The book, “Humboldt History, Volume One: Two People, One Place” by Ray Raphael and Freeman House is invaluable to me in envisioning my characters’ worldview, as my characters were born in the late 1800’s in Humboldt County. The gold rush of Northwest California, beginning 1850, was about a generation before my characters were born, so miners hugely impacted. the landscape and culture in which my characters were raised.
Here (below) is my sketch of an idealized drawing of “The Miner” from a popular publication (Hutchings’ California Magazine, February 1857.) Raphael and House preface the magazine’s caption by writing, “The values expressed were common for these times.” From the magazine: “THE MINER: He turns the river from its ancient bed, and hangs it, for miles together, in wooden flukes upon the mountain’s side, or throws it from hill to hill, in aqueducts that tremble at their own airy height; or he pumps a river dry, and takes its gold bottom out. He levels down the hills, and at the same process levels up the valleys;… he pounds the rocks of the mountain into dust. No obstacle so great that he does not overcome it; ‘can’t do it’ makes no part of his vocabulary.”
Raphael and House write: “Miners, like most people, placed themselves in the center of things, but they went a step further, for they assumed they were firmly in command of a world they did not know. They claimed dominion, ignoring the natural shapes and rhythms of the place they suddenly inhabited and the people who were already living there. They assumed they had the right to change things at will, and they thought they had the ability as well. This made them proud.”
My third post in my 100 Days of Novel Research continues to draw from “Humboldt History, Volume One: Two Peoples, One Place,” by Ray Raphael and Freeman House.
Joseph Russ and his wife Zipporah Russ had 13 children together in Humboldt County. He exhibited a keen business sense in buying up land that became available when “whites who feared local Indians fled from their homesteads in the Bear River area.” Then he rented out the parcels he had acquired…”His store in Ferndale was described as the largest in the country, and he eventually operated an impressive chain of butcher shops in Eureka and several smaller towns. Naturally, he did not overlook the county’s vast timber resources… He bought up land, cut down the trees, sent the logs to his own mill, and shipped the finished lumber to far away places such as Honolulu on his own fleet of schooners…”. The authors conclude this section with, “During an era in which entrepreneurial spirit was lauded and Euro-Americans did whatever they could to ‘develop’ the Humboldt region, more people owed their livelihoods to Joseph Russ than to any other local magnate.”
My study of “Humboldt History, Volume One: Two Peoples, One Place” by Ray Raphael and Freeman House continued today. I felt the darkness of the truths in this book, and I wondered, should something this serious and heavy really be my subject for the 100 Days? (Answer is yes.) And I also asked myself if I’m going to lose sight of my story in all of this research. (Answer is, do not fear– go for it. Follow my compulsion to know all of this history and trust myself– I’m the author of my novel, and my intuition has led me to wonderful places so far.)
These are pictures of Sally Bell (a To-Cho-be ke-ah, or Shelter Cove Sinkyone) and Lucy Young (a Set-ten-bi-den ke-ah, or Lassik Indian) which I drew from photos in the book. The caption reads: “As children they witnessed the horrific massacre of their people; as adults they offered vivid recollections of what had happened.” Both of their stories are heartrending, and I intend to hold their memory close to me throughout the writing of my novel.
A couple sentences from the book that summarize the relationship between the Euro American pioneers and the Native Americans: “This is the context in which we must view the subjugation of indigenous people by those who coveted their land. Fear and racism, when combined with acquisitiveness, led in the end to policies intended to subdue, remove, or kill indigenous people.”
For my first day of my 100 Days Project, “100 Days of Novel Research,” I’m reading in “Humboldt History, Volume One: Two Peoples, One Place” by Ray Raphael and Freeman House, about the Native American people who lived in Humboldt County long before– and during– the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, which is when my novel takes place. One of the major ways the Euro-Americans devastated the landscape of Humboldt County was by mining the rivers for gold excessively and unwisely. As Ray Raphael writes, “In the second half of the nineteenth century, citizens of Humboldt who looked to make their fortunes by mining or logging or fishing treated these resources as gifts of nature that would ‘go to waste’ unless utilized in the here and now. They did not look very far into the future, to a time when resources might become depleted.”
Primary source, Charlie Thom, said in an interview: “I’m telling you they really raped this land, and I am a full-blooded Indian from the Karuk tribe and it really disturbs me. How this thing came about I don’t know. Greed, a lot of bloodshed, and I look at the country today. What it is. How can they turn the soil upside down and out and do nothing about it? Today we are living in a rock pile along the Klamath. We’re living in a rock pile. No more soil. The erosion came and hit.” (“Humboldt History, Volume One: Two Peoples, One Place,” by Ray Raphael and Freeman House)
This is my sketch of a Karuk woman named Dolly Sanderson, with her handwoven baskets, along the Klamath River, circa 1915.
For the second year in a row, I’m taking part in “The 100 Day Project” through Elle Luna and The Great Discontent on Instagram. Starting today, April 4, I am joining people all over the world in doing one creative act every day for 100 consecutive days, and posting about it every day on Instagram. My project last year was “100 Days of Illustrating My Poems,” and it profoundly impacted my life by helping me give myself permission to draw daily and to share my work. I learned through that challenge that I’m capable of much more self expression than I had experienced, and I gained access to a bubbling inner spring of creativity.
This year my project is entitled, “100 Days of Novel Research.” I began my first novel a few months ago and it is going to require a massive amount of research, as it is historical fiction and covers many topics and settings about which I don’t know enough. Starting today, I am committing to posting a piece of information every day that I uncover in my research, plus the source in which I discovered it, and also a drawing that I made that corresponds to the information.
I’m thrilled to seek out the essence of my characters by sifting through events in history. I’m excited to spend time thinking about the places in which I’ve set my novel– a sense of place is so important to learning my characters’ world view.