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Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lot 72

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Item 72. Swasey’s Early Days and Men of California—“Much of the book is taken up with biographical sketches of important pioneers [and the book] has always been considered an authority” (Layne).


72. SWASEY, W[illiam] F. (d. 1896). The Early Days and Men of California. Oakland: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1891. x, 9-406 pp., frontispiece (“San Francisco 1846-47”), halftone portrait of Swasey, plate (“The Townsend-Murphy Immigrants—1844”). 8vo, original gilt-pictorial turquoise blue cloth, gilt-lettered spine, cream and brown decorated endpapers. Spine and gilt lettering a bit dull, binding slightly stained, light shelf wear (especially at corners), short tape repair to front free endpaper, interior very fine. Affixed to front pastedown is an illustration of the first custom house at Monterey. Lower pastedown with small vintage Dawson’s label (“Dawson’s Bookshop/Los Angeles/Old Curious and Standard Books”).
First edition of a “book particularly valuable for information about California before the gold discovery” (Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 615). Braislin 1754. Cowan I, p. 225. Cowan II, p. 627. Graff 4047. Howell 50, California 862. Howes S1167. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 72. Mintz, The Trail 453. Norris 3860. Rocq 17172. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 203. Streeter Sale 3012. Zamorano 80 #72. ($250-500)


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Captain Swasey possessed firsthand knowledge of significant early events and personally knew many of the California pioneers described in this fact-filled book. He was often at the right place and the right time. Although written many years later, his book shows reliability, self-assurance, and polish.
He opened his book with an admirable autobiography that concentrated on his life prior to 1850. A native of Maine, the former mountain man came overland to California from St. Louis in 1845 and obtained employment variously as a bookkeeper for Captain Sutter, as a clerk for the noted merchant William Heath Davis (q.v.), and as a consular clerk for Thomas O. Larkin. When the Mexican-American War erupted, he joined Frémont’s California Battalion as assistant commissary. Following the war, Swasey found himself in the thick of things when Marshall discovered gold. Recalling those heady days, he wrote: “In the following July 1 [1848] I took the first extensive stock of goods taken to Sutter’s Mill.... In September I took to San Francisco the first large amount of gold from the mines, eight-two pounds avoirdupois.” Such positions and experiences provided rich material for his book. Afterwards, he lived in San Francisco holding a position as notary public and was called upon as a witness for several important land cases. During the Civil War, he served as captain of the volunteers stationed at Benicia. Demonstrating his interest in San Francisco’s already legendary past, he published the famous View of San Francisco in ’47 (reproduced as the frontispiece) depicting the village of Yerba Buena on the eve of the gold discovery. In addition, Swasey supplied Bancroft with a preliminary recollection entitled California in ’45-46.
Following his autobiography, Swasey developed several excellent chapters on the American conquest of Alta California. As a member of the California Battalion, he participated in and observed many of the key events and, in his narrative history, wrote with the satisfaction of the victor. Swasey vigorously disagreed with Bancroft’s coverage of the conflict stating: “Mr. Bancroft indulges in a redundancy of denial and denunciation. He denounces the whole Mexican War as rooted in crime and cupidity. One of his critics pertinently says that ‘he forgets the American and remembers only the cosmopolite [meaning Mexican] and the historian.’” Throughout his text, he made an effort to counter Bancroft’s conclusions.
The main portion of Swasey’s work is devoted to short sketches of sixty-one pre–Gold Rush pioneers and two dozen Argonauts. These number among the most famous Anglo names in the state from the 1840s and 1850s including the likes of John C. Frémont, W. D. M. Howard, Moses Schallenberger, Edwin Bryant (q.v.), Edward C. Kemble, Nathan Spear, and William A. Richardson. Swasey swelled with justifiable pride concerning these pre-1848 figures, writing with a self-congratulatory tone typical of his era. In characterizing the subjects of his profiles he wrote that they “were composed of a class of men who were in the full vigor of early manhood, imbued with a spirit of adventure in its highest sense, and backed by intelligence and supreme self-reliance.... They found California an uncultivated, almost unpopulated, paradise, blooming in silence and solitude, amid primeval and magnificent luxuriance, like a young maiden waiting for her bridegroom.”

——Gary F. Kurutz


Item 72. Illustration of the Townsend-Murray Emigrants from Swasey’s Early Days and Men of California.


Item 72. William F. Swasey (d. 1896).


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