Tuesday, 13 April 2004
Pix Of The Day: Irish-African, All-American Hero
CREDITS: © Melvin Sylvester/Long Island University, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library; © California Historical Society/CaliforniaHistory.net; and © Dean Rudy for the Mountain Men and the Fur Trade Virtual Research Center Project.
WHERE: emergent United States in the Old West. WHAT: the life of Jim Beckwourth.
MAP: Marysville, CA. Thumbnail clicks  pop-up larger images/source pages.
Our quest, for non whites who contributed to the emerging United States of America, began on Professor Melvin Sylvester's 'African Americans and the Old West' on line exhibition in the Long Island University, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library web site. If you visit, as part of a non white history you may read about James Pierson Beckwourth (1798-1866), and see this fine portrait.
A comprehensive source of information about Beckwourth is Mark Bradley's Beckwourth.org web site for 'Beckwourth Frontier Days', a living history festival that takes place in Marysville, California, every year in October.
A few issues past, we referred to a tale about Beckwourth's pioneer pass storming, which allegedly never received the contractually agreed payment. You may read the tale (remembering that at least half of the history is myth), among much other Western lore, on Bubba's TOWWR [The Old West Web Ride] web site. Whatever the ancillary details, it seems certain that in 1850 Beckwourth discovered a new route from Reno, Nevada, to Sacramento, California, avoiding the perilous Donner Pass.
Beckwourth's route through the Beckwourth Pass was heavily trafficked for only five years, but was important for the emigrant wagon trains heading west. Virtually active visitors may accompany modern trail stormers as they follow the old routes, whilst the more sedentary reader may check with Don Wiggins for the latest historical research: there is controversy among historians about the routes from the Truckee Meadows in the present Reno-Sparks area of Nevada, which is where the westward trails diverged. When published, Wiggins' work will contribute to the on going debate.
James Pierson Beckwourth was a mulatto, son of an Irish father and his black slave. His life story is half myth, some of it of his own invention ghost written for him by TD Bonner in 'The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth', and half recognized historical truth; both are succinctly summarized in an article by Jeffrey D. Nicholson on the UHTG [Utah History To Go] web site.
In a Gold Rush feature, the California Historical Society's web site 'California History On Line' has a picture of Beckwourth in 'hunting clothes' from the 'autobiography' by TD Bonner. An account in Beckwourth's own words is also claimed in 'The Great Salt Lake Trail' by Colonel Henry Inman (Late Assistant Quartermaster, United States Army) and Colonel William F. 'Buffalo Bill' Cody (Late Chief of Scouts), which may be read in full as an on line text from the Globusz Publishing web site.
Our third picture of Beckwourth comes from a section named 'A Majority of Scoundrels' in the 'Images of Fur Trade History' gallery on the MM&FT [Mountain Men and the Fur Trade Virtual Research Center Project] web site. Beckwourth's adult life in the Old West began when he signed on with Wm. Ashley's fur trapping expedition, possibly offering his blacksmithing trade as an incentive.
Other interesting sources of non white history and Beckwourth specific information are:  'Beyond the Pale: African-Americans in the Fur Trade West' by William W. Gwaltney, Superintendent, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, National Park Service;  City of Portola, James Beckwourth Museum, which preserves a log cabin believed to have been built by Beckwourth;  James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club, which lists books and articles, and has a historical re-enactment section; and for philatelists a Beckwourth  stamp, and a  first day cover.
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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)