Helen Hunt’s visit to Northern California

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September 1, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 









By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

“… the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (1922)

Helen Hunt Jackson’s life spanned the years between 1830 and 1885. She first visited California in 1872, twenty-six years after the entrapment of the Donner Party in a pass near Truckee. Samuel Clemens (1835-1910) spent a few years, off and on, in the 1860s in California. He wrote about his expedition with his older brother to Lake Tahoe, also near Truckee. Clemens and Hunt did not meet, of course, because their visits were a decade apart.   Jackson did not meet Jack London (1876-1916. He was not to be born until four years after her first visit. When he was a teenager, Jack London rode on the top of the train to Truckee.

The study of history may sometimes seem to be a series of static photographs of great and small events. There was no photography before the nineteenth century. So before photography – paintings, myths, handprints on cave walls.

History is more like a movie of a voyage on a boat on a river. The river moves, the boat moves along the surface of the river. Insect life begins and ends and begins and ends.   Riverine life beneath the boat changes, the water fills with debris from logging, mining and industrial pollutants, the landscape on the shore changes – the riparian forest thins, the native American villages vanish, churches, temples, houses and stores appear, disappear, new trees are planted, new buildings go up. Irish and Chinese workers cut through the mountains to lay track for the train that unites California with the rest of the United States. The seasons bring blizzards, wind soughing in pines, wild flowers first yellow bloomed, then red, then purple, the California Redbud bursts into raspberry color, and the spring submerges into green summer days, then tawny. The sycamore and oak leaves rust. The California Buckeye – that in early spring looks as if set with flowering candles – drops all of its leaves. Migrating birds move above the boat. Egrets stand in the water with their long necks and small heads. The many personal human stories the boat passengers tell each other or write in letters home or in books reflect moments in the journey through time.

The stories of those who passed the places we know at this time – because I’m an old California traveler I know those places from memories of times before this one – illuminate the fluidity of experience.

In April 1846, when Helen Fiske – later called Helen Hunt Jackson — was sixteen years old and living in Amherst with her father, eight families headed their nine new wagons from Springfield, Illinois. They chose George Donner, a sixty-year old farmer to captain their expedition. They estimated it would take them four months to reach California. Other adventurers joined them until their caravan stretched for two miles.

As the Donner Party approached the summit of the Sierra Mountains near what is now Donner Lake in October 1846, they found that snow clogged the pass up to six feet deep.   The snows had started a month earlier than usual. They retreated to the lake, where they were trapped.

They put up make shift cabins. The snow continued to fall, reaching a depth of twenty feet. Hunting and foraging were impossible. They slaughtered their oxen that had pulled their wagons and ate them.   They resorted to cannibalism.

In December, fifteen of them made snowshoes and walked through a blizzard. Seven (five women and two men) survived to reach Sutter’s Fort in what is now the middle of Sacramento. Four rescue parties arrived at the lake in late February and led forty-eight of the original 87 members of the party to safety in California.

In 1861, the year Helen became engaged to marry the first time, still on the east coast of the United States, Mark Twain — still called Samuel Clemons — and his older brother Orion camped on what is now the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, a little south of Incline Village.

He traveled by stagecoach from the end of “civilization” in St. Joseph, Missouri to Carson City.   (A simulated stagecoach ride at the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco provides a sense of how difficult travel was before the Transcontinental) climbed over the Carson Range into the Tahoe Basin on foot.

In chapter XXII of Roughing It, Twain wrote:

“…at last the Lake burst upon us—a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still! It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”

He takes a skiff across the lake:

“…(D)rifting around in the boat. We were on the north shore. There, the rocks on the bottom are sometimes gray, sometimes white. This gives the marvelous transparency of the water a fuller advantage than it has elsewhere on the lake. We usually pushed out a hundred yards or so from shore, and then lay down on the thwarts, in the sun, and let the boat drift by the hour whither it would. We seldom talked. It interrupted the Sabbath stillness, and marred the dreams the luxurious rest and indolence brought. The shore all along was indented with deep, curved bays and coves, bordered by narrow sand-beaches; and where the sand ended, the steep mountainsides rose right up aloft into space—rose up like a vast wall a little out of the perpendicular, and thickly wooded with tall pines.

