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

Lot 5

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Item 5. Major Horace Bell’s Reminiscences of a Ranger—“the first cloth-bound book to be printed, bound, and published in the city of Los Angeles” (Layne).

5. BELL, Horace (1830-1918). Reminiscences of a Ranger; or, Early Times in Southern California. Los Angeles: Yarnell, Caystile & Mathes, Printers, 1881. [3]-457 pp. (complete), quaint text vignettes and initial letters. 8vo, original green gilt-pictorial cloth ruled and decorated in black, beveled edges. Slight outer wear and endpapers browned (as usual), but overall a very good to near fine copy in a bright binding.
First edition of the first cloth-bound book to be printed, bound, and published in the city of Los Angeles. Adams, Guns 189: “Its scarcity is largely the result of the fact that the publishers had the only print shop in town, and, since this was the biggest job they had ever undertaken, they did not have sufficient type for the complete book. So, after printing the first half, they took the type down and reset it for the second half. The result was a small edition.” Barrett, Baja California 246. Cowan I, p. 16: “There is a fascination about his book. From the long lists given us of murderous villains, thieving scoundrels, and other unholy characters, it would appear that the polite society of the south in those days was neither large nor extensive.” Cowan II, p. 44. Dykes, Rare Western Outlaw Books, pp. 28-29. Edwards, Enduring Desert, pp. 25-26. Graff 240. Holliday 64. Howell 50, California 291. Howes B325. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 5. Libros Californianos, p. 51 (Powell commentary); pp. 68-69 (Hanna list). Norris 248. Powell, California Classics, pp. 279-91; Land of Fact 2: “Earliest Los Angeles classic, picturing a frontier town, now again in our time infamous for its violence. Such is the destructive nature of human history, building up and tearing down.... [Bell] once wrote to his children, ‘Someday Los Angeles will be a great city. I will not live to see it, but you will, dears, and it will extend from the mountains to the sea.” