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.”