“So singularly clear was the water, that where it was only twenty or thirty feet deep the bottom was so perfectly distinct that the boat seemed floating in the air! Yes, where it was even eighty feet deep. Every little pebble was distinct, every speckled trout, every hand’s- breadth of sand. Often, as we lay on our faces, a granite boulder, as large as a village church, would start out of the bottom apparently, and seem climbing up rapidly to the surface, till presently it threatened to touch our faces, and we could not resist the impulse to seize an oar and avert the danger. But the boat would float on, and the boulder descends again, and then we could see that when we had been exactly above it, it must still have been twenty or thirty feet below the surface. Down through the transparency of these great depths, the water was not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so. All objects seen through it had a bright, strong vividness, not only of outline but of every minute detail, which they would not have had when seen simply through the same depth of atmosphere. So empty and airy did all spaces seem below us, and so strong was the sense of floating high aloft in mid-nothingness, that we called these boat-excursions ‘balloon-voyages.’”

Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Bill in 1862. The Board of the Central Pacific called for construction contractors soon after and appointed Charles Crocker – one of the “Big Four” also comprised of Collis Huntington, Leland Stanford and Mark Hopkins. Crocker had no construction experience. He had briefly been a miner during the Gold Rush but found the dry goods business that supplied miners more lucrative.

When Leland Stanford became governor of California in 1862, he promised in his inaugural address to protect the state from “the dregs of Asia.” He was to change his position because of acute labor shortages after a group of Irish laborers agitated over wages. Crocker hired companies in China to recruit workers. By 1868, Chinese-born workers – sometimes called “Celestials” for their spiritual beliefs — comprised 80% of the railroad workforce. The Celestials named California “Gold Mountain,” and San Francisco “Old Gold Mountain.”

Irish workers received a higher wage than Chinese laborers. Workers lived in canvas tents alongside the tracks. In the mountains, they lived in wooden bunkhouses that protected them from the snow but the winter storms compromised those structures.

The Irish diet was largely boiled beef and potatoes. Chinese workers ate vegetables and seafood and kept live pigs and chickens for weekend meals. To the Irishmen, the Chinese diet was a “full-blown sensory assault.”

The railroad first opened its doors to passengers in 1869, when Helen was thirty-nine, soon to become a widow.

In the spring of 1872, the popular writer Helen Hunt first traveled to California — a place, she wrote, as unknown to her as Patagonia. She took the Transcontinental Railroad.

Helen’s train passed near Donner Lake. The tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad run along Schallenberger Ridge and closely follow her route by train.

In the illustrated Bits of Travel (1878) Hunt wrote about her first train trip to California six years earlier. Her train leaves Reno, climbs the Sierras and crosses into California at Truckee.

“Next morning we waked up in the Sierras. We were nearly six thousand feet above the sea. As far as we could see on either hand rose snowy tops of mountains. We were on them, below them, among them, all at once. Some were covered with pines and firs; some were glistening and bare. We looked down into ravines and gorges, which were so deep they were black. Tops of firs, which we knew must be hundreds of feet high, seemed to make only a solid mossy bed below us. The sun shone brilliantly on the crests and upper slopes; now and then a sharp gleam of light showed a lake or a river far down among the dark and icy walls. It seemed almost as if these lights came from our train, as if we bore a gigantic lantern, which flashed its light in and out as we went winding and leaping from depth to depth, from peak to peak.”

In 1892, seven years after Helen’s death of cancer in San Francisco, sixteen-year old Jack London also arrived at Truckee by train but from Sacramento. His travel wasn’t as comfortable as Helen’s had been.

