So I wrote Saturday’s post in what felt like an act of defiance, demonstrating that I have conscious control over the direction of my blog. I talked about my love of historic homes and posted the photo of one where Bret Harte, a well known 19th century write and mentor to Mark Twain, once lived.
Yet, as some readers may know, the story of Bret Harte leads me right back to the story of the Indian Island massacre. His story of the massacre. So much for conscious control :-/.
Some call Bret Harte’s time in Humboldt County his lost years. He arrived here Humboldt in 1857, twenty-one years old, slender, quiet and a bit of a “dandy”, in contrast to many of the local frontiersmen, who were rough, tough and armed. Harte made friends here, but stayed out of the saloons and away from the miners and others who mocked his fine clothes and good vocabulary.
Harte came up here likely at the urging of his sister, Margaret Wyman, who lived in Union and was married to a local judge. After his arrival, he taught local children, wrote stories and poems, and eventually landed a job with the Union (Arcata) newspaper, the Northern Californian.
Harte was acting editor of the paper in the last weeks of February, 1860 and is credited by many for bringing the details of the massacre before the public eye by publishing a description in the Northern Californian. (I’ll post his article at the end of this post, so only folks that want to read it will see the details).
It was rumored that he was confronted by an angry mob for his sympathetic stance for the Natives and driven out of the county to San Francisco, never to return.
After leaving the North Coast, Harte found work editing the Californian and then The Overland Monthly. It was in these that he published his well known The Luck of Roaring Camp, The Outlaws of Poker Flat and other well known short stories and poems that focused on frontier life in the west.
Harte did not write specifically about his experiences in Humboldt County-though it is obvious in his stories, such as the Three Vagabonds of Trinidad.
Ernie has helped to highlight that it wasn’t just bad guys here, and that a climate of hatred and fear permeated much of the local culture. For Harte and others like him, it must have been overwhelming…