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Western Party

Gold Rush Party 1yr - California's Gold




James in Fairfield, CA, USA


August 2007


August 2006 Winner

For my son's first birthday, we gave him a California Gold Rush themed party. We planned it from the time he was born… 

INVITATIONS: The invitations were printed on gold parchment paper using the font, GoldRush, and read: California Gold! The rumors you have heard are all true! I've been here for a few months now and I think it's time you joined me at my claim! Pack your best bib and tucker and get here by my first birthday whatever you do!   We'll be kickin' up our heels Saturday July 28th 2007 1 o'clock in the afternoon  Travel overland by the Oregon or Mormon trail take a ship around Cape Horn or you can sail to Panama trek over the isthmus and catch any boat bound for San Francisco. All routes can be dangerous and take many months so choose carefully."  Inside the #10 envelope also in gold parchment we included a tiny ziploc filled with about a teaspoon of gold glitter. Dollar Tree stores sell some that is not uniform and it looks a lot like gold dust. We bought vintage unused stamps on eBay. A 1998 33 cent stamps commemorated the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in Coloma and 1948 3 cent stamps marked the 100th anniversary. We sealed them with Remington art stickers from doverpublications.com. Now for the really cool part we read in an issue of American Profile that a group in Hashknife Arizona still does an annual Pony Express ride in early February of each year. Well I had to send them by Pony Express! Of course it was 6 months early so I printed up an explanation to insert and asked that everyone hang it on their fridge so as not too forget. The pony express mail gets a special handstamped cache (cancellation) so it really made the envelopes. For more info on their annual ride you can visit: hashknifeponyexpress.com. Of course I sent out reminder postcards as the date neared which portrayed an old prospector panning for gold. Strangely enough we found these postcards on sale at our grocery store. 

DECORATIONS: We spent a long time gathering up anything that looked to be from the 1850's. For the inside of the house we got all of our family's antique photographs to display around and borrowed all my great-grandparents crockery tools and kitchen utensils. I cut out black paper construction crescent moons to tape to the bathroom door and we played different cd's throughout. The dining room had a bluegrass banjo cd from our library the family room played fiddle music the saloon had saloon piano by Dave Bourne (buy online at saloonpiano.com) and we had a Western and Native American cd from the library that played near the Indian village.   I tried to transform our yard into an old west boom town with a jail miner's camp blacksmith river site for panning general store saloon restaurant Indian Village Assay Office school and Chinese camp/laundry. I painted our wooden shed and made that the saloon complete with bar. We got old time non-alcoholic bottled beers from Beverages & More (apple beer ginger beer root beer birch beer and of course sarsaparilla). We put these in a tin tub filled with ice on the bar. We also had drinks in pitchers: lemonade raspberry shrub cherry limeade homemade sarsaparilla iced tea iced coffee and switchel (the recipe for this we found in a library book on Gold Rush food).  I hung a painters canvas from the shed to the fence and made that the miner's camp plus blacksmith shop. I laid out a blanket pillow fiddle coffee cup whiskey jug coffee grinder shovel and gold pan. I had a circle of stones for a "fire" and had a metal pot hanging on a stand over it along with some cast iron dutch ovens and skillets. The blacksmith had an assortment of old tools like pick axes saws files and horsehoes. I built a wooden façade for the jail out of old pickets and the bars were an old baby gate painted. I got a couple stuffed vultures from Michaels around Halloween and they perched on the roof. I also had a beam coming out that we hung a noose from. We stapled wanted posters all along the front of kids who would be at the party. We put a kids' wooden table and chair in front . On it were some custom headline newspapers jail key ring with skeleton keys handcuffs and cowboy hat. A suede fringed vest hung on the back of the chair with a Sheriff's badge pinned to it. On the side of our shed I painted a valley scene and glued paper storefronts to it that we got from doverpublications.com. Near that we put a sandbox filled half with sand and half with water. Buried in the sand were pebbles painted gold pretty colored stones and arrow heads. Near this I built what looked like the entrance to a mine shaft out of old wood and black butcher paper for the back. The ground I littered with rocks I glued glitter too and I put a couple pick axes inside and hung and old lantern at the top. I stapled a paper claim notice to the side and painted "Logan No.1" on the top piece of wood. We turned our laundry room into the general store. We printed out old time advertisements and taped them all over. We cleaned out the linen cupboards and filled them with jars crockery cups etc. We threw sheets over the washer and dryer and then put a bunch of jars of stick candy taffy jelly beans starlight mints on the "counter" as well as a basket of Jacob's ladder toys (orientaltrading.com). The restaurant was just our backyard with tables set up for the guests to eat at. We printed out a menu with prices just for fun…we didn't really make guests pay! We also hung a musical trinagle so we could signal when the grub was ready. The Indian Village consisted of 2 teepees purchased from collectionsetc.com. Inside we had some leather material baskets bead ornaments and bracelets as well as all our musical instruments: 3 drums a wooden flute tambourine maracas pan pipe etc. for the kids to play with. For the Assay Office I got a 4' x 8' piece of insulation foam from Home Depot and cut out and painted it for the façade then braced it with some metal shelf parts. Behind this there was a table with a scale for weighing gold a wooden cash box with plastic gold coins some gold bricks that were really scrubbing pads some reproduction coins of the gold rush (fatbraintoys.com) and some reproduction paper money purchased in Coloma CA. The school façade I made in the same way as the Assay Office. Behind it was the teacher's desk with an old arithmetic book (you can buy repro McGuffey readers on eBay) a teacher's bell a quill and ink stand Children's Book of Morals list of misbehaviors and punishments for school children some chalk chalkboards and tin lunch buckets with a bandana in each one. The Chinese camp consisted of one canvas teepee (OTC) with some Chinese fans a Mahjong game a tea pot and cups and some gold buttons inside. Outside were two old tin washtubs with old washboards from the Columbus Washboard Co. (Ace Hardware has these in stores). In one tub the children could wash and the other rinse. Then there was a clothesline with old-fashioned clothespins tied from a tree behind the teepee to the house. We also had a Pony Express rail up that 2 hobby horses were tied to along with 2 Pony Express posters printed from online and a "Rules for Stagecoach Riders" poster purhased from a gift store in Old Sacramento. (Later we set old tin cans on top of the rail to shoot with a cork rifle). 

