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

Lot 51

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Item 51. Manly’s Death Valley in ‘49—“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” (Edwards).

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.
While Manly’s classic work is best known for its gripping life-and-death struggle in the desert, he also penned important observations of Los Angeles, San Jose, California’s coastal valleys, and the Mother Lode. A lead miner in Wisconsin, he wrote with authority on his own mining experiences although he met with only modest success. Like all others, he commented on the gambling and drinking establishments. The Argonaut drifted through the mining districts around Mariposa, Big Oak Flat, Coloma, and Georgetown. He was also involved in the Gold Lake excitement that quickly proved to be a fraud. On November 29, 1850, the pioneer sailed from San Francisco to Panama and New Orleans, returning in July 1851. Manly then worked the mines in Yuba County and traveled throughout Northern California. He also included a history of the “Jayhawkers,” another band of immigrants who struggled through the forbidding California desert.
Given the distance of time, from 1849 to when Manly wrote this recollection some forty-five years later, it makes this book all the more extraordinary. What an incredible memory he had. During the actual trek, Manly maintained a diary, and in 1852 he wrote out for his parents a three-hundred-page letter describing the awful journey. Both were lost. Apparently, he never forgot what transpired, writing in his book: “Every point of that terrible journey is indelibly fixed upon my memory. Though seventy-three years of age on April 6th, 1893, I can locate every camp, and, if strong enough, I could follow that weary trail from Death Valley to Los Angeles with unerring accuracy.” Earlier, from 1887 to 1890, Manly wrote a serialized version in thirty-eight monthly columns for The Santa Clara Monthly entitled “From Vermont to California.” Other Manly accounts of the ordeal were published in the San Jose Pioneer, Pacific Tree & Vine, and Inyo Independent. In putting this book together, Manly enlisted the help of an editor or an assistant. Lawrence Clark Powell, in his California Classics, mentions a man by the name of Smith who helped prepare the manuscript for publication. LeRoy and Jean Johnson, in the preface to the 2001 edition, say a young journalist named Helen E. Harley actually wrote the book with Manly supplying notes and dictation. At any rate, Manly, at the ripe age of seventy-three, must have received help. This is no way detracts from the power of his narrative.
When the book was published it received a favorable review in Charles F. Lummis’s Land of Sunshine. The colorful editor praised the accuracy of Manly’s narrative but derided the book’s typography: “Printed by ‘blacksmiths’ who have disfigured its every page with mis-spellings and letters upside down...a pity it is that a narrative of so much worth historically should have fallen to the tough mercies of the most incompetent printers in California.”
The Lakeside Press in 1927 published a shortened edition with an introduction by Milo Milton Quaife. In 1929, Wallace J. Hebberd of Santa Barbara published another edition with a foreword by John Steven McGroarty and attractive illustrations by Alson Clark; the sequence of chapters differs from the first edition. In 1949, the Borden Publishing Company reprinted the Wallace Hebberd edition with a new introduction by Carl I. Wheat. Demonstrating the autobiography’s continued interest and vitality, two new editions were issued in 2001. The Narrative Press of Santa Barbara published their edition in both paperback and eBook format. Heyday Books and Santa Clara University jointly published another edition featuring an introduction by Patricia Nelson Limerick and a preface and notes by Death Valley experts LeRoy and Jean Johnson.

——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.

Item 51.

Item 51. William Lewis Manly (1820-1903)

Item 51. Illustration from Manly’s Death Valley in ’49.

Item 51. Humorous illustration of one of the light moments in Manly’s harrowing account.

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