HIGH SPIRITS IN THE GOLD CAMPS
Life was hard in the mining camps of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Homesickness and intense loneliness plagued the miners who were separated from their families and friends. They sought ways to escape the harsh life in the gold camps, and do almost anything to relieve the tedium of their work. So what was it that the 49ers did for fun?
Miners in some camps formed social clubs. One famous club was the “Clampers.” They kept no membership records; they were too busy having fun. Their primary function was to recruit new members, charge them a large initiation fee, then drink up the proceeds during the initiation ceremony.
Some itinerant musicians travelled to the camps, and a few canvas tent theatres were built. Entertainment was humble. The miners would form their own performing all-male companies to take a stab at the classics.
But the large saloons and theatres existed some distance away, in Sacramento or San Francisco. The vaudeville-like playbills could feature musicians, singers, actors, an opera, or possibly a Shakespeare play. The Eagle Theatre in Sacramento was the focal point for regional entertainment. Lola Montez, Edwin Booth, and Lotta Crabtree earned the largest audiences. During the rainy season, when the adjacent river flooded, those patrons in the orchestra pit seats would be treated to a bath in addition to a show.