Give the Gift of Books

Something they want,
Something they need,
Something to wear, 
Something to read.

(Detail from Charles C. Nahl’s Sunday in the Mines. Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento.)

As a librarian and devoted book reader, I have always given the gift of books. Everybody needs a good book (or many good books) for Christmas!

So if you are shopping for books this holiday season, please consider my books as gifts for children or adults. You can order online on Amazon or at Chico vendors like Bidwell Mansion, Chico History Museum, Made in Chico, and Bidwell Supply Co. carry my books, as well as Treasures from Paradise and the Rusty Wagon in Orland. The Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society is selling great local history books at the Tehama County Library.

At the ANCHR website you will find a host of other titles about Northern California history. History makes great gifts!

There’s more information about where to buy and how to order my books on the My Books tab at the top of this page.

Happy holiday reading!!!

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Thanksgiving in California

Thanksgiving in California / At the Cabin, 1849 — D.W.N.

Daniel Nason’s sketch of his Thanksgiving dinner

Or maybe it was really 1850. In Daniel W. Nason’s (unpublished) memoir of his two years in California, written twenty years later, he recalls the Thanksgiving feast he had with his friends in November 1850, even though he labels the poem 1849. But no matter. Whatever the year, the memory of “chowdered clams” and “mountain dudes” was still bright.

For more about Daniel Nason and his experiences in the Gold Rush, see this article from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Three hardy sons from New England's shore,
With bronzed face and scarred hands,
Sat down to talk old matter o'er,
And feast on smoking chowdered clams.

Amid the wild California scenes,
'Mong stately pines our cabin stood;
On rolling hills and deep ravines,
Where roving deer and grizzlies brood.

Thanksgiving Day we here enjoyed,
The bivalves from the Merrimac;
While all about us wild and void,
We pioneers our jokes would crack.

Three thousand miles from home and friends
Was nothing to these roving boys;
'Twas digging Gold in wooded glens,
Those mountain dudes were thus employed.

Free from all creeds, or labor strikes,
And every political clan;
Freedom was not in petty fights,
Revolvers backed up every man.

We thus look backward two score years
To that log cabin on the hill;
The boys still live, those pioneers,
I hope, and wish, they always will.

Whatever is on your menu, I hope you enjoy a bountiful and satisfying Thanksgiving Day.
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The First Thanksgiving in California

On October 24, 1849, Governor Bennet C. Riley, the military governor of California, issued a proclamation designating Thursday, November 29th, as a day of thanksgiving.


In conformity with the customs of other states and territories, and in order that the people of California may make general and public acknowledgement of their gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for his kind and [?] care during the past year, and for the boundless blessings which we now enjoy, it is recommended that Thursday, the 29th day of November next, be set apart as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.

Given at Monterey, California, this 24th day of October, A.D. 1849. (Signed) B. Riley. Bvt. Brig. Gen. U.S.A. and Governor of California

San Francisco Call 22 November 1896

How was that first Thanksgiving Day celebrated? That’s hard to know. I can’t find any extant newspaper articles or letters.

In 1849 Thanksgiving Day was not yet a national holiday. That wouldn’t happen until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise.” Up until then, the holiday was left to individual states.

As the San Francisco Call noted, it was a holiday mainly associated with New England, and men from those states would have marked the day, perhaps with an especially good meal of game or delicacies from the nearest trading post.

For men who remembered a bountiful meal at a family gathering, it must have also been a day of homesickness and longing.

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Book-Signing Event!

I’ll be signing and selling my books tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9) at the Chico Library. If any of you are in the area, please stop in and say “Hi!” It’s an after-school event from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Alvin Coffey: The True Story of an African-American Forty-Niner is the fourth book in the Golden State Biographies series. Steve Ferchaud has illustrated all four of them. He is always a pleasure to work with.

It was exciting to work on this book. The quest for freedom is such an important subject. We all should recognize the diversity of men and women who came to California and the challenges and struggles they faced with determination.

Steve will be joining me. Here we are at a book-signing in 2017. I hope we see you tomorrow!

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Capitals of California

How many capitals has California had? More than I knew. I might have been able to list three or four, but seven? Who knew?

The California State Library knows. Here is a link to a page on Previous Capitals — and Capitols — of California. (A capital is a city, the seat of government. A capitol is a building, where the legislators and lawmakers find their seats.)

Here they are:

Monterey: 1774-1849. The capital of Mexican California and the site of the Constitutional Convention.

San Jose: 1849-1851. The first legislature met in San Jose.

Vallejo: 1852-1853. For only a few days in those two years, with Sacramento in between.

Benicia: 1853-1854. For just one year. The Benicia capitol building is a State Historic Park.

Sacramento: 1852-present day. After all that moving around, they finally settled on Sacramento.

But wait — that’s only six capitals. What was the seventh?