Earle Labor in his Jack London: An American Life (2013) describes the boy’s fascination with “road kids,” outcasts from poor families who hopped freight trains. Jack, called by the others “Frisco Boy,” got on top of a Central Pacific freight train at seven at night and arrived in Truckee in the morning. “French kid” slipped from the train and lost both legs. Jack later wrote in The Road (1907) about his somewhat more adult hobo days:

“Registering a fervent hope that there are no tunnels in the next half mile, I rise to my feet and walk down the train half a dozen cars. And let me say that one must leave timidity behind him on such a passear. The roofs of passenger coaches are not made for midnight promenades. And if any one thinks they are, let me advise him to try it, just let him walk along the roof of a jolting, lurching car, with nothing to hold on to but the black and empty air, and when he comes to the down-curving end of the roof, all wet and slippery with dew, let him accelerate his speed so as to step across to the next roof, down- curving and wet and slippery. Believe me, he will learn whether his heart is weak or his head is giddy.”

Amtrak’s Zephyr train runs over a similar same route as the Transcontinental train took in 1872, leaving from Emeryville, near Oakland.  The route – then as now – does not stop at Lake Tahoe.   Today the drive between Truckee and Lake Tahoe takes 18 minutes.

In the 168 years since the first American immigrants to California struggled over the Sierra pass through what would be Truckee, the area has become in important tourist area –travel not nearly as treacherous, but to this day frightening during blizzards.


The Occidental Hotel

The Occidental Hotel

From Hunt’s “San Francisco”:
“When I first stepped out of the door of the Occidental Hotel (The hotel was built in three stages from 1861-1869 and it was dynamited in 1906.) on Montgomery Street (Montgomery from Bush to Sutter) in San Francisco, I looked up and down in disappointment. (Mark Twain spent his first months in San Francisco at the Occidental Hotel after he arrived in May 1864.)

“’Is this all?’ I exclaimed. ‘It is New York—a little lower of story, narrower of street, and stiller, perhaps. Have I crossed a continent only to land in Lower Broadway on a dull day?’

“I looked into the shop-windows. The identical hats, collars, neckties for men, the identical tortoise-shell and gold ear-rings for women, which I had left behind on the corners of Canal and Broome streets, stared me in the face. Eager hack-drivers, whip-handles in air, accosted me—all brothers of the man who drove me to the Erie Railroad station, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, ten days before….

“In one minute we had turned a sharp corner, left the dull shops behind, and plunged into scenes unfamiliar enough. I no longer wondered at the dearness of the driving. The street was as steep as the street of an Alpine village. Men and women walking up its sidewalks were bowed over, as if nobody were less than ninety. Those walking down had their bodies slanted back and their knees projecting in front, as people come down mountains. The horses went at a fast walk, almost a trot. On corners, the driver reined them up, turned them at a sharp angle, and stopped them to breathe a minute.

“The houses were small, wooden, light-colored, picturesque. Hardly any two were of the same height, same style, or tint. High steps ran up to the front doors. In many instances, when the house was built very much up-hill, the outside staircase curved and wound, to make the climb easier. Each house had a little yard. Many had small square gardens. Every nook and cranny and corner that could hold a flower did. Roses and geraniums and fuchsias, all in full blossom—callas, growing rank and high, and evidently held in no great esteem —set, great thickets of them, under stairways and behind gates. Again and again I saw clumps, which had dozens of the regal alabaster cups waving among their green pennons four feet high. Ivy geraniums clambered all over railings and flowered at every twist. Acacias and palms, and many of the rare tropical trees, which we are used to seeing in conservatories at the East, were growing luxuriantly in these glittering little door-yards. Some of the houses were almost incredibly small, square, one story high, with a door in the middle, between two small windows. Their queer flat roofs and winding ladders of steps in front, with gay flowers all around, made you feel as if some fanciful and artistic babies must have run away and gone to housekeeping in a stolen box. Others were two stories high, or even two and a half, with pretty little dormer or balconied windows jutting out in the second story; but there were none large, none in the least elegant, all of wood, painted in light shades of buff, yellow or brown, the yellow predominating; all with more or less carved work about the eaves, window-tops, and doors, and all bright with flowers. In many of the gardens stood a maidservant, watering the plants with a hose. Not one drop of rain had these gay little parterres had for a month; not a drop would they have for three months to come. These were evidently the homes of the comfortable middle class of San Francisco. I am a little ashamed of having forgotten the names of these streets. There were several streets of this sort; but who wishes to find them must take his chance, as I did. There are horse-cars that run through two or three of them, up and down such grades as I never saw horse-cars on elsewhere.

