Welcome to the Journal of Sierra Nevada History & Biography
Daniel DeFoe, Executive Editor
What prompts the muse in us to inspiration, to give life to an idea that without us never would be? Is it a place removed from the day to day hurly-burley where one can hear the deeper cords of the élan vital? Certainly there can be no shortage of such places but for many, your editor included, the well of discovery and inspiration is called the Sierra Nevada.
This second edition of Snowy Range Reflections: A Journal of Sierra Nevada History and Biography is devoted to a few well known names who shared the vital fire of life found in these mountains, and wrote of the experience, or captured the essence through a camera lens.
Included here is the romance and adventure of early California. We begin with a part of John Rollin Ridge’s first novel about The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, and then continue with acclaimed author Isabel Allende’s stirring narrative about the infamous gold rush era outlaw Murieta, in an excerpt from her 1999 novel Daughter of Fortune. William Wright, whose nom de plume was Dan DeQuille wrote for the Virginia City, Nevada newspaper the Territorial Enterprise from the 1850s into the 1870s. We’ve reprinted his profile of the legendary Sierra Nevada mail carrier, Snow-shoe Thompson, a wonderful memory taken from DeQuille’s history of Virginia City, The Big Bonanza. One of DeQuille’s colleagues at the Territorial Enterprise was a young reporter named Sam Clemens, the humorist the world knows better as Mark Twain. From the autobiographical work Roughing It, you’ll read Twain’s 1872 reminiscence of striking it rich, spiritually, on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
The Sierra Nevada
Mary Austin also evokes the majesty of the Sierra Nevada with an intimate description of the “Streets of the Mountains” from her 1903 work The Land of Little Rain. Mary and her husband Stafford Austin with others battled the forces that contrived to drain Owens Valley water to supply Los Angeles. The confrontation turned ugly and even violent and, ultimately, the Austins lost. Mary Austin’s passion for the southern Sierra Nevada range is manifest in “Streets.” A later 1950 edition of The Land of Little Rain featured photographs by Ansel Adams. The decade of the 1950s brought mass consumerism and mass conformity to the mainstream of America. The “Beat Movement” in literature rejected those social norms and among the poets, novelists, and artists no “beat” was more influential than Jack Kerouac. Contemporary, Allen Ginsberg called Kerouac the Buddha of American prose and in this edition of SRR we’ve included a selection from the author’s 1958 novel The Dharma Bums. This passage captures the “Howl” of exhilaration that comes with a mad, reckless downhill Sierra romp.
A Woman's Eye
Finally, “hanging” in the Snowy Range Reflections virtual gallery is a photographic essay to compliment our literary theme: “Gold Rush Towns Through a Woman’s Eye,” the camera art of Alma Lavenson. Lavenson, an entirely self-taught prodigy, became one of the twentieth century’s finest photographers, a friend and contemporary of masters like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. In the gallery is a representative sample of her photographs of towns, streets and buildings that cover three decades of work in the Gold Country. Look closely and you’ll see both a unique artistic viewpoint, and an important historical archive.
Perhaps a picture or a sentence in one of our stories will spark the muse in you to inspiration, and even if not, remember, “The grand show is eternal!”
Professor of History, Sierra College