1850 Imaginary overland in Pictorial Wrappers
9. BESCHKE, William. The Dreadful Sufferings and Thrilling Adventures of an Overland Party of Emigrants to California, Their Terrible Conflicts with Savage Tribes of Indians!! And Mexican Bands of Robbers!!! With Marriage, Funeral, and Other Interesting Ceremonies and Customs of Indian Life in the Far West. Compiled from the Journal of Mr. George Adam, One of the Adventurers, by Prof. Wm. Beschke. St. Louis: Published by Barclay & Co., 1850. [iii]-60 pp., 3 woodcut plates and 2 full-page text illustrations:  “War Dance” of the “Mandan” Indians;  Funeral Ceremony of the Sioux Indians, Who Place Their Dead on the Tops of Trees (repeated on lower wrapper);  untitled view of two Native Americans in combat with dialogue below commencing “A sudden furious yell”;  “Council Dance” of “Sac” and “Fox” Indians;  untitled confrontation scene with dialogue below commencing “Where is your husband?” 8vo, original pink printed wrappers, cover title within ornamental border, lower wrapper with woodcut (Funeral Ceremony of the Sioux Indians, Who Place Their Dead on the Tops of Trees), original stitching. Wrappers lightly age toned and some minor spotting, minor splits to spine and missing a very small piece at foot, scattered inconsequential foxing to text (except last page where the foxing is heavier), small type defect on p. 18, but overall a very fine copy of a rare survival, particularly in the seldom-seen wrappers. Preserved in a half burgundy morocco and maroon cloth slipcase, matching cloth chemise.
First edition? AII, Missouri 535 (citing the 60 pp. edition, like the present copy). Cf. Cowan I, p. 17 (72 pp.): “The contents of this work and the illustrations are of a highly lurid character.” Cf. Cowan II, p. 51 (72 pp.). Graff 11 (60 pp., lacking lower wrapper): “There were also 70- and 72-page editions with the same imprint. While priority has not been determined, the 60-page edition seems to be earlier and is certainly less frequently found.” Holliday 86 (60 pp.). Howes B396 (rated “b”; priority undetermined): “Romantic improbabilities.” Jones, Adventures in Americana 253 (60 pp.). Littell 60 (60 pp.). Midland 59:53 & 70:51 (72 pp.; tortuous notes on priority of editions); 91:37 (60 pp.). Mintz, The Trail 518. Plains & Rockies IV:179:1 (60-pages). Streeter Sale 3056 (60 pp.). Wright I:308 (60 pp.). No one has ever satisfactorily solved the dilemma of the priority of the first three editions of this work; this question begs for additional research.
William Beschke’s imaginary overland is about a genial group of young French adventurers disillusioned with life in France who emigrate to America. After arrival in New Orleans, they form an emigration party styled the “California Phalanx” and travel by boat to St. Louis, where in a quest for speed they discard traditional wagons in favor of mules for both riding and packing. They pass through Fort Leavenworth and Fort Laramie. Information of a popular sort is provided on the Cheyenne, Sioux, Pawnee, Comanche, Apache, and other tribes’ warfare, customs, and captivities. Much of the story unfolds in the New Mexico-Colorado area (Pueblo, Bent’s Fort, Santa Fe Trail environs). The party is robbed by Comanche in the Santa Fe area, leading to a wild fracas in which a hundred Comanche are killed and the Frenchman, of course, are triumphant. They arrive at the Platte by Christmas, where they winter. There the story ends, as if awaiting a sequel that apparently never materialized.
Prior to 1850 there are only a few of works of fiction set in the Far West and California (discounting, of course, the 1510 tale of chivalry, Las Sergas de Esplandián, which is related to Baja California). The handful of early separately published tales relating to California include George W. Peck’s Aurifodina; or, Adventures in the Gold Region (q.v.), the anonymous Amelia Sherwood; or, Bloody Scenes at the California Gold Mines, Charles Averill’s Kit Carson, the Prince of the Gold Hunters, and its sequel Life in California. Though no action takes place in California or the Gold Fields, Beschke’s vividly penned thriller is firmly grounded in the genre of California of the Imagination. The work is certainly an early setting for fiction for the New Mexico-Colorado area, Mayne Reid’s White Chief (1855) usually being cited as the first New Mexico novel, if one wishes to exclude imaginary travels to Quivira and Cibolo in earlier centuries. In this little rarity there is much untilled ground for exploring attitudes and stereotypes, including women, Native Americans, and Mexican-Americans.Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 52a.
Beschke serves as another example of fiction made to look like fact. The story details the expedition of the “California Phalanx,” a group of young men mainly from France, as they journeyed from New Orleans to California via the Southern Route. The journey began in October 1849 and ends with George Adam promising to keep a journal of his California experiences if the “Phalanx” ever enjoyed the good fortune of making it to the golden land.
Beschke is best remembered for his participation in the development of the ironclad Monitor in the Civil War. See Memorial to the Congress, Government, and People of the United States, Concerning Several Great Inventions of National Importance, and the Infringements of a U.S. Patent in Building Iron-Clad Vessels and Iron Turrets, Most Respectfully Submitted by William Beschke...in January 1865 (Philadelphia, n.d.).
Most of the crude plates are unattributed, but one is the work of William B. Gihon, whose work is listed in several entries by Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers (pp. 84, 99, 103, 104, 106, 108, 122, 204, 205, 208, 220). Gihon partnered with Reuben S. Gilbert in Philadelphia between 1846 and into the 1850s, specializing in engravings for the book trade. ($15,000-25,000)
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