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

Lots 54, 54A & 54B

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Item 54. McGowan’s Narrative on the Vigilance Committee—“One of the most fascinating chronicles of adventure, scurrility and libel that ever issued from any press [and] one of the richest, raciest and most fascinating tales of hair-raising adventures and hair-breadth escapes that was ever told” (Wheat).

54. McGOWAN, Edward (1807 or 1813-1893). Narrative of Edward McGowan, Including a Full Account of the Author’s Adventures and Perils while Persecuted by the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856.... San Francisco: Published by the author, 1857. viii [9]-240 pp., 9 engraved text illustrations, 7 of which are full-page (some signed by Huestis). 12mo, original buff printed wrappers with engraved portrait of McGowan and facsimile of his signature, title within typographical border, sewn. Fragile wrappers with mild to moderate staining and wear (upper wrap missing a long, thin strip approximately 8 x 0.4 cm along blank outer edge of wrap and tip of lower corner; no loss to text, border, or image), outer blank corners of lower wrap stabilized with old tissue, delicate spine split and slightly chipped, several pages dog-eared, a few light stains and occasional foxmarks. Overall a very good copy in the rare wrappers with author’s portrait. Preserved in a green cloth chemise and slipcase with Estelle Doheny’s green gilt-lettered morocco label affixed to chemise. Christie’s printed tag with lot number for Doheny sale laid in. Pencil note on inside back wrap indicating that this copy sold at the Holliday Sale in 1954, printed catalogue slip from Holliday Sale laid in (see Holliday 729). Old ink notation “6860” on back wrap.
First edition. Adams, Guns 1408. Blumann & Thomas 3287. Cowan I, p. 148. Cowan II, p. 407. Doheny Sale 241 (this copy). Graff 2611: “Ned McGowan, as his Narrative proves, and as Carl I. Wheat indicates in his continuation of the work, was a prime rascal, one of the truly colorful characters in California during the middle of the last century.” Greenwood 842. Holliday 729. Howell 50, California 900. Howes M103. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 54. LC, California Centennial 217. Norris 2280. Rocq 10310. Streeter Sale 2822. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 132. Zamorano 80 #54 (J. Gregg Layne): “One of the rare pieces of Californiana.” ($1,500-3,000)

54A. MCGOWAN, Edward. Narrative of Edward McGowan.... San Francisco: Published by the author, 1857. Another copy. 12mo, early- or mid-twentieth-century three-quarter brown morocco over tan cloth, spine gilt-lettered, raised bands (binder’s identifying stamp on front endpaper, but indecipherable). Light binding wear (especially at corners), pastedowns abraded where bookplates or other materials were removed, first few signatures foxed, generally a very good copy, with facsimile of wraps from the Russell edition (see next) tipped in at front. ($400-800)

54B. MCGOWAN, Edward. Narrative of Edward McGowan.... San Francisco: Thomas C. Russell, 1917. [1, limitation leaf] 6 [2, facsimile of wraps] 240 pp., facsimile of original wrappers printed in orange, text illustrations on maize grounds, decorated chapter headings and vignettes. 12mo, original slate green boards, printed paper spine label. Spine light, slight wear to fragile binding (short splits at head and foot of spine, label a trifle chipped), internally very fine.
Second edition, limited edition (#1 of 200 copies). Howell 50, California 901: “An exact reprint of the first edition.” Howes M103. ($100-300)


Carl I. Wheat, the great bibliographer and historian of the Gold Rush, characterized McGowan’s narrative in 1927 as “one of the most fascinating chronicles of adventure, scurrility and libel that ever issued from any press” and in 1933 further emphasized his opinion by writing that “it contains unquestionably one of the richest, raciest and most fascinating tales of hair-raising adventures and hair-breadth escapes that was ever told.”
Justice of the Peace “Ned” McGowan, part of Senator David Broderick’s political machine, was accused of masterminding James P. Casey’s murder of San Francisco journalist James King of William in 1856. To escape impending justice at the hands of the second Vigilance Committee, he skedaddled out of town. His friend Casey was not so lucky and swung from the end of a rope at the committee’s headquarters. Traveling at night and dodging the forces of the all-seeing eye of law-and-order boys, the fugitive hid out in the rugged mountains of the Santa Barbara area with the assistance of outlaw Jack Powers and the kindly Dr. Nicholas Den. His ability to elude the self-appointed lawmen earned him the nickname of “Ned the Ubiquitous.” When the excitement died down, slippery Ned turned up in Sacramento, and demanded a trial to clear his good name. The trial was held in neutral Napa, and exercising legal tactics that would impress even modern defense attorneys, McGowan won his freedom.
Vindicated, he set himself up in Sacramento and began writing a book about his side of the story concerning his persecution by the Vigilantes. Self-published in 1857 and dedicated to Dr. Den, Ned’s narrative created a sensation not only for the incredible adventure but also for his defiance of the powerful Vigilantes. The wrapper title with its portrait of the author signed “your friend” and its rabble-rousing subtitle no doubt attracted much attention. It was easily the most action-packed book published in California during the Golden Era, rivaling in excitement John Rollin Ridge’s quasi-historical account of Joaquín Murieta (q.v.). Not content to stop with a single book, McGowan then went on to skewer his tormentors with a little newspaper appropriately called The Ubiquitous.
Thomas C. Russell of San Francisco reprinted this sensational book in 1917 in an edition of only 200 copies. Biobooks’s Joseph T. Sullivan published another version in 1946 under the title of McGowan vs. California Vigilantes in an edition of 675 copies.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Carl I. Wheat, “Ned, the Ubiquitous: Being the Further Narrative of Edward McGowan,” California Historical Society Quarterly 6:1 (March 1927), pp. 3-36 and “Ubiquitous Ned: The Story of a Politician, Journalist and Forgotten Swashbuckler of the Days of ’49,” Touring Topics 25:3 (March 1933), pp. 14-15, 38.

Item 54. Original wrappers with portrait Ned McGowan, a “prime rascal” (Wheat).

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