 feet in elevation above the (real-life) gold town of Mariposa. But they almost starved to death, being the worst greenhorns in the gold fields. An older prospector, Sam, whose gold claim butted up against the Coulters’, took the young couple under his wing and showed them how to pan for gold. They became fast friends. Cripple Creek was never a “bonanza” of gold, but Matt and Ellen did all right. When Jem and Ellie came along, Ellen left the gold-panning aspect and discovered she could make more money baking pies and selling them to the dessert-starved miners. When the town of Goldtown sprang up not far away, new customers begged for her pies.
The winter of 1860 was extra difficult, with unusual snowfall mixed with flash flooding. Ellen came down with influenza and died that winter, when Jem was eight and a half. Matt was left alone with two young children, not knowing how he would feed and clothe them. A year later, Matt Coulter bought a run-down ranch a couple of miles from town and turned his hand to raising cattle, if anyone could call a couple dozen heads a “ranch.” Three years after that, his sister, Rose, arrived to clean and cook and care for the house. That same spring, Matt accepted a job as the first sheriff of rowdy Goldtown. With a steady income of $40/month for being sheriff, things are looking up for the Coulter family.
Samuel “Strike-it-Rich Sam” Johnson was one of the very first prospectors to arrive in these particular gold fields. He’d been prospecting near the Merced River north of Mariposa and Cripple Creek when he heard about a new find in the creek. He quickly established his claim and began panning for gold. Not long afterward, a young, bedraggled couple, the Coulters, showed up. They were new to the fields, and Strike took it upon himself to show them how to survive in the gold fields. He liked their spunk and the fact that they had left everything back east for this western adventure.
Unfortunately, the gold strike that gave Goldtown its name did not last longer than about five years. Gold kept being found, but in flakes and dust rather than the fist-sized nuggets Strike had seen at first. Most miners, when the gold trickled away, left for new, fresh diggings. But not Strike. He’d wandered enough and wanted to settle down with his small tent, his gold pan, and his ornery donkey, Canary, who was named for the nickname miners gave the loud cries the burros make: Mountain Canary. Strike also stayed because the Coulter family stayed. By now, there were two of the cutest young’uns Strike had ever laid eyes on. He quietly became their substitute grandfather, uncle, and older friend, all wrapped into one. Strike knows he and the Coulters are closer than blood kin, and he likes it that way. Strike, however, is not sure if he will ever win any family affection from the new member, Rose Tyson. She makes it clear the “dirty old miner” is not welcome, although her Christian hospitality does shine near the end of Badge of Honor, when Strike is brought home injured.
Nathan Frederick Tyson is eleven years old when the book opens. He is Jem and Ellie’s first cousin, whom they meet for the first time in Badge of Honor. His mother, Rose, is Pa’s sister. Nathan lost his father July 3, 1863, during the Battle of Gettysburg. It was then his mother decided to pack up her son and leave Boston to head for California and care for her brother’s household . . . and to give Nathan a new start out west. Nathan is blond and blue-eyed, and a city boy. He knows nothing at all about ranching. What he knows about gold panning came from reading books–outlandish ones that make Jem and Ellie roll with laughter. Jem doesn’t know if Nathan is the typical “easterner” with snooty ways, or if he will be “true gold” and a Coulter at heart. Nathan’s role in helping Jem in Badge of Honor proves himself, and he becomes one of Jem’s best friends.
Aunt Rose Tyson is Matt’s older sister. She embarked on the hazardous trip around the horn (the tip of South America) after her husband, Captain Frederick Tyson, was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. The six-month trip was an ordeal, but she is a woman who is always willing to make the best of things. She arrives in the spring of 1864, ready to help Matt in any way she can. She is very unsure when she sees the muddy state of Goldtown, but she lifts her skirts (and her chin) and adjusts to being a rancher’s sister. Rattlesnakes still terrify her, and she is prone to keeping Jem, Ellie, and Nathan on a “short leash,” sometimes not wanting them to leave the ranch. Rose is also not too fond of the Coulter’s prospector friend, Strike-it-rich Sam. She doesn’t like his dirt and his forward, friendly howdies or helpfulness. It will take some doing to acclimate Rose Tyson to Goldtown. In the meantime, Matt is patient with his sister and instructs Jem and Ellie to be patient as well.
Gold Nugget is the family’s golden retriever. Although he obeys Pa best, Nugget is Jem’s dog when all is said and done. Strike found Nugget wandering alone in the wilderness when the miner was on a prospecting trip. He brought the half-grown pup home but Mama and Pa would not let Jem keep him. In the end, Nugget earned his right to become part of the family in a way that even Mama loved. Nugget is intensely loyal and is wary of strangers. He likes to chase wild turkeys, but he minds his manners with the flock of chickens on the ranch. Nugget chases wild turkeys on the afternoon adventure one day with Jem, Ellie, and Nathan. Instead of bringing back a turkey, he brings back an slouch hat speckled with dried blood. This leads to quite a discovery when the kids follow Nugget to the source.
