Finding Meaning


49er Nativity

By Skip Hellewell

One of my grandfather’s wisest decisions was to build a cabin in the mountains above Sacramento. That cabin is the repository of my fondest childhood memories. I can still see my grandmother building the morning fire in the wood-burning stove, and my grandfather lighting the kerosene lanterns at evening tide. I remember an aunt taking me, a bit scared of the dark, up to bed. She left a lantern by my bedside, to keep the monsters away, and my last image of the day was the flickering flame chasing shadows across the ceiling. My next memory was the morning sun shining through the green forest, announcing the glory of another day at the cabin.

There was a creek where we kids loved to play. It’s called Canyon Creek and eventually feeds into the most northern fork of the American River, the mother lode of the California Gold Rush. Gold rushes are for young men, but one 49er, William George Wilson, brought his wife, building a rough cabin on the claim they worked. A woman was such a rare sight for homesick miners, that some went miles out of their way just to catch a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson doing her chores.

A day of work in the cold water of Canyon Creek might yield a few flakes of gold, but miners dreamed of finding a nugget, one measured in pounds. As the Christmas of 1849 drew near, a rumor, surely an exaggeration, spread that the Wilsons had a 12-pound nugget. Miners in the area started dropping by the Wilson cabin, hoping for a glimpse of the find. The cabin was closely guarded, but the Wilsons let them in, a few at a time, to admire their good fortune. And as they left, the miners solemnly declared the discovery to be the, “the handsomest ever.”

The story of the Wilson’s good fortune is documented in the memoirs of fellow miner William Bennett. Bennett recalled that miners came for three days, walking as far as 10 miles, to see the nugget. The find turned out to be a hoax. There was no lump of gold. Still, the miners continued to come, for the Wilsons had something better—a newborn baby. The baby brought good fortune, for Mr. Wilson made a Christmas Day discovery on his claim that yielded over $3,000, a great sum for the time. And a few miners, to show their respect for the newborn babe, came bearing a gift—a gold ring they had fashioned.

So, that’s the story of the first Nativity in the gold camps on Canyon Creek, and of the babe who blessed the lonely miners so far from home. The Beautiful Wife and I wish you a meaningful Christmas.

(Story credit to writer-historian Craig MacDonald. Read more in his art book, “Old West Christmas Tales with a Twist.”)

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, Sunday 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish). Saturday: 4 pm Reconciliation, 5:30 Mass.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.




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