A Visit to the Bayliss Library

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The Bayliss Library, in Glenn County, celebrates its centennial this year, and yesterday the community marked one hundred years of library service to this rural area with everything you could want in a community celebration: speeches, music, food, activities for the kids, and the chance to see a lovely old-fashioned library.

DSCF3579The Bayliss Library is a Carnegie library, built in 1917 with money donated by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie financed 1689 libraries in the United States, and many more overseas. 142 were built in California, and 36 of those still operate as public libraries, including the Bayliss Library. The Biggs Branch of the Butte County Library is also a Carnegie Library. Other Carnegie libraries in the region have been put to other uses: the library in Orland became a community center, the one in Oroville houses the Butte County Law Library, and the one in Chico is now the Chico Museum.

The Bayliss Library is unusual because it is a rural library, in an unincorporated community, surrounded by agricultural land. All other Carnegie libraries that I am aware of were established in incorporated towns and cities, where the municipal government was responsible for the continuing staffing and maintenance of the library. Bayliss Library is now operated as a branch of the Willows Library, and is open one day a week, on Tuesdays.

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Andrew Carnegie watches over the library, which has fine wood trim and bookcases throughout.

 

 

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My New Project

I am working on a picture book biography of Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman to come over the Sierra Nevada into California. Nancy was seventeen years old when she set out across the plains with her husband Ben and their one-year-old daughter Martha Ann. When the company split at Soda Springs, she was the only woman to travel into the unknown desert toward California (the few other women went to Oregon, the safer option).

When friends told her she should stay behind and wait for Ben to check out California first she said,

Where my husband goes, I can go. I can better endure the hardships of the journey than the anxieties for an absent husband.  

Steve Ferchaud, who illustrated my John & Annie picture book, is working on the illustrations, and his sketches look great.

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Nancy Kelsey admires her handiwork on the Bear Flag

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A mule tumbles over a cliff in the Sierra Nevada mountains

I feel sorry for that poor mule who fell to his death in a rocky canyon. Although if he had not fallen, he probably would have been eaten. Members of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party had to eat their oxen first, and when those were gone and they couldn’t find game, they had to eat their mules to survive.

I’ll keep you posted as the book progresses. If all goes well it will be out this fall, another story of early California from Goldfields Books.

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Another Final Word on Talbot H. Green

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Where Green Street in San Francisco meets the Embarcadero, there are plaques embedded in the pavement telling the history behind the street name. Similar plaques adorn Fremont, Francisco, Brannan, Townsend, and other streets of the City.

All cities should do this so we can learn some history as we hurry along the street.

 

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One plaque is a portrait of Talbot H, Green, but it is almost certainly Samuel J. Hensley. The image is very much worn down by the countless shoes that have passed over it.

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Another plaque has a description of Green’s career in California. It isn’t entirely accurate, but it comes close.

There is an image of a mask (very appropriate!) The mask reminds me of something drawn by Edward Gorey.

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And, last but by no means least, there is a quote from Oscar Wilde. This is the perfect quote to match the story of Talbot Green.

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I am indebted to the website Public Art and Architecture from Around the World for these images.  Someday I’ll go look at them myself. They are just across the street from the new location of the Exploratorium at Pier 15.

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A Final Word on Talbot H. Green (with Picture!)

I couldn’t find a picture of Talbot H. Green online or in any books, and I assumed that while in California he avoided having his likeness taken. But I thought that there just might be a picture of his grave online, under his real name of Paul Geddes. And I got lucky!

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Paul Geddes, from the Rob Leicester Wagner Collection

On findagrave.com there is a picture of the Geddes family tomb at the Lewisburg, PA cemetery, plus there is a picture of the man himself. I contacted Rob Wagner, who posted the picture, and he tells me that Paul Geddes was his three-times great uncle, and that his (Rob’s) grandmother, kept a family photo album in which this picture appears. It is definitely Paul Geddes, aka Talbot H. Green. The photograph was probably taken sometime around 1860 in Pennsylvania.

Looking at this photo, you can see why “Cheyenne” Dawson described him as “gentlemanly, kindly, genial, generous,” and “a favorite with all.”