ACTIVITIES: The first thing we had guests do upon arrival was shake a baby food jar filled with heavy whipping cream until it turned into butter that they used with their meals. Then they went to the dining room and loaded up a tin pie plate with vittles.

APPETIZERS: bison meatballs crab won ton smoked oysters  MAIN: Mushroom Steak BBQ Chicken 
SIDES: Pork & Beans Potato salad.
VEGGIES: Cowboy layered salad Green beans. 
BREAD: Boudin sourdough loaves (we drove 45 minutes to obtain these that are still made today with the starter begun in 1849 and froze them until the party day). 
DESSERTS: Sarsaparilla cookies Plum Duff Vinegar pie Dried apple pie. 

After eating the children all panned for gold. When they had a bunch of nuggets they took them to the Assay Office weighed them and exchanged them for the plastic gold coins. Then they were ready to shop. At the blacksmith they could buy wire puzzles the General Store had candy and toys as mentioned plus a custom headlined Gold Rush Gazette newspaper that said "Logan Edward Rose Celebrates One Year Happy Birthday!.  The saloon had the bottled beers for sale the Indian camp had the bead ornaments & bracelets the school had the chalk boards and tin lunch pails and the Chinese camp had gold buttons.  When the children had spent all their money it was time to try their hands at doing laundry the old fashioned way make corn husk dolls (get instructions online) shoot tin cans with a cork gun and have a pretend gunfight with cap guns.

We bought the Big Tex 12 ring shot cap guns on amazon.com. They worked amazingly well. It was really fun and loud! They could also play the instruments in the Indian camp play with old wooden toys like blocks twirly sticks barrel hoop and stick jump rope jacks marbles ragdolls covered wagon cup & ball and the fairy hoop game (most purchased at Coloma or Old Sacramento).  Lastly it was time to open gifts and have cake & ice cream. The cake we got from the grocery store but had them put a sepia-toned picture of our son taken at Sutter's Fort on it. 

GOODY BAGS: Each child received a brown paper gift bag that we had put Mrs. Grossman's old western town border stickers on as well as their name. Inside there was a schedule of events a printed claim for them to fill in their name on  a piece of leather that we used a leather stamp kit on to say "Logan's Gold Rush Party" a picture of Logan in overalls and a straw hat a half dram vial of real 24K gold purchased on eBay a foam canoe craft and some postcards depicting Gold Rush era California from Sutter's Fort. 

THANK YOU'S: We sent postcards of Paintings of the American West from doverpublications.com as thank you notes.  Whew! Did anyone make it to the bottom of this description? We put a lot of thought and time into our parties. If you plan ahead though you can do just a little at a time and not be overwhelmed. Just pick your theme and head to your local library and research research research. Have fun!

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