“Then there are broader streets running along these hills; a street taking its up-hill widthwise, which has a curious effect in the steepest places. Some of these streets are full of shops. I think they are the Bowery and Sixth Avenue of San Francisco. Others, higher up, are chiefly filled with dwelling-houses—many of them very handsome, with large gardens; some with what might almost be called grounds about them; and all commanding superb views of the bay and the part of the city lying below. It is odd to stand on the corner of a street and look off over chimneys of houses only two streets off; but you do it constantly among the ups and downs of San Francisco,—in many of the streets, in fact in all of them. You see also the most ludicrous propinquities of incongruous homes. For instance, “Wang Fo” takes in washing, in a shed, next door to a large and handsome house, with palm-trees and roses growing thickly on all sides of it. The incongruities of base-line are still more startling. One man, who builds on a bit of hill—and no man builds on any thing else —cuts it down, before he begins, to something like the level of his neighbor’s house. But the next man who comes along, having no prejudice against stairs, sets his house on the very top of the pinnacle, and climbs up forty steps to his front door….

“There are two things to do in San Francisco (besides going to the Chinese theatre). One is to drive out of the city, and the other is to sail away from it. If you drive, you drive out to the Cliff House, to breakfast on the sight of seals. If you sail, you sail around the harbor, and feast on the sight of most picturesque islands. Alcatraz, Goat, and Angel islands are all fortified and garrisoned. If you are fortunate enough to go in a Government steamer, on a fort reception day, you land on these little islands, climb up their winding paths to the sound of band playing, and are welcomed to sunny piazzas and blooming gardens, with that ready cordiality of which army people know the secret. The islands are cliff-like; and the paths wind up steep grades, coming out on the plateau above. You see an effect that is picture-like. The green sward seems to meet the blue sea-line; piles of cannon-balls glisten on corners; the officers’ cottages are surrounded by gardens: the broad piazzas are shady with roses; the soldiers’ quarters are in straight lines or hollow squares; the sentinel paces up and down, without looking at you; the brass instruments shine and flash in the sun, at the further end of the square; and the sky and the bay seem dancing to the same measure, above and around. It is hard to believe that the scene is any thing more than a pleasure spectacle, for a summer delight. On one of the islands—Alcatraz, I think—the road up to the quarters is so steep that an officer has invented a most marvelous little vehicle, in which guests are hoisted to the commander’s door. It is black; it swings low, between two huge wheels; it has two seats, facing each other; it is drawn by a stout, short-legged horse, who looks as if he had been imported out of the Liverpool dray service. …

“The Cliff House stands on the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. From the westward piazza you look not only off; you look down on the water. The cliffs are not high; but they are bold and rocky, and stretch off northward to the Golden Gate. To the south, miles long, lies the placid beach. The low, quiet swell, the day we were there, scarce seemed enough to bring the tiniest shell. Buried deep in the sand lay the wreck of a brig, the prow pointed upward, as if still some purpose struggled in its poor, wrecked heart. The slow, incoming tide lapped and bathed it, washing, even while we looked, fresh sand into the seams and higher up around the keel. But out a few rods from the shore were navigators whose fates soon diverted and absorbed our attention.

“It is so much the fashion to be tender, not to say sentimental, over the seals of the Cliff House rocks that I was disappointed not to find myself falling into that line as I looked at them. But the longer I looked the less I felt like it….