There is some confusion about the group daguerreotype of Thomas O. Larkin and his business associates. The man at the back left is sometimes identified as Talbot H. Green, and they are similar looking. But the Bancroft Library identifies him as Samuel J. Hensley, and that accords better with other pictures of Hensley. SCPfounding members

The findagrave.com site also has a photo

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Henrietta Geddes, from the Rob Leicester Wagner Collection.

of Mrs. Geddes, courtesy of Rob Wagner.  Here is Geddes’ long-suffering first wife, Henrietta Fredericks Geddes.

I am very grateful to Rob Wagner for making these pictures available online. I agree with him that “genealogists, researchers and just the plain curious should have free access to photos, documents, newspaper obituaries and ephemera.”

One last photograph. Talbot H. Green was a founding member of the Society of California Pioneers and its first treasurer. The Society is still in existence in San Francisco and has a wonderful little research library.

I was there a few months ago, looking for material on John Bidwell and Dr. John Townsend. In leafing through their membership book I found the entry for Talbot H. Green. Near the bottom is the note “ex-member,” with an explanation. I find it poignant that he was struck off the books like that, for in spite of his mistakes, he was indeed a California pioneer.

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The Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green — Part 6

For four years, from 1851 to 1855, Talbot Green languished in Tennessee, writing plaintive letters to Thomas O. Larkin and watching the return mail. He maintained that his former partners and friends, W.D.M. Howard and Joseph P. Thompson, owed him a considerable sum of money. Moreover, the U. S. government still owed him money for goods he supplied the army in 1847. His pleas did not go unheeded, but it must have been easy to ignore a man who was in the powerless position that Green found himself.

The claim on the government necessitated a power of attorney from Green, and Larkin gave the task to his stepbrother Ebenezer Childs to execute. By this means Green’s whereabouts were revealed. This put him in a tizzy, but eventually it all worked out. He was able to meet with Sam Brannan and W.D.M. Howard to settle his affairs satisfactorily. After some dickering and discounting, he wrote to Larkin that the balance due him, which Howard promised to pay, was $67,118. He stopped by Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and gave his wife Henrietta $500.

He returned to San Francisco in the summer of 1855. It was not, however, the happy reunion with old friends that he had hoped for. William Francis White, in A Picture of Pioneer Times in California, reported that he looked “broken down and wretched.”

He appeared to shun every one, and every one shunned him. I met him once after his return. We had been intimate friends. The meeting was embarrassing and awkward. I did not know how to address him. With me Talbot H. Green was no longer in existence, and as to the poor, weak creature, Paul Geddes, I did not care for his acquaintance; so, without addressing him once by name, we parted.

Green/Geddes left San Francisco and traveled up the Sacramento Valley. He visited old acquaintances in Northern California: Pierson B. Reading, Albert G. Toomes, and Robert H. Thomes. The names will be familiar to residents of Shasta and Tehama Counties.

He left California in September 1856 and returned at last to his hometown in Pennsylvania. He wrote to Larkin:

I found everything about the house as I left it, nothing changed. It seems now as if I had not been absent a week, everything is so familiar. The hardest task was to have to become acquainted with my own children. One is 19 years old; the other 17. [Two children had died while he was absent.] My daughter is a very bright and smart girl and has improved her time at school very well; the boy is very quiet and, I think, rather dull, but I hope he will improve.

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Geddes family tomb, from Findagrave.com

He didn’t stay in Pennsylvania. He moved with his wife and children to Texas, where he engaged in land speculation for a few years. By 1880 he was back at home in Pennsylvania, living on friendly terms with his neighbors, although he would never talk of his time in California. He died on July 2, 1889.

His name lives on in San Francisco: Talbot H. Green is the man that Green Street is named after. Notice it the next time you drive northward on Van Ness Ave (Hwy. 101), and think of the man who could have inspired the song, “What Was Your Name in the States?”

 

Bibliographical Note: The information for this series of posts came primarily from:

Hussey, John Adam. “New Light upon Talbot H. Green.” California Historical Society Quarterly, March 1939, pp. 32-63.

A Picture of Pioneer Times in California , by William Francis White, can be found on Google Books, and makes for entertaining reading.

 

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Lassen Volcano — 102 Years Ago Today

This is really neat footage of the eruption of the volcano in our backyard. Lassen Peak erupted on May 22, 1915 and the event was caught on film by Justin J. Hammer of Red Bluff. The film comes from the Shasta Historical Society.

