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|51. MANLY, William
Lewis (1820-1903). Death Valley in ’49. Important Chapter
of California Pioneer History. The Autobiography of a Pioneer, Detailing
His Life from a Humble Home in the Green Mountains to the Gold Mines
of California; and Particularly Reciting the Sufferings of the Band
of Men, Women, and Children Who Gave “Death Valley” Its Name.
San Jose: Pacific Tree and Vine Co., 1894. 498 pp., frontispiece halftone
portrait of author, 3 halftone plates, a few text illustrations.
8vo, original ochre cloth, title and decorative bands in black on upper
cover and in blind on back cover, spine gilt-lettered, floral-patterned
endpapers. A few light stains to binding and a bit of light shelf
wear, back hinge cracked, generally a fine copy, text very fresh.
First edition. Blumann & Thomas 1003. Cowan I, pp. 149, 273. Cowan II, p. 412. Eberstadt, Modern Narratives of the Plains and the Rockies 321. Edwards, Desert Harvest 18: “Cornerstone of Death Valley’s literary structure”; Enduring Desert, pp. 162-64: “The bulk of the first edition is reputed to have been stored in a basement, thus accounting for the water stains on so many of the Manly firsts. A small quantity were given to George Wharton James, thereby escaping.... No other book that has ever been written about Death Valley can even remotely approach the Manly in historic importance. It is unlikely that one ever will.” Flake 5259. Graff 2670. Holliday 746. Howell 50, California 617. Howes M255. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 51. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 427a. Libros Californianos, p. 39 (Powell commentary); p. 66 (Hanna list). Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 550. Mintz, The Trail 325: “One of the great books of Western Americana.” Norris 2306. Paher, Nevada 1226. Powell, California Classics, pp. 31-43; Southwestern Century 64. Rocq 2321. Streeter Sale 3020. Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, pp. 45-51: “Later research has borne out the accuracy of [Manly’s] story; the spirit and vivid imagination of his book speak for themselves.... Manly’s honest memory and his ability to re-create a scene make it possible for the reader to follow every step of the way, experiencing the range of despair, faith, and ecstasy on arrival.” Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 136. Zamorano 80 #51. See also Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West III, pp. 103-104. ($200-400)
William Lewis Manly’s “autobiography of a pioneer” represents one
of the most dramatic and heart-stopping first-person accounts of
the overland journey to California. Only the gruesome saga of the
Donner Party surpasses this tragic episode. Bitten by the gold bug,
Manly, a native of Vermont and a resident of Wisconsin, along with
Asabel Bennett, led a group of gold seekers and their families across
the continent. Hastening to get to the diggings as quickly as possible
and traveling in winter, they decided on an untried shortcut that
proved to have deadly consequences. They wound up hopelessly lost
in the deserts of eastern California. Faced with certain death from
thirst, starvation, and exposure, Manly and John R. Rodgers made the heart-wrenching
decision to leave the group behind and set out on foot to find help
and supplies. Reflecting on these life-threatening circumstances,
Manly wrote: “The home of the poorest man on earth was preferable
to this place. Wealth was of no value here. A hoard of twenty dollar
gold pieces could now stand before us the whole day long with no temptation
to touch a single coin, for its very weight would drag us nearer
death.” Ironically, they had risked all for the gold of California.
With every step a struggle, they made it out of the desert valley
and over the mountains to Los Angeles. Displaying unmatched determination
and self-sacrifice, they trudged back across the same hellish terrain
bringing relief and succor to the barely alive men, women, and children.
Manly concluded this harrowing part of his book with the following:
“Just as we were ready to leave and return to camp we took off our
hats, and then overlooking the scene of so much trial, suffering
and death spoke the thought uppermost saying, ‘Goodbye, Death Valley!’”
Despite the claim of using this memorable name, Erwin G. Gudde in his
California Place Names commented that no contemporary
evidence supports use of the name prior to 1861.
——Gary F. Kurutz
Additional sources consulted: Introduction by Patrica Nelson Limerick and preface by LeRoy and Jean Johnson in Death Valley in ’49 (Santa Clara: Santa Clara University; Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2001); Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1971), pp. 31-43.