San Francisco: 1862. The legislators adjourned to SF when flood waters became to much for them. Sacramento was inundated during the Great Flood of 1862 as the American and Sacramento Rivers overflowed their banks.

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Halloween at Bidwell Mansion

How would a group of well-brought-up young people entertain themselves on Halloween 115 years ago? Annie Bidwell’s diary gives us a glimpse.

In 1905 Harriett Alexander came to Chico to live at Bidwell Mansion and attend Chico High School. She was fifteen years old. Although her home was in Oakland, Harriett had  been coming to Bidwell Mansion for lengthy visits since she was a baby. Her mother, Minnie Carroll Alexander, and her mother’s parents, the Carrolls of Sacramento, were old friends of the Bidwells.

Annie Bidwell enjoyed having young people around her, and liked to see them having a good time. In her diary for 1907 (when Harriett was 17) she reports on Harriett’s Halloween Party at the mansion.

Thurs., October 31.
Harriett’s Halloween Party.
Bought $l0.00 candy & prizes for Harriett’s party this evening.
Very busy all day and evg. Very tired.
Harriett’s party this evg. from 8.30 to l2.l5 A.M. Guests – (30-),came disguised in sheets & white masks. I did not recognize one person. A merry time they had. After masks were removed & sheeting, very bright games were played to my great amusement and that of some others. Ten O’C – supper, in library. Very elaborate & good. A pumpkin near each end of table & an enormous one in middle, well lighted, & red, & low candles at each plate, lighted, set in apples, added to the merry making. No lights but from pumpkins when ghosts entered. Immense pumpkins everywhere & lights in some. Harriett’s idea & work. Isabell, [indecipherable] McGregor & others helped her. Mansion a bower for party.


The Butte Record for November 1st reported that “the mansion was profusely decorated with smilax and chrysanthemums, and each guest appeared attired in a sheet, in keeping with the traditions of the night.”

At 10 o’clock there was a grand march, followed by the unmasking of the guests, music and games, and supper at a long table set up in the library.  The next day Annie records that she was up at 6 a.m. to help clear away the results of the party. Plenty of sheets to pick up and fold, no doubt.

And that’s how to throw a Halloween party, turn-of-the-century style.

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Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood Author

Having wrapped up the last days of Black Bart, I think I will take a little vacation from blogging. I will be posting now and then, but I have family activities coming up and other projects to work on. Just a couple of notes:

I spent an enjoyable Saturday at the Dairyville Orchard Festival in Tehama County. Here I am with my comrades-in-arms, Ron Womack (center) and Eric Ritter (right). It was a successful day for Goldfields Books (me) and for the Association for Northern California Historical Research (ANCHR). I have assisted on several ANCHR books and if you are interested in exploring our publications, go to, where you will find a complete list available for purchase online.

Put it on your calendar!

I have a book-signing event coming up on Wednesday, November 9th at the Chico Branch of the Butte County Library. I hope you can join me at 4:00 p.m.

Steve Ferchaud will be there too — a great opportunity to meet the illustrator.

My books are ideal for children interested in history, for 3rd and 4th grade teachers doing local and California history, for school libraries, and for parents and grandparents who are looking for a great true read-aloud.

Buy a book (Christmas is coming), pick up a free bookmark, enjoy a treat, and chat with Steve and me.

I’d love to meet you, so please come!

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The Last Years of Black Bart

All Charles E. Bolton (aka Black Bart) wanted was to disappear. He was the most famous stagecoach robber in California but he had served his time in prison. Now he didn’t want to be pestered by reporters or pointed out by every passer-by or queried about possible hidden treasure. He wanted to get away from it all.

Where did he go?

Authors Robert E. Jernigan and Wiley Joiner believe that Black Bart spent his remaining years in a town he would have been familiar with: Marysville, California.

But wouldn’t someone have recognized him?

His mustache was his most distinguishing feature. Remove that, or replace it with a different sort of mustache and a beard, and the man would look very different. Perhaps add spectacles. Bart was getting older and might need them anyway.

In a letter to his wife he expressed the wish to get away from it all, but he had no plans to return to her in Missouri. She never saw him again. He was last seen in Visalia. According to Jernigan and Joiner he then turned north until he found a comfortable spot in Marysville.

Their evidence is scant, but appealing nonetheless.

  1. He called himself Charles Wells. This combines the first name he always used (except for his “Black Bart” nom de guerre) with a jab at his nemesis, Wells, Fargo & Co.
  2. Charles Wells worked as a pharmacist at Kirk’s Drugstore in downtown Marysville. (I am not sure how they know this.) Charles Bolton had trained as a pharmacist in prison.
  3. He had a reputation for being a kindly and courteous old gentleman, as did Black Bart.
  4. He revealed his identity to only one man, Charles McCoy, whose father Hank McCoy had been the Yuba County sheriff. When Charles Wells died in 1914, McCoy informed the owners of the Woodleaf Hotel, because that hotel had been a favorite stopping place for Bart. The family was surprised to learn that Mr. Bolton, their gentlemanly guest of yesteryear, was both Black Bart and Charles Wells. Helen Falck, daughter of the hotel owners recalled this in a 1986 interview.
The Woodleaf Hotel ca. 1895. Courtesy CSUChico, Meriam Library, Special Collections.

