We appreciate Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe this week, a chronicler of the California Gold Rush better known as Dame Shirley.
Originally from New Jersey and Massachusetts, the dame came West with her physician husband during the heady early days of California statehood. Her descriptions of life in Rich Bar and Indian Bar, gold camps on the Feather River not far from Quincy, were published in the form of letters to her sister. (A “bar” in this case is an accumulation of sand or gravel in a river exposed at low water, the easiest place to find gold.) Clappe’s history was so apt that the well-known writer Bret Harte may have “borrowed” from it, liberally, in his own work. Ever generous, Dame Shirley called these “unconscious plagiarisms.”