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

Lot 19

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Item 19. Clyman’s Adventures of a Trapper—“Gives an important picture of northern California on the eve of the American takeover and Gold Rush” (Kurutz).

19. CLYMAN, James (1792-1881). James Clyman, American Frontiersman, 1792-1881: The Adventures of a Trapper and Covered Wagon Emigrant As Told in His Own Reminiscences and Diaries. Edited by Charles L. Camp. San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1928. [3]-247 [4, index] pp. (complete), frontispiece portrait of Clyman (tipped-in silver gelatin photocopy, probably from an albumen photograph); plate (portrait of Hannah Mecombs Clyman, photographic print), 3 maps: Route of Jedediah Smith’s Party over the South Pass in 1823-24, and the Route of James Clyman’s Return to Fort Atkinson (21.5 x 12.5 cm; 8-3/8 x 5 inches); Clyman’s Route from Oregon to California in 1845 (12 x 21.5 cm; 4-3/4 x 8-3/8 inches); Emigrant Trails to Oregon and California in 1844-46 (30.5 x 19 cm; 12 x 7-3/8 inches); text illustration (facsimile of a page from Clyman’s diaries). 8vo, original navy blue gilt-lettered cloth. Fine in worn, chipped, and soiled d.j. Thomas W. Streeter’s copy, with his book label and pencil notes, including: “Howell...tells me April 17, 1938[?] that this is getting quite rare. He has had 1 copy in last 5 or 6 years and he sold it for $15. Decker offers this Dec. 1949 at $100. A copy sold at $70 at...Swann Gallery...1949.” Warren Howell’s pencil note on rear pastedown: “150 riytx [cost code].” Catalogue slip from Streeter Sale laid in.
First edition in book form (text first printed in the California Historical Society Quarterly in installments from June 1925 to March 1927); limited edition (Charles L. Camp states in the introduction to the 1960 edition that only 330 copies were printed). Cowan II, p. 132. Eberstadt, Modern Narratives of the Plains and the Rockies 88. Flake 2439. Graff 769. Holliday 212. Howell 50, California 380: “The author was one of the first white men to traverse South Pass and, in 1826, to circumnavigate Great Salt Lake.” Howes C81: “The only Oregon overland journal of 1844.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 19. Jennewein, Black Hills Booktrails 3. Malone, Wyomingana, p. 3. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 102. Mintz, The Trail 99. Norris 803: “Very rare.” Paher, Nevada 359n: “Rare.” Rader 849. Rocq 5867. Smith 1826. Streeter Sale 3095. Zamorano 80 #19. ($300-600)


Item 19. Frontiersman James Clyman (1792-1881).

Merrill J. Mattes, the noted historian and bibliographer of the Overland Trail, wrote, “Here is one of the most remarkable of all emigrant diaries.... Clyman has a gift for phrasing and an awareness of an epic in progress.” Wright Howes (C81) described it as “One of the most trustworthy narratives of the Far West, for the period 1842-46.” This publication of the California Historical Society consists of diaries and reminiscences artfully assembled and skillfully edited by the incomparable Charles L. Camp. They cover a wide range of subject matter from Clyman’s days as a frontiersman in the Rocky Mountains in the 1820s to his trips to California in 1845-1846 during that volatile transitional period from Mexican to American rule. In writing the introduction, Camp commented on the value of Clyman’s reminiscences and daily journals: “They are epics of the frontier; a stirring commentary upon the swift conquest of the continent, reflecting the spirit of the sturdy, free-roving trappers and emigrants who blazed the trails and established themselves in the arcana of the wilderness.”
The Virginia-born frontiersman, along with Jedediah Smith, joined William H. Ashley’s second expedition to the Far West in 1823, was one of the first to cross over South Pass, and explored the region around the Great Salt Lake with William Sublette. In 1844, the tall, wiry mountain man went to Oregon, came down into California the following year, returned east with Caleb Greenwood via the Hastings Cutoff (warning westbound travelers including the Donners not to take it), and catching gold fever, returned again to California in 1848. Eventually, this rugged adventurer settled permanently in Napa. In 1871, with the help of his diaries, Clyman wrote up his recollections. The reminiscences pertain to the 1823-1824 period and are invaluable for their coverage of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. The overland diary of May 1844 to July 1846, written with picturesque grammar and phonetic spellings, documents his trip via the Oregon Trail to the Willamette Valley and thence to California’s Napa Valley. His diary entries give an important picture of northern California on the eve of the American takeover and Gold Rush. The 1846 portion of the diary concludes with a rare west-to-east return trip.
The California Historical Society originally published the Clyman narrative in its quarterly from 1925 to 1927 and then as a book in an edition of only 330 copies. The detailed footnotes and interpolations by Camp are jewels. It was embellished with three maps detailing Clyman’s travels. In 1960, The Champoeg Press of Portland, Oregon, published the “Definitive Edition” of 1,450 copies. Updated and expanded with new information, it was handsomely designed and printed by Lawton Kennedy.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Merrill J. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives: A Descriptive Bibliography of Travel over the Great Central Overland Route to Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Other Western States and Territories, 1812-1866 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), entry #102.

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