Friday, July 27, 2018


The Stanislaus River is a tributary of the San Joaquin River in north-central California. It starts as three forks in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. It generally flows southwest through five counties of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley to join the San Joaquin River south of Manteca. Measured to its furthest headwaters, it is about 150 miles long. 

Stanislaus River watershed - Ctsy Shannon1

It is known for its swift rapids and scenic canyons in the upper reaches. 
Whitewater rafting along the Stanislaus North Fork
It is also heavily used for irrigation, hydroelectricity and domestic water supply.
New Melones Dam Ctsy Renee Viehmann
Now we have the dry textbook introduction out of the way, why blog about the Stanislaus River, one of many rivers in California? My most recent novella, Millwright’s Daughter, is mostly set along the Stanislaus River. Many may not consider the story’s locale, based loosely on Oakdale and Knight’s Ferry, gold rush territory, but the California gold rush does play a role in the development of that region.

Stanislaus River at the Knight's Ferry bridge - Michael Nevins, US Army Corps Engineers
The Stanislaus River was the destination of tens of thousands of gold seekers. Many of them reached California by traveling over the Sonora Pass which is near the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. 

Donnell's Dam on Middle Fork Stanislaus River - Ctsy Bodey Marcoccia
Early mining companies were formed to channel Stanislaus River water to the gold diggings via elaborate canal and flume systems, which directly preceded the irrigation districts formed by farmers who sought a greater degree of river control.

Stanislaus River at_Big Dog Rapid near head of New Melones Lake ctsy Zachary Collier
Like one of my characters, many miners and their families eventually settled along the lower Stanislaus River. The reason? After the easy placer gold had been found, more complex and expensive mining methods such as hydraulic and dredging developed. Men found they must work as employees. Although the wages were good in comparison to some other types of work, it did not support the dreams of acquiring vast sums of wealth to take back home in the east. 

For many former gold-seekers who decided to stay and make a home in California, they turned to what they knew best—the occupations they learned before they came to California. The farms and ranches they established are now part of the richest agricultural region in the United States. Others, such as my millwright character, Joseph Wells, worked in support trades for the agricultural industry.

Old Melones Dam built 1926, later submerged by the New Melones Dam
Starting in the early 1900s, many dams were built to store and divert water; these were often paired with hydro-power systems, whose revenues covered the high cost of the water projects. In the 1970s the construction of the federal New Melones Dam incited major opposition from recreation and environmental groups, who protested the loss of one of the last free-flowing stretches of the Stanislaus. Although New Melones was eventually built, its completion is considered to have marked the end of large dam building in the United States.
New Melones Dam (It is something driving over that thing)
I used to live in Stanislaus County, so the river that gave the county its name is familiar to me. Many years ago – DECADES ago – I rafted several times on the Stanislaus River. I’ve never done white water rafting. That is a little too much excitement for me. However, I have rafted down the part below all the dams just east of Oakdale as the river continues its course towards the San Joaquin River. One early fall, my last rafting adventure, the dams were letting more water through than normal. With the fast-moving water and eddies, we struggled to keep our rafts going in the right direction and staying upright. I was glad to reach our landing point so I could leave that adventure behind.

Instead, my next adventure on the Stanislaus River is in the form of a novella titled Millwright’s Daughter, with the setting loosely based on the early 1880's history of the region. For the time being, you may find this story as part of the Under a Mulberry Moon anthology. Enjoy!

You may find the book description and purchase links for Under a Mulberry Moon by CLICKING HERE.


Denise Greene said...

I used to live in Angels Camp and made the trip across the Stanislaus and New Melones many times on my way to and from Sonora. Absolutely beautiful country. Looking forward to reading your novella!

Jo said...

I used to live down on the south fork of the Stanislaus, right above the Parrot’s Ferry Bridge on the Tuolumne County side. Walter Breen, an old miner, caretook a mining claim there. He loved to let young girls live there because we skinny dipped and lounged on the rocks in the sun. 😂

I had converted a Wonder Bread truck into a home and went to Columbia Jr. College. I loved that river! They ran us all off when they started cutting trees for the damn dam and reservoir.

I now live up by the Yuba River. We were able to stop the dam here thank god.