“Going back to the city, you drive for two or three miles on the beach, still water on your right and sand hills, covered thick with blue and yellow and red flowers, on your left. Surely, never an ocean met more gracious welcome. Many of the flowers seem to be of the cactus species; but they intertwine and mat their tangles so as to make great spaces of solid color. Then you take a road turning sharply away from the sea, eastward. It is hard and bright red. It winds at first among green marshes, in which are here and there tiny blue lakes; then it ascends and winds among more sand-hills, still covered with flowers; then higher still, and out on broader opens, where the blue lupine and the yellow eschscholzia(eschscholzia Californica – the golden poppy or copa de oro—pva)grow literally by fields full; and then, rounding a high hill, it comes out on a plateau, from which the whole city of San Francisco, with the bay beyond and the high mountains beyond the bay, lies full in sight. This is the view which shows San Francisco at its best and reveals, also, how much better that best ought to have been made.”

Her story, “The Way to Ah-wah-ne” describes her trip to Yosemite.

“Early on a Monday, the 17th of June, we set out. The Oakland ferry-boat was crowded. Groups of people, evidently bound on the long overland journey; and other groups bound, like ourselves, for the Valley. Everybody was discussing routes with everybody else. Each was sure that he was going the only good way. We were happiest, not being committed to any fixed program, and having left it to be decided on the road whether we should go first to the Big Trees or to the Valley. Behind us sat a woman whose lead we almost resolved to follow, for the sake of seeing the effect her toilet would produce on landscapes. She wore a fiery scarlet cashmere gown, the overskirt profusely trimmed with black lace and scarlet satin, the underskirt trimmed high with the same scarlet satin. A black lace jacket, a point-lace collar and sleeves, and a costly gold chain. A black velvet hat, with a huge white pearl buckle and ostrich plume, completed this extraordinary costume. Gloves were omitted. The woman had beauty of a strong, coarse type. She laughed loud and showed white teeth. She also spat in the aisle or from the window, like a man. Such sights as this are by no means uncommon in California. One never wearies of watching or ceases to wonder at the clothes and the bearing of the women. Just behind this woman sat another, wearing an embroidered white pique and a fur collar. At one of the first stations entered a third, dressed in a long, trailing black silk, bordered around the bottom with broad black velvet. Her hands and arms were bare, and she carried a coarse sacking bag, half as big as herself, tied up at the mouth with a dirty rope.

“The great San Joaquin wheat valley stretched away, on each side of the railway track, further than we could look. Except for the oaks rising out of the wheat, it might have been taken, under the gently stirring wind, for a sunlit sea.

“Here and there went rolling along the mysterious steam-threshers; huge red wagon-like things, with towers and fans and a sharp clatter, doing by a single puff of steam the work of many men’s arms, finishing in a single hour the work of many days. Here and there, also, we saw a narrow road through the wheat. The crowded, slender, waving columns walled it so high that a man on horseback looked like a man riding in a forest, and could not see over the tops of the grain.

“A bad, a very bad dinner at a town named Peters; a change of cars at Stockton —from the Central Pacific to the Copperopolis Railroad; a change from cars to stage at Burnet; and, before the middle of the afternoon, we had really set our faces toward Ah-wah-ne. The road lay at first through a fertile country, great parks, shaded by oaks, and sown with wheat; then through barer and less beautiful lands, stony and uncultivated, but picturesque and almost weird from the cropping out of sharp, vertical slate ledges, in all directions; then into still barer and stonier tracts of old mining-fields. These are dismal beyond description. The earth has been torn up with pick-axes, and gullied by forced streams; the rocks have been blasted and quarried and piled in confusion; no green thing grows for acres; the dull yellow of the earth and the black and white and gray of the heaped stones give a coloring like that of volcanic ruins; and the shapes into which many of the softer stones have been worn by the action of water are so like the shapes of bones that it adds another element of horror to the picture. Again and again we saw spots that looked as if graveyards full of buried monsters had been broken open, and the skeletons strewn about….

“We were to sleep at Chinese Camp. The name was not attractive; and the town looked less so as we approached it. A narrow, huddled street of low and dingy houses, set closely together as a city; a thick, hedge-like row of dwarfed locust-trees stood on each side, making it dark and damp; many of the buildings were of stone, with huge, studded iron shutters to both doors and windows of the first story; but stone and iron were alike cobwebbed and dusty, as if enemies had long since ceased to attack. ….

