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

Hellacious California: Tales of Rascality, Revelry, Dissipation, and Depravity, and the Birth of the Golden State
Paperback, 5.5 x 8.5, 256 pages.
ISBN: 9781597144995.

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.

Published in collaboration with Sierra College Press.


“One of the best reads about the state I love! History penned with a sense of humor, insight, and compassion … Fascinating vignettes of California’s early years of expansion, exploitation, and unbridled human nature reveal the vibrant complexity of forces at work that established the Golden State.” Beverly Lewis, Director, Placer-Lake Tahoe Film Office; Past President of FLICS (Film Liaisons in California Statewide), the professional association of California State Film Commissions
“Hellacious California! confidently carries the reader into the everyday lives of early Californians. The focus on Californians’ popular pastimes …, with an eye on vice, decadence, and scandal, makes this book a rowdy tour.” Dr. Patrick Ettinger, Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento; Former Director of CSUS Public History Program and the Capital Campus Oral History Program
“Premier historian Gary Noy has created the finest and most entertaining compilation ever of stories documenting ‘the best bad things’ of nineteenth century California.… Never before has this been so well told and supported by such a vast array of primary sources.” Gary Kurutz Director Emeritus, California History Room and Special Collections, California State Library
+ Show all reviews
Category History

About the Author

Gary Noy

Gary Noy

A Sierra Nevada native and current resident, Gary Noy has taught history at Sierra College from 1987 until the present. He founded the Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies and served as its director until 2012. His previous titles include Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues (Heyday, 2014), which won the Gold Medal for Best Regional Nonfiction from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology (Heyday, 2010), which he coedited, and Distant Horizon: Documents from the 19th Century American West (University of Nebraska Press, 1999). Visit his website atgarynoy.com.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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