Jean-Claude “Frenchy” DuBois is a trouble-making miner in Goldtown. He got into a knife fight with another miner, Dakota Joe, and was eventually kicked out of town when the Miner’s Court passed judgment. He is a claim jumper and all-around bad man. He kidnaps Jem and ties him to a tree, after Jem discovers he and his cohorts are responsible for damming up Cripple Creek. They are diverting the water to wash the gold they have taken out of Dakota Joe’s gold claim up in the mountains. Frenchy is known for wearing a long, black trench coat, which can easily hide his two six-shooters.
Dakota Joe and Nine Toes are a couple of miners. They don’t normally work a mine like this one, choosing rather to pan for what gold is left in Cripple Creek. “Nine Toes” got his name when a rattlesnake bit him on the toe years ago. The miner was sick for some time and eventually lost the poisoned toe, but recovered. He’s been careful to wear boots ever since. Dakota Joe nearly lost a knife fight against Frenchy and his fellow claim jumpers. He would have been killed had Sheriff Coulter not intervened in the nick of time. These miners are Jem’s friends.
Tunnel of Gold
Wu Shen is Jem’s Chinese friend. He lives in the Chinatown part of Goldtown called “China Alley.” Shen is his first (given) name, and Wu is his last name. In Chinese names, the family name comes first, then the given name. Shen does not attend school with Jem and the rest of the children. There was a law in California that excluded Chinese children from attending school. Wu runs errands and is generally the “go-fer” for his father, Wu Hao, and his uncles and other family members, who mine in the old Belle diggings. These are leftover remains after a miner abandons his claim from lack of gold. Shen has a long pigtail (queue) that one of the town bullies threaten to cut off. Jem intervenes and ends up in a big fight.
Wu Hao is Shen’s father. He brought his oldest son to the “Golden Mountain” two years ago, hoping to mine gold to send money back to China. Shen’s mother and two sisters remain in China, where Wu Hao was a poor farmer. Things are not going as well as he expected when he and his son landed in San Francisco. They joined their uncles and cousins in Angel’s Camp, a rough gold-mining camp, but like so many other Chinese miners, the small band was driven from their claims and threatened with their lives.
Life in Goldtown has been a little better, but the only gold claims they can work are the ones the white miners no longer care about. The “easy” gold is gone, so Wu Hao and his relatives work extra hard to get whatever gold they can scrape from the leftover diggings of the old Belle mine, which used to be Mr. Sterling’s mine. He let it go, so legally “scavengers” can work it. But in Tunnel of Gold, Mr. Sterling wants that old mine back. It sits on top of his Midas mine, and he needs an air vent so the Midas mine can go deeper. It is a very explosive situation, and Jem’s pa, the new sheriff, is caught right in the middle. And so is Jem.
William (Will) Sterling is the richest kid in town. Ellie and Jem refer to him as the “weasel,” as he is a sneaky boy and always on the lookout to get someone into trouble (mostly Jem). Right from the very first book, Badge of Honor, where he tells the sheriff (Jem’s pa) that Miss Cheney, the schoolteacher wants to see him, on account of the fact that his two kids are ditching school. This sort of tattling does not sit well with Jem or with Ellie. It doesn’t take long for Chad, the guest, to figure out he’d rather hang out with Jem than be a guest in the Sterling mansion and have to put up with Will the Weasel. Will is good for one thing, however. He is an eavesdropper and a sneak, so Jem figures out a way to pull information out of Will about the possible fate of the Midas mine and what that might mean to Goldtown–which might turn into a ghost town if things go badly.
Ernest Sterling owns the Midas mine. He is also the former owner of the Belle diggings on top of Belle Hill. He is the richest man in Goldtown. Two years ago, he opened the Midas mine. He also owns the stamp mill, which smashes the ore (you can read more about the stamp mill on the Settings page) to extract the gold trapped inside. Mr. Sterling wants the new sheriff to order the Chinese out of “his” old diggings up on Belle Hill so he can drill an air vent deep into the hill. In this way, the Midas mine can dig deeper into the ground. Without the air vent, the mine will be forced to close. The Sterlings own a big, fine house up on Belle Hill. He is married and has three children: Will, Maybelle, and Celia.
Maybelle Sterling is Will’s sister and the same age as Ellie Coulter. She is just as prissy now as she was when she was six years old. She talks even more than Ellie, and Jem tries to avoid her as much as he can. Maybelle isn’t mean–not like Will–just annoying, like a pesky fly. Ellie likes going to Maybelle’s house because it’s so fancy and fine. But Maybelle doesn’t invite her to visit often, even though there are not that many young girls in Goldtown. Jem tells Ellie that it’s silly to listen to Maybelle’s talk, but Ellie occasionally quotes the little rich girl anyway. In this picture, Maybelle is standing with her little sister Celia.
Canyon of Danger
Thomas Rafael “Rafe” Flint is a young pony express rider. At least, he rode for the pony express when he was much younger. He is not about twenty-one and on his own. He works as a scout for wagon trains or a tracker, or anything else he can do. But Rafe is a mystery to Jem and his family. What was the young man doing sneaking about on the Coulters’ range land? Why didn’t he make himself known before the accident? When Jem learns Rafe can track anything, he enlists his help to find the stolen Copper, their sorrel horse. Rafe is half Miwok Indian, a tribe that lives near Yosemite. His mother was Miwok, his father and army captain. When his mother died, Rafe went with his father to various army posts until he struck out on his own as a teen to work 18 months for the pony express.