Not much to go on. The identity of Charles Wells as the former Charles E. Bolton rests entirely on this one interview by the authors with Helen Falck Dunning. Without her testimony there would be nothing to connect those names. Still, it’s a plausible account and one that I find attractive.

Here is the obituary for Charles Wells, from the Marysville Appeal, 18 November 1914.

Note that it only refers to him as a “resident of Yuba County.” No occupation, nothing about being a pharmacist.

It does paint him as a recluse, which fits with Bolton’s personality. He lived in a cabin close to the Marysville-Browns Valley Road, which today would be ten miles outside of Marysville on Highway 20.

The most intriguing part of the article is where it says that he had $24,000 hidden on the property, money he received when he “disposed of property at Sacramento.” Was that really the source of his fortune, or was it money he had saved from his stage-robbing days?

How did they even know about the money? He must have told someone, but he refused to divulge its location. Confident that he would recover, he said, “I will soon be all right and then we will get the money.”

Charles Wells is buried in the Marysville Pioneer Cemetery. In spite of the ravages that time, flooding, and vandalism have taken on the cemetery, the authors of Black Bart: The Search Is Over have identified a resting place for Black Bart.

Someday I hope to take a tour of the Marysville Pioneer Cemetery and when I do, I’ll be sure to look for the grave of the man known as Black Bart.

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The Disappearance of Black Bart

San Jose Herald 23 January 1888

Charles E. Bolton was released from San Quentin State Prison on January 21, 1888. What next?

Not “a bad sort of man, for a highway robber,” was the opinion of one lawman, who went on to describe him as “an amiable, pleasant-spoken fellow, with a good command of language and an appreciation of the humorous.” “He is an oldish man now –53– and his incarceration has made him thoughtful as to his future.” He didn’t think he would go back to holding up stages.

Bart stayed for a couple of weeks in San Francisco (at which time he may have been able to recover some of the money he had stolen). He next turned up in the Central Valley — during March he was seen in Stockton, Oakdale, Modesto, and Merced. The last sighting was in Visalia, where Bart stayed at the Palace Hotel under the name of Moore.

He left behind a valise, which he instructed the hotelkeeper to forward to Detective James B. Hume. The valise contained a number of items that were associated with Black Bart, including an item of clothing marked FX07. And that was the last verified sighting of the man called Black Bart.

Chico Weekly Enterprise 30 November 1888

But it was hardly the end of the legend. Stagecoach robberies throughout California and Nevada were attributed to Bart, even when they didn’t fit his modus operandi. Like this one, from November 1888.

People thought they saw Black Bart in all sorts of out of the way places. Desperados in other states claimed to be Black Bart. Hume sent detective Jonathan Thacker to investigate one such case in Kansas. Thacker wrote back that the culprit looked as much like Bart “as a bird’s nest is like a mile post.” In 1897 Thacker stated:

He went to Utah and then up to Montana and then to Hailey, Idaho. I think he had some business to settle there. Anyhow, he was as straight as a string. Finally he made a bee-line for Vancouver and boarded the steamer Empress of China for Japan. He is in that country now.

Wells, Fargo Detective: A Biography of James B. Hume, by Richard Dillon, p. 206

How did he know that? He doesn’t say. Though I do kind of like to imagine Black Bart the Po8 sitting under the cherry blossoms, sipping tea and composing haiku.

But the authors of Black Bart: The Search is Over have another idea, one that is appealing, even if more prosaic, than the image of Bart in the land of the samurai. They think he stayed right here in California.

Next time: Where Is Black Bart’s Resting Place?

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Black Bart the Boulevardier

Charles E. Bolton, as he was known in San Francisco, was a man about town. In the summer and fall he would leave the City to inspect his mining interests in the goldfields, or so he said. During the winter and spring he lived a life of leisure, dining in fine restaurants and strolling the streets, always well-dressed, always courteous.

When he was released from San Quentin in 1888, The Wasp, a satirical San Francisco magazine founded by Ambrose Bierce, published this cartoon—

Black Bart is dressed as an elegant Parisian gentleman, professing his love to a lady. Wells Fargo, the dainty lady, looks askance at his advances.

Here is how The Wasp described the cartoon in their January 28, 1888 issue.

I’m not sure why the artist chose to dress Bart as he did, but the style reflects Bolton’s reputation as a “man about town,” what the French would call a “boulevardier.” A boulevardier was a man of fashion, who was seen in the the best places around the city.

No wonder Black Bart caught the public’s fancy; he was a different sort of stagecoach robber — he was always news.

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