Mrs. Chapman's practice
I enjoyed reading your book on the Nevada County area during the Civil War… Though I am glad to see recognition of my great-grandmother, Dr. Nellie Chapman, it does seem to be out of place in this story. Since she was born in 1847 and since the chapter she is mentioned in is entitled 1863, she would have been 16 years old at the time, and the mother of a one-year old son and pregnant with another son, my grandfather. It is unlikely that she became proficient at dentistry until her husband Dr. Allen Chapman had adequate time to train her, and probably not until he moved to Virginia City, Nevada, in about 1875 to follow his patients who had moved there, while leaving his wife Nellie behind in Nevada City to care for his patients who remained there… – Robert Chapman
Thank you, Robert, for letting us know about your great-grandmother's dates of practice. We will add a note to Mrs. Chapman's entry in the Afterword, alerting readers to the error and confessing that we have grown too fond to Nellie's presence to throw her out of the story for what was, after all, our own blunder.
We were fooled by the reference to the Comstock. We assumed that your great-grandfather went over the hill to Virginia City after the 1859 strike, as so many men from Nevada County did. The reality is that men traveled back and forth between the communities in search of opportunity all through the 1860's and 70's, often leaving their families behind for extended periods. Grass Valley's Josiah Royce grew up in just such circumstances, with a father off earning the family's living in the Washoe.
A note from the authors:
- RH and TJM
Where is Mary Dunn's house?
We took a ride today to Nevada City Chamber of Commerce to find Aristocracy Hill. They have never heard of it but we were able to find it on a map they have. We drove around the area hoping to find Bourbon Lodge, but no luck. If you know the address we would love to just drive by. – Rick and Betty Bethel
Author's note: Bourbon Lodge is one of the oldest homes in Nevada City. In it, we placed our unhappy couple, Frank and Mary Dunn. The structure is mentioned in the Afterword, and did indeed contain a most unusual library, as described in our book (though we added a volume or two).
The building still stands at 236 Nevada St. It is a private residence, so we must ask visitors to admire it from the curbside.
Nevada City, for those unfamiliar with the Gold Country, is a treasure trove of Victorian architecture. The town has been wonderfully preserved, with its brick commercial zone and wooden residential areas almost intact. Nevada (as it was known in Gold Rush days) was largely built by New Englanders, which accounts for its steep-pitched roofs and its Northern sympathies during the War.
How real was the North-South tension?
I was unaware of the tension in California during the Civil War (still called the War of Northern Agression in the south) and the attempts by secessionists to either make it a southern, slave state, or steal some of its gold to support the Rebels. Additionally, as a longtime visitor to Nevada City and the Yuba River, I had no idea that Nevada City and Grass Valley were like Washington and Richmond--very close to each other, but on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
So this novel was an eye-opener regarding a hidden chapter in the history of northern California. Now I'm wondering whether the Missouri House is still there, where that magical waterfall and swimming hole is, and what happened to the Maidu land grant given by the Chinese mine owner! – Doug Austin, Sacramento, CA
Neither of the authors realized how strong California's ties to the South were when we started this project. Our interest was piqued by an incident, described in William Secrest's Perilous Lives, Dangerous Men, in which bandits (or partisans, if you prefer) held up a stagecoach in El Dorado County and the left the driver with a receipt from the Confederate States of America. Thus began our investigation into the state's links to the South, and the surprising results form the basis of our multimedia presention, California and the Civil War. In a word, the Golden State was, in its first decade, a handmaiden to the South. Neither Richmond nor Washington knew which way California would jump during the crisis of '61.
Grass Valley and Nevada City were indeed at loggerheads over the great question of Union. Trouble between the communities was generally low-grade and diffuse (fights and duels), but the fear of larger-scale violence was in the air. Bean's History & Directory of Nevada County contains a wonderful depiction of how, in the spring of '65, this fear finally got the best of the heroic denizens of Nevada City. We have gathered some slides to illustrate Bean's description, which we post here for the edification and amusement of out-of-towners.
As for Missouri House, it is fictional, but closely based on the kind of enterprise that was ubiquitous during the days of stage travel in California. Sadly, there are few instances left today. Even pictures of stage depots are scarce enough. And the You Bet that Ida and Will saw is also gone. It was not time that erased the community, but rather advancing mining techniques. "Hydraulicking" (blasting away whole hillsides with water jets in pursuit of hidden gold) was just coming into its own when our story starts. By the 1860's and 70's, however, the original You Bet was washed away in order to expose the ancient stream-beds that lay beneath.
Ida's swimming hole is also fictional, but its prototype is well known to those of us who love the Yuba River. Today's Missouri Creek is a minor flow. What it was during the years of our story cannot be determined, since the hydrology of You Bet was transformed by vast hydraulic mining that reduced the area to a moonscape.
As for Nutim's land grant...well...it plays a role in the sequel to QONM, so perhaps it is best not to comment on its fate at this time. Suffice to say that the story of the Nisenan Maidu is a tragic one. At some level, Nutim's refuge may represent a wish by the authors to "put things right" – if only for one young boy of that unfortunate tribe.
Humor in historical fiction
If our county library is any guide, publishers prefer their Civil War novels gloomy. In fact, the balefuller the better seems to be the guiding principle. Fortunately, Queen of the Northern Mines has more to do with California and the Gold Rush than with the War. Its humor may be enjoyed without offense to prevailing literary taste.
Including humor in the tale is sound history. The Argonauts were bright, enterprising young men, whose lives in the gold fields were filled with hardship and danger. They had no notion of throwing away the pranks and capers that were their best defense against fear and homesickness. Far away from preachers and parents, humor flourished on the frontier. It is no accident that young Sam Clemens took off for the mining West – and blossomed there into the literary phenomenon we know as Mark Twain.
Adding a laugh or two also makes sense from a literary standpoint, even when the underlying theme of a tale is tragic. A relentlessly grim novel is like a symphony written in a dark minor key that rises no higher than middle C. It is possible to create such a thing, but it is probably unwise to do so – just as it is unwise to ask a reader to mourn characters who have no aptitude for joy in the first place. It raises the question: what has been lost?
There's room for differences in the matter of humor in history, and the reader may choose as he or she pleases. We simply note, in the interests of disclosure, that this book contains jokes. And that the authors are unrepentant for having placed them there.