Goldtown Settings

Enjoy the interesting behind-the-scenes settings for the Goldtown series. Real pictures from California gold country. Places are added according to the books.

Badge of Honor

Goldtown, California, is a fictional gold-rush town in the southern part of the “mother lode” in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It it located about an hour’s stagecoach ride east from the real town of Mariposa. The elevation is close to 3,000 feet, so it’s possible that during a rainy winter, Goldtown could get some snow.

Goldtown, California 1864

Here’s a bird’s-eye view of Jem’s hometown, Goldtown, looking down from halfway up Belle Hill. (It’s actually Hangtown, CA, 1864.)

Coming down from Belle Hill, Jem walks the muddy streets of Goldtown all winter and into spring. Then the streets turn dry as dust and stay that way until late fall.

This map shows the northern gold mines and the southern mines of the “mother lode.” Can you find Goldtown?

Coulter Ranch

The ranch is located a couple of miles east of Goldtown. The Coulters run a few dozen head of cattle, but it’s not enough to help them live comfortably. The ranch is full of oak and pine, and grazing land. The barn is run-down, and the house isn’t much better. Until Nathan and Aunt Rose showed up, Ellie and Jem slept up in the attic like most Old West children.

The Coulter house is very small. The attic is not high. You can see a wooden vent in one end. Imagine how hot it must get in the summer up there! The other vent is missing (on the other side of the attic).

Cripple Creek

It’s not called Cripple Creek for nothing! Livestock like mules, horses, and cattle often became lame from all of the rocks in this creek. It’s a consistent creek–which means it doesn’t always dry up in the hot summers. But it does reduce itself to a trickle.

As the kids ride Copper higher, the creek gets rockier and more dangerous.

Cripple Falls

When Jem, Ellie, and Nathan follow Cripple Creek and stumble on an unconscious Strike-it-rich Sam, their travels take them above Cripple Falls. It usually looks like the pictures below, but the falls are dry on this trip. Why? Jem soon finds out, and the knowledge almost gets him killed.

Tunnel of Gold

The Midas Mine

One of the main settings for Tunnel of Gold is the Midas mine. The Midas is a hard-rock mine. This means the gold is bound up in the quartz ore. The miners drill holes in the rock walls and stuff the holes full of black powder (gun powder). They light the fuse and when the black powder explodes, about three more feet of mine is exposed. Layers (veins) of gold run through these mines, and the goal is to haul the gold out using picks, shovels, and ore carts. It takes a long time. The Midas mine operates 24 hours a day. Since it’s pitch black down in the mine, it doesn’t matter if it is day or night.


Click on these mine pictures to enlarge the view.

The map above is the Midas mine. It is based on the real-life Gold Bug mine in California. The Priest mine (picture below) stands above the Gold Bug mine, just like in the story. Note the air shaft at the right side of both pictures. This is the way air is brought down deep into a mine.

The Belle Diggings

Another important setting in Tunnel of Gold is the Belle diggings. This is the entrance to the old Belle diggings. The Chinese mine it now, but Mr. Sterling wants them out so he can drill an air shaft down to the Midas mine’s deep tunnels. A creek runs next to the Belle, which ends up causing a heap of trouble for Jem, his family, and Will when the old mine collapses.

The Belle diggings started out as a coyote hole like this one below. These mining holes were all over the place in gold country. Miners picked a spot and started digging holes (like Nine Toes did in the middle of the Goldtown street. The sheriff had to yank him away from his work). Miners were looking for gold anyplace they could. Sometimes the miner struck gold. Sometimes not. They are called “coyote” holes because they resemble the holes coyotes dig for their dens. This one was clearly abandoned when no gold was found.

The Stamp Mill

Once the gold is hauled out of the mine, it must be crushed. The gold is mixed in with the quartz as “gold ore.” It is a huge, time-consuming process to extract pure gold from gold ore. It starts with this building called a stamp mill.

These are the stamps inside the stamp mill. They weigh a lot and go up and down day and night, seven days a week. The loud banging of a large stamp mill could be heard miles and miles away. Steam power runs the mill. Once the ore is crushed, mercury (poison) is added and through more processing and washing, pure gold is extracted. It is heated and poured into gold bullion.

Watch the Mariposa stamp mill work (Mariposa museum). This one might not sound loud, but it is a small stamp mill with only 5 stamps.

Canyon of Danger

Blackwater Canyon and the High Sierra

This canyon is at the climax of Canyon of Danger. Jem and his cousin, Nathan, are tracking the missing Copper (the Coulters’ horse). They stumble on the night riders’ camp, and then . . . they are captured. How do they escape? How do they find their way out of this maze of canyons and gullies? Some legends say a traveler can be hopelessly lost and even die of starvation in this canyon. And what about the flash flood that surprises the boys? Click the pictures to enlarge the view.

Goldtown and China Alley

This narrow alley is home to Goldtown’s Chinese population. Jem’s friend, Wu Shen, works for his uncle at his Chinese laundry while his father is off helping lay railroad tracks for the new Transcontinental Railroad.

This is a map of Goldtown. It is based on the layout of a real gold town.

River of Peril

The last Goldtown book, River of Peril, is set in three main places: on the stagecoach ride to Sacramento, the city of Sacramento, and aboard the River Duchess, a paddle-wheel steamboat. I think you will enjoy these real-life pictures of these settings.

Stagecoach from Goldtown to Sacramento, California

Stagecoach travel was long, hot, and bumpy. Most folks felt as if they had been churned like butter by the time they arrived at their destination. Check out these pictures. Yes, that is me riding a stagecoach, and yes, it was bumpy! Click the pictures to enlarge the view.



The Coulters spent a number of days in the capital of California. Pa wants to a load of gold for the North (Union) to a paddle-wheel steamer bound for San Francisco along the Sacramento River. Jem has never been to a town bigger than Mariposa, so he is all eyes and ears. The three kids enjoy the excitement of a big city. Below are a number of photos to help you visualize their visit. Here is Sacramento during the time of the Coulters’ visit. If you look closely, you will see the WELLS FARGO sign above the stage stop on the corner in the middle of the picture.

Paddlewheel Steamboats

The New World was the steamer Pa hoped to load the gold on, but alas, it was delayed with boiler trouble. Here is the real New World steamer. You can see its name on the side paddle wheel. The other picture is a likeness to the River Duchess. Click on the pictures to enlarge the view.

Here is the pilot house, where the kids end up confronting “Black Boots.”

This picture shows how they lit up the deck of a steamboat, with a torch. It’s also how they lit the street lamps before gas or electricity. Can you imagine some of those coals and sparks catching fire on a wooden deck?

The River Duchess experienced a boiler explosion, just like the real-life Sultana. Here is a picture of the Sultana before she exploded and afterward. It was a disaster April 27, 1865, carrying home prisoners of war after the Civil War ended. The ship was horribly overcrowded. Many, many lives were lost. Steamboats were not safe.

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