The Shirley Letters: From the California Mines, 1851-1852

The Shirley Letters, written from the mining camps in 1851 and 1852, are something valuable and rare—a portrait by a woman of an era dominated by men. They offer a vivid picture of gold rush life, from accounts of “murders, fearful accidents, bloody deaths, a mob, whippings, a hanging, an attempt at suicide, and a fatal duel” to bars lined with “that eternal crimson calico which flushes the whole social life of the Golden State,” and the rare and welcome luxury of oyster feasts. With the “wild grandeur and awful magnificence” of the Sierra as background, this classic account presents a picture of the gold rush that is at times humorous, at times empathetic, and always trustworthy.

Reviews

"Of all the writers drawn to California between 1845 and the mid-1860s, [Clappe] speaks with the most original voice. Her only real competition, in my view, is Mark Twain."—James D. Houston, author, Californians: Searching for the Golden State

"The Shirley Letters is superb reading!"—The Midwest Book Review

About the Author and Editor

Louise Amelia Knapp Smith was born in New Jersey in 1819. The Herald first published Louise's letters and poems in 1851 under the pseudonym of Dame Shirley. She went on to become a well-respected schoolteacher and a leading figure in California's early literary scene.
Marlene Smith-Barazini is the associate editor of California History, the quarterly journal of the California Historical Society. In 1989, she received her M.A. in writing from the University of San Francisco. She is currently working on a biography of Louise Clappe.