Ed, I didn’t see your most recent comments. I can adapt if you want, but I don’t think they are a great fit with the background I envision:
1. Jess is totally disconnected from her family in St. Louis (KC was too pudly in the mid-1850s to fit what I had in mind). She assumes her proud father would never attempt to contact her and she wouldn’t expect anything from him either.
2. I think I got a reasonable mining option. It appears that gold rush activities in CA died around 1855 and mines were only profitable for larger commercial operations. But smaller scale mining activities continued moving farther north, and I think the location I picked is historically valid.
3. I had random claim jumpers in mind as the folks who killed Jess’ husband, but I could negotiate that point. Jess did kill them, though, and I view her as smart enough to do a reasonable job removing traces of the incident.