(Chinese Camp is the remnant of a notable California Gold Rush mining town. The settlement was first known as “Camp Washington” or “Washingtonville” and one of the few remaining streets is Washington Street. Some of the very first Chinese laborers arriving in California in 1849 were driven from neighboring Camp Salvado and resettled here, and the area started to become known as “Chinee” or “Chinese Camp” or “Chinese Diggings”. At one point the town was home to an estimated 5,000 Chinese. In the 2010 United States Census, China Camp had a population of 126., pva).

“It was only six o’clock, when we set out, the next morning. White mists were curling up from all the hollows in the hills, and the air was frosty: but, in an hour, the hot sun had driven the mists away; and the marvelous, cloudless blue of the rainless sky stretched again above us. This is a perpetual wonder to the traveller in California in spring—day after day of such radiant weather: it seems like living on a fairy planet, where the atmosphere is made of sunshine, and rain is impossible.”

San Jose was a very small city surrounded by wheat fields at the time of her visit. By my childhood, San Jose was a small city surrounded by orchards. Suburban development at the end of World War II destroyed the orchards and left a run-down commercial center, restored in part in the early 1980s, and now the center of Silicon Valley. Highway 17 has for many years allowed computer-industry commuters to live in Santa Cruz and for vacationers to travel to the Monterey Bay to surf near the cliffs, take boat rides and kayak, and ride the Big Dipper on the Boardwalk — one of the oldest surviving amusement parks, built in 1907.

One of the stops she made was to the Normal School in San Jose (It eventually became San Jose State University. A “Normal School” was a school for teachers). I don’t know if Helen visited nearby Santa Clara University, founded in 1851 by the Society of Jesus as “Santa Clara College,” California’s oldest operating institution of higher learning. It was established on the site of Mission Santa Clara de Asís, the eighth of the original 21 California missions.

The Old Courthouse on First Street in San Jose is a Neo Classical building (1866), and the wood paneled interior court rooms evoke the past. Across the street was St. James Square. In 1868, Frederick Law Olmstead – a pioneer landscape architect – laid out the diagonal and peripheral walkways. Helen would have passed by both in 1872.

Helen wrote:

“From Santa Clara, twelve miles out to the Coast Range of mountains; twelve miles across the Santa Clara Valley. This road is also perfectly level; in the dust and heat of summer, intolerable; on the day we crossed it, clear and pleasant, and golden, too, as the wake of a cloud in a smooth yellow sky, for the whole valley was waving with yellow mustard. What the ox-eye daisy is to New England, the wild mustard is to these saints’ valleys in California. But the mustard has and keeps right of way, as no plant could on the sparser New England soil. Literally acre after acre it covers, so that no spike nor spire of any other thing can lift its head. In full flower, it is gorgeous beyond words to describe or beyond color to paint. The petals are so small, and the flower swings on so fine and thread-like a stem, and the plant grows so rank and high, that the effect is of floating masses of golden globules in the air, as you look off through it, bringing the eye near and to its level; or, as you look down on it from a distance, it is a yellow surface, too undulating for gold, too solid for sea. There are wheat fields in the Santa Clara Valley, and farms with fruit-trees; but I recall the valley only as one long level of blazing, floating, yellow bloom.