According to the Lassen Volcanic National Park website:

On May 22, 1915, an explosive eruption at Lassen Peak, the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, devastated nearby areas and rained volcanic ash as far away as 200 miles to the east. This explosion was the most powerful in a 1914-17 series of eruptions that were the last to occur in the Cascades before the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Lassen Peak is the largest of a group of more than 30 volcanic domes erupted over the past 300,000 years in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

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For more information, including eyewitness accounts, read The Lassen Peak Eruptions & Their Lingering Legacy, by Alan Willendrup, published by The Association for Northern California Historical Research.

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The Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green (and Sarah Montgomery) — Part 5

Sarah Armstrong Montgomery was eighteen years old when she came to California. She married Allen Montgomery, a gunsmith, in Missouri in 1843. In 1844 they set out with the Stephens-Murphy Party for California. This was the first group of pioneers to bring (with great difficulty) wagons over the Sierra Nevada.

Allen Montgomery went to work for John Sutter and the young couple settled in a cabin near Sutter’s Fort. When the Bear Flaggers began their insurrection in the summer of 1846, Allen joined the California Battalion. So far, it was a typical life for young California pioneers before the gold rush.

In 1847 Allen Montgomery set sail for Hawaii, reason unknown. Allen was never heard from again. There was no sign of him when news of the gold discovery brought men from around the world to California. Sarah assumed she was a widow.

Talbot Green moved to San Francisco in January 1849 and soon made the acquaintance of Mrs. Montgomery. Since she had no official notice of her husband’s death, she was still legally married to Montgomery, but that detail did not stand in the way of their marriage. Green and Sarah Montgomery were quietly married at the home of his old comrade, Grove C. Cook, in San Jose on October 25, 1849.

His situation was, as we know, even sketchier than hers. But nobody knew about his past crimes or his wife in Pennsylvania. He continued to live comfortably in San Francisco with his new wife for a year before the rumors began to circulate. A son was born to them on July 3, 1851, but by then Talbot Green had been gone for two and a half months.

He later told Thomas O. Larkin that his resolve in going to San Francisco was to earn enough money to pay back the bank and redeem himself in the eyes of his family, (although he made no attempt to communicate with them in ten years).

I hoped to make a fortune for them & pay the bank and perhaps would have succeeded had not the fondness for company & drink drowned all my secret resolves and finally smothered conscience entirely. I found & seen that I was fast going to destruction and would soon be lost had I not something to cling to present.

I then by some fatality, although against my reason & judgement, began really and truly to love the woman I married. I studied her character well and was convinced that she had a much stronger mind than my own. I then thought if I married her I might be saved & in a few years pay up & provide for all, which was my full intention, and if I had not been recognized I should have done so before this.

This is a convoluted pack of excuses and self-justification, but he did really seem to love Sarah. In his letters to Larkin his concern for her welfare is second only to his concern for his own. Before leaving San Francisco he had arranged for her to be given $450 a month. He repeatedly asks after her and maintains “I loved that woman and still love her.”

But Sarah was moving on. Larkin wrote to Green in January 1854, enclosing Sarah’s application for a divorce. Green wrote back:

I loved that woman and I still love her, but as she has taken that course I know her so well that she will not stop; but I wish you to go to her and tell her from me never to marry again until I see her. Even if she persists in getting the divorce, as much as I love her & thought she loved me, I cannot blame her as I have done so wrong to her.

If he thought that she might wait until he returned and could work his charm on her, he was wrong. Sarah knew her own mind, and she had her pick of men in San Francisco. In July 1854, she married Joseph S. Wallis, and up-and-coming young lawyer who would later serve as a judge and a State senator. He adopted her son by Green, whose name became Talbot H. Wallis. Sarah was 29 years old as she started on her third marriage, the one that would last. Green wrote plaintively from Tennessee,

It is my sincere prayer that she may be happy in her choice, but I fear for her unless her husband is of a mild and conciliating disposition. . . I wish you to see her and tell her I have heard of her marriage and hope she will be happy, and tell her to take care of our boy, and if I ever come into possession of my own I will do what is right and just toward him.

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The Wallis home at Mayfield (now part of Palo Alto)

The couple moved to Mayfield, in Santa Clara County, where they had a large estate. They became the parents of four children, in addition to Sarah’s son by Green. Sarah was active in the social and economic life of her community. She and her husband were strong supporters of women’s rights. Her husband Joseph Wallis died in 1898, and Sarah lived until 1905. She had lived a long, busy, and quintessentially Californian life.

 

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