The Shirley Letters from California Mines in 1851-52: Being a Series of Twenty-three Letters from Dame Shirley (Mtrs. Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe) to Her Sister in Massachusetts and Now Reprinted from the Pioneer Magazine of 1854-55, with Synopses of the Letters, a Foreword, and Many Typographical and Other Corrections and Emendations by Thomas C. Russell; Together with "An Appreciation" by Mrs. M. V. T. Lawrence
Educated in Amherst, Massachusetts, Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe (1819-1906) accompanied her physician-husband to California in 1849. The couple first lived in mining camps where Dr. Clappe practiced medicine and then moved to San Francisco, where Mrs. Clappe taught in the public schools for more than twenty years. The Shirley letters (1922) is the book edition of a series of letters written by Mrs. Clappe to her sister in 1851 and 1852. They were first published under the pseudonym of "Dame Shirley" in the Pioneer magazine, 1854-55. In these letters Louise Clappe writes of life in San Francisco and the Feather River mining communities of Rich Bar and Indian Bar. She focuses on the experiences of women and children, the perils of miners' work, crime and punishment, and relations with native Hispanic residents and Native Americans. Bret Harte is said to have based two of his stories on the "Shirley" letters.
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An intriguing look at the the Gold Rush experience without the mythology.
The travel, the work, living conditions, and the failures of mining operations are mixed with insightful descriptions of people and places.
She only lived a short time in the region, but has given us a picture quite different from history texts.
We are richer for having her as a published writer, poorer for having so few others with the same skill.