No-luck Casey is probably the worst miner in Goldtown. No one wants to be No-luck’s prospecting partner. He falls in coyote holes and loses his way in the mountains. He tries his best to scrape a living out of what’s left of Cripple Creek. Is it any wonder that Jem thinks he is not a good deputy while Jem’s sheriff pa is away? What was Sheriff Coulter thinking, hiring No-luck and his sidekick Dakota Joe as deputies while the sheriff transports an outlaw to Sacramento?
Doc Martin is Goldtown’s resident doctor, who has been in the gold fields since the 49ers flooded to California. He is a jolly man but gets a little tired of patching up knife slices and gunshot wounds. In his spare time, he delivers babies and prescribes tonics and medicines for measles and whooping cough. He is kept very busy, especially during the winter. Doc Martin worked day and night to save Jem and Ellie’s mother, but she succumbed to influenza the winter of 1860, when Jem was only 8, and Ellie was 6. It was a sad time, and the doctor sometimes blames himself for not having the right medicine or skill to pull the young mother through. It was a terrible winter, and Ellen Coulter wasn’t the only victim of that year’s influenza epidemic.
River of Peril
Henri Belrose has just turned twelve. He is a little younger then Jem, and the son of the captain of the River Duchess, a side-wheeler paddleboat from New Orleans, Louisiana. Henri was given the privilege of accompanying his father up the Sacramento River from San Francisco. Henri is small for his age, and looks young. Jem rescued the boy from a gang of “dock rats,” bullies who try to rob and beat the boy. From then on, Henri can’t be friendlier. He offers to accompany Jem, Nathan, and Ellie aboard the side-wheeler for a tour. Henri also has to choose between his father’s plans and helping Jem rescue Ellie when she is held captive aboard the River Duchess. All and all, Henri Belrose, the young French boy, proves himself a true friend. Henri has three younger sisters–Emilie, Margarita, and Sofia. His dream is to be able to return to his familiar home in New Orleans after the War. The fighting forced his father to take the River Duchess and flee the unsafe harbor. San Francisco is cold, wet, and foggy. He prefers the warmer southern climate. Little does Henri know that there is really no returning to “what was” after the War. The South (and New Orleans) will never be the same for any of Henri’s family.
Clay “Black Boots” is the leader of a group of men who call themselves the Knights of the Golden Circle. Without his scruffy bandana “outlaw” mask and dusty clothes, Black Boots looks like a respectable Southern gentleman. But Black Boots is a perpetual thorn in Jem’s side, as well as in the sides of his cousin, Nathan, and sister, Ellie. Black Boots and his “knights” rob the stage to Sacramento, hoping they have gotten away with a strongbox full of gold for the South.
They act like gentlemen and insist they are not true highwaymen or outlaws. Instead, they are loyal to the Confederate Cause, and they vow to “pay back” the gold they borrow from holdups after the South emerges victorious in the War Between the States. During 1864 (the setting for River of Peril and late in the War), the South was losing and very short of cash. The Knights of the Golden Circle worked hard to seize California gold and Nevada silver and left notes about repaying. However, as zealous as these men were, no gold from California ever reached the South. If it had, who knows? The War might have turned in favor of the South.
Captain Anton Belrose is the captain of the River Duchess. He is caught in a tough position when he discovers that Ellie is aboard his ship without his knowledge. Clay insists it’s the only way they can get the gold for their Cause. Captain Belrose loves the Confederacy and wishes he didn’t have to run away to the other side of the country (sailing around the dangerous Cape Horn) to reach San Francisco Bay and a safe haven for his ship and his family. Thankfully, there are many Southern sympathizers living in San Francisco, so his wife, Juliette, feels a little more at home. He uses his paddle-wheel boat to smuggle gold from the California mines down the river to San Francisco, where ocean-going sailing ships can take the gold to the South, where it is needed very much to buy the ammunition and supplies the Confederacy cannot produce for themselves. However, the Northern blockade of Southern ports (where Union ships keep other ships from entering the port cities) makes this very dangerous. The captain–although it looks like he’s working with the Knights, and is actually part of their organization–has a good heart. In the end, when the ship blows up, he survives (much to Jem’s relief), and repairing the River Duchess takes up the rest of the War years. When the War is over, Captain Belrose decides to stay in San Francisco, where he builds up a successful business trading with the inland parts of California. He never returns to New Orleans.
Silas is the cabin boy aboard the River Duchess. He is a teen-aged slave, whom the captain brought with him from New Orleans. Silas is scared to death of Black Boots and his companions, and he tries to do his job the best he can without crossing paths with them. But he longs to be free. When the River Duchess blows it’s boiler, he is thrown into the water, along with Jem and Ellie. He can swim, so he rescues the two and helps them to shore. Jem encourages Silas to take off under the cover of darkness and helps him on his way by giving Silas a few gold nuggets.