“The Coast Range Mountains rise gently from the valley; but the road enters abruptly upon them, and the change from the open sun and the vivid yellow of the valley to the shifting shadows of hills and the glistening darkness of redwood and madrone trees is very sharp. The road is like all the mountain roads in California— dizzy, dangerous, delicious; flowers and ferns and vines and shrubs tangled to the very edges; towering trees above and towering trees below; a rocky wall close on one hand and a wooded abyss close on the other, and racing horses pulling you through between. “It is magnificent, but it is not driving.” We stop for a bad dinner at a shanty house, which is walled and thatched with roses; and we make occasional stops to water at lonely little settlements, where the hills have broken apart and away from each other just enough to let a field or two lie and tempt a few souls up into their living grave. At all such spots the wistful, eager, homesick look on some of the faces wrung my heart. ‘Be you from the east?’ said one man, as he brought out the water for the horses. He had a weak, tremulous, disappointed face. The pale blue eyes had lost all purpose, if they ever had it. ‘Oh, yes! ‘ Said we gaily. ‘From the other edge of the continent.’ And then we waited for the usual reply. ‘Well I wonder if you know my uncle, Mr. ——. He lives in New York.’ But no. ‘I thought so,’ was all the man said; but there was something indescribably pathetic in the emphasis and the falling inflection. Early in the afternoon we came out on a divide, a narrow ridge, wooded less thickly, and giving us glimpses of the ocean in the distance. When we reach the end of the seaward slope of this, we shall have crossed the Coast Range, and shall find our Holy Cross Village. ….”

Helen’s stagecoach driver could have been a woman disguised as a man.

Charley Parkhurst was also known as “One-Eyed Charley” – a horse kick blinded her in one eye.  Charley registered to vote in Soquel in 1868.   If she did vote, she was the first woman in California to vote, albeit illegally — California women did not obtain the legal right to vote until 1911. In Charley’s later years, she was a stagecoach driver over the Santa Cruz Mountains.. She had a reputation as the finest stagecoach driver in the West.

When Charley died in 1879, in a cabin near Watsonville, neighbors came to the cabin to lay out the body for burial and discovered that Charley’s body looked unexpectedly female. The examining doctor established that Charley had given birth. A trunk in the house contained a baby’s dress.

When Helen visited Santa Cruz, it was a village spun out from Mission Santa Cruz (1791). Explorer Gaspar de Portola named the area in 1769, when he and his men camped on the San Lorenzo River. Much of what I recall as downtown Santa Cruz – built after Helen’s visit – was demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The four oldest buildings destroyed as a result of the earthquake were on Pacific Garden Mall, which had been built in 1894 – twenty years after Helen’s visit.   Founded in 1965, UC Santa Cruz began as a showcase for progressive, cross-disciplinary education and innovative teaching methods. Built on granite hills, the university survived the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Helen wrote:

“The village lies close to the sea. There are houses from which you can throw a stone to the beach. Then, a little higher up, is the business street, where shops and offices and one or two quaint, small inns, with pots of flowers all along their balconies, are set thick together, and contrive to look much wider awake than they are; then rise sudden, sharp terraces—marking old water-levels, no doubt—up which one ought to go by staircases, but up which one does climb wearily by winding roads and paths. On these terraces are the homes of Santa Cruz. Not a fine house, not a large house among them; but not a house without a garden, and hardly a house without such fuchsias, geraniums, and roses as would make a show to be sought after in any other country than this. Is it worth while, I wonder, to say to people who keep a couple of scarlet geraniums carefully in pots in their window, that in this village scarlet geraniums live out of doors all the year round, grow by dozens along fences, like currant-bushes, and stick out between the slats, great bits, and branches, that anybody may pick; that they stand plentifully at corners of houses, running up, like old lilac-trees, to the second-story windows; that a fuchsia will grow all over a piazza, and a white rosebush cover a small cottage,— walls, eaves, roof,—till nothing but the chimney is left in sight, coming out of a round bank of white and green?”


 Evergreen Cemetery YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr47PxsGPI4.

Renie Leaman, instrumental in the preservation of Evergreen Cemetery, tours the cemetery with biographical sketches of many of the pioneer people buried there, including Isaac Graham, Louden Nelson. and a number of the Chinese men who helped build the railroads.

Isaac Graham (1800 to 1863) was a fur trader and mountain man. He purchased the Zayante ranch land by proxy because he was not a Mexican citizen. In 1851, he purchased Rancho Punta del Año Nuevo from Maria Antonio Pico de Castro.

Louden (London) Nelson was an illiterate former North Carolina slave who left his small fortune earned as a cobbler to the children of Santa Cruz so that the Santa Cruz school could pay its teachers. The Louden Nelson Community Center is at 301 Center Street, Santa Cruz.

