California Gold Rush Camps

The Book Club of California 1998 Keepsake

Miner's Slumbers
Fatigued, the miner falls asleep,
Upon the mountain high,
His bed, the ground, hi covering,
A blanket and the sky.

THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH mixed and matched personalities and places. How else could forty-year-old Frenchman Louis Jules Rupalley end up in remote Greenwood Valley, California, in 1851.

Like tens of thousands of his compatriots, Rupalley had fled political chaos at home - as well as a wife and a two-year-old son - for the California gold fields. In 1850 he had joined Le Mineur, one of the Paris-based immigration companies organized to transport Frenchmen to California and to speculate in gold. Jules was, however, no ordinary adventurer. He came from a well-to-do, enterprising family of Normandy. Though his father was a solicitor practicing before the court of appeal in Caen, Jules followed in the footsteps of a grandfather who had mined in Serbia. An avid traveler, Jules was also a devoted botanist and amateur artist. During the tedious six-months voyage on the ship Le Louis from France around Cape Horn to E1 Dorado, this gold-seeker started a pictorial record of his voyage. Ultimately, it would cover inland California journeys and botanical observations.

Rupalley stopped ashore in February 6, 1851, three weeks short of his forty-first birthday and after 153 days at sea. The Alta California remarked, "The Louis brings out from Havre 180 passengers [including seventeen women], all in good health. One hundred of them form a mining company styled the Laonnoise Association." For a while Jules worked as a painter and decorator at the Frèmont House at the base of Telegraph Hill. Then his itinerary took him to Benicia, Vallejo, and then to the Northern Mines, where he spent some time in the boomtown of Greenwood Valley. Originally called "Long Valley," the site was renamed for John Greenwood, son of the famous trapper and guide Caleb Greenwood. John came to California overland in 1845 and opened a trading post there either in 1848 or the spring of 1849.

Greenwood, as it was also called, was at that time a lively little town of over four hundred people, located in one of the loveliest valleys of the Sierra foothills about five miles west of Georgetown, east of Auburn, north of Coloma. Its placer mining was mostly a wet-weather operation, performed during winter months, and reduced to searching for pockets of gold when the crcek dried up in the hot summer months.

Still, Greenwood boasted steady high yields for years, first from placer mining, then from hydraulic and seam-quartz mining starting in 1853. The so-called French Claim owned by Alsatian Charles Nagler was one of the largest and longest-lived of those establishments. Nagler settled at Greenwood in November of 1853, started a bakery and built a hotel with a billiard room and saloon. In 1856, French-Canadian Simon des Marchais, from Montreal, took over Nagler's mining and milling operations. Des Marchais built one of the more impressive homes in town.

The boomtown grew to 979 in 1860, and at one time boasted a theater, four hotels, fourteen stores, a brewery, and four saloons. Yet, it is today a place time forgot: A handful of homes along its Main street, a small school building, the abandoned general store, and the ruins of Nagler's stamp mill are all that remain of the bustling town which once had aspirations to become the seat of E1 Dorado County. Trees and vegetation today cover the hills above town and conceal the creek-bed where Jules drew his fellow miners at work.

Far from his native France, botanist, artist, and miner Jutes Rupalley sketched this gold camp in 1851. Greenwood was no longer the mere 1848 trading post run by Caleb Greenwood and sons Britain and John, but a lively place with even a flag-flying post office. Miners work busily behind the angled main street with its false fronted frame buildings. [Courtesy The Bancroft Library]

Jules must have loved California, for he went on to mine, sketch, and explore the Southern Mines, the Sierra, and their foothills. The Book Club of California published his view of three-card "Monte" in the 1953 "Pictorial Humor of the Gold Rush" keepsake, but the famed David Magee was unable to identify the artist.

In 1857,Jules Rupalley went home to his family and settled into a quieter life. With him went a sketch book with close to a hundred drawings of California plants and insects, besides Gold Rush scenes, and some more tangible items.

Six years later, M. J. Morière, a professor at the University of Caen, wrote, "For several years now, we have been watching the flowering - at the home of one of our friends, M. G Rupalley, a merchant of Caen, of a Liliacre from a bulb sent to him by his brother [Jules], together with various seeds gathered in California. We have not found any description of this plant in the Floras at our disposal. Our research at the Museum of Paris and questions asked collectors of exotic plants, lead us to believe that this plant is unknown in France. We decided it would be useful to have a drawing made of it and to publish its description." In 1863, Professor Morière honored its discoverer with the name Volubilis Rupalleya.

In 1857, however, the same year Rupalley returned home, American Dr. John T. Torrey christened this pink snake lily Brodiaea volubilis Baker (Liliaceae). Proving that fame is fleeting, the latest issue of Willis Linn Jepson's Manual of the Flowering Plants of California changed the name of the genus, making it Dichelostemma volubile (Kellogg) (A. A. Heller)!


DR. CLAUDINE CHALMERS, a specialist on the French in Gold Rush California, is currently writing about her artistic countrymen for The Book Club.

The text was scanned on Omnipage Pro 7.0 and spellchecked with MS Word.
Last updated 12/1998 by Christian Steimel.