I started this blog ten years ago to promote the book I wrote about John Bidwell, and to note any bits of Northern California history that caught my fancy. Now I have reached my one-thousandth post, and it’s time to remind you about my books and other projects.
Since that first book I have written three more and have a fourth in the works. I have also collaborated on a variety of books, mostly with the Association for Northern California Historical Research. Between that and my big garden, I manage to keep myself busy and out of trouble.
I live in Chico, California, a city founded by pioneer John Bidwell, so two of my books are about his remarkable life. If you ever come to Chico, be sure and visit Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. Their home is packed with history. One of my most enjoyable activities has been writing historical vignettes for events at the Mansion and acting in them. I portray the cook, Florence Proud, a real person who didn’t always get along with the rest of the help.
In writing John and Annie Bidwell: The Long and the Short of It, I realized how much I like the format of the picture book biography. It’s fun to work with illustrator Steve Ferchaud, and I like bringing history to the youngest readers. Limiting the text to what will fit on 32 pages, with plenty of room for pictures, forces me to concentrate my writing and make every word count. Plus I love doing the research, so even though most of it doesn’t make it into the book, I have learned a lot about my protagonist.
I wrote about Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman to come over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. She came as a seventeen-year-old young mother, carrying her young daughter in her arms. She saw so much of California history: Sutter’s Fort, the Bear Flag Revolt, the Gold Rush, Indian encounters, life in town and life on the ranch.
I did another book on Peter Lassen, the Danish pioneer for whom Lassen County, Lassen Peak, Lassen National Volcanic Park, and so many other landmarks are named. His ranch was just up the road, a half-hour drive from where I live, where the town of Vina is now.
Peter Lassen was quite the character, and I wish I could have known him and Nancy Kelsey and many more of those early inhabitants of California.
In between my own books I have worked on a number of other projects. Together with John Rudderow I edited the poems of Pres Longley, a miner and a minor poet. I still like to open that book and read a one of his poems now and then. He could turn a verse on just about anything.
Since John Bidwell not only wrote in a daily journal, but also kept all his letters, receipts, and other papers, I have been able to mine that trove for two articles for The Diggin’s, the quarterly of the Butte County Historical Society. One was on his life-long friendship with Nelson Blake, and the other about “The Lady with the Blue Silk Umbrella.” Both articles look at California around 1850 through the eyes of the people who were there when it happened.
I’ve also worked with the Association for Northern California Historical Research (ANCHR) on several books, such as The Road to Cherokee, Ten Miles of Archeology on the Humboldt Wagon Road, and Conversations with the Past. ANCHR’s upcoming book on John Brown’s family in Red Bluff will have a chapter by me on rival newspapers in Red Bluff during the time that the Browns were living there.
This last year of staying close to home seemed to me to be the ideal time to write another picture book biography. But who to write about? I want to like my subject, so I don’t want to do an out-and-out villain. Some people have already had plenty written about them, while others seem too obscure to warrant a book. I couldn’t decide.
Then a couple of months ago I read about Alvin Coffey, a man who made three overland journeys to California. The first time he came as a slave, but the last time he came as a free man, bringing his wife and children with him. Here was a man who had worked through incredible difficulties to gain the precious prize of freedom. That’s the book I have started on, and I can’t wait to see what Steve can do with his pen and brush. Pretty soon I’ll be sharing some of those illustrations with you.
Here I am as Florence the cook in the kitchen with Annie’s secretary, played by Marquita Goodman. Soon we will be presenting events again at Bidwell Mansion, after taking a year off.
So that’s the history of the last ten years. I hope to keep writing and sharing the fascinating history of northern California with you for many more.