This cemetery was built in the 1850s, so Helen Hunt could have visited it.

Transcontinental Railroad. http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad.

San Jose Chamber of Commerce promotional video, which inadvertently also documents the beginning of the end of the agricultural era. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI253Joyp6I.

Sergio Leone’s 1968 Once Upon A Time in the West.

The Lone Ranger (2013) starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.


James D. Houston, Continental Drift (Paper back, 1996). James D. Houston was married to Jeanne Watsuki Houston, and co-authored with her Farewell to Manzanar (1973), which is about the federal government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Jeanne and James Houston lived in the house that a survivor of the Donner Party – Martha Jane “Patty” Reed Lewis lived in. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/santacruzsentinel/obituary.aspx?n=james-d-houston&pid=126427766.

Patty was eight years old at the time of the Donner-Reed tragedy at Donner Lake. http://www.capitolamuseum.org/pincushions_article.html.

James D. Houston’s novel Snow Mountain Passage (2001) reimagines the terrible Donner-Reed party story.

Jackson, “Bits of Travel at Home.” http://www.cprr.org/Museum/Bits_of_Travel_at_Home.html .


Kate Phillips, Helen Hunt Jackson: A Literary Life (2003)

Samuel Clemons, Roughing It (1871).

John V. Young, Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains (1984)

Workers of the Central Pacific Railroad Transcontinental Railroad. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-cprr/.

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (1971). This novel is directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, which were later published as A Victorian Gentleman in the Far West. (Paperback, 1992). The title of Professor Stegner’s novel is an engineering term for the angle at which soil finally settles after, for example, being mined from a mine as tailings. Foote’s husband was an engineer in the New Almaden quicksilver mine in the Capitancillas range in Santa Clara County, a few years after Helen visited the City of San Jose.


 Angel Island State Park. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468. http://www.aiisf.org/education/station-history.

Central Pacific Freight Depot in Sacramento. http://www.csrmf.org/explore-and-learn/central-pacific-railroad-freight-depot.

The Cliff House. http://www.cliffhouse.com/history/

Truckee train station.   Make reservations at the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappan Lodge. http://vault.sierraclub.org/outings/lodges/ctl/.

Camp and rent a kayak in Donner Memorial State Park if you travel in the summer. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=503.  In 1846, the Donner-Reed Party of pioneers reached the Sierra Nevada in November. They had been delayed because the followed a new route, the Hastings Cutoff. The rugged terrain while traveling along the Humboldt River in present-day Nevada resulted in the loss of many cattle and wagons. They were trapped by an early heavy snowfall near Truckee (now Donner) lake. Rescuers from California attempted to reach them but the first relief party did not arrive until February 1887. By then, some of the survivors cannibalized the dead. Forty eight people survived. Donner Party survivor Martha Jane Reed Lewis was eight years old. She married Frank Lewis in 1856 and lived in Santa Cruz and then in Capitola. Martha Street in downtown Santa Cruz is named after her. She died in 1923 in East Twin Lakes, in Santa Cruz.

University of California, Santa Cruz.

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=485.

Yosemite National Park. Stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Disneyland Resort’s Grand California Hotel & Spa, which evokes the Awhahnee Hotel and also the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park.

Go to California Adventures Park in Anaheim, across a plaza from Disneyland. Ride “Soarin’ Over California.” It is a flight simulator that lifts guests on a scenic aerial tour of California. The room will smell delicately of orange blossoms. One of the scenes is of people kayaking down the Truckee River. To experience that trip in the real world, when you stay in King’s Beach, kayak on the river. http://www.truckeeriverrafting.com/index.php.

King’s Beach in the Lake Tahoe area. Rent a kayak and go out to the rocks and back. Avoid the motor boats.

The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum. http://www.sccgov.org/sites/parks/parkfinder/Pages/Almaden-Quicksilver-Mining-Museum.aspx.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk Amusement Park. http://www.beachboardwalk.com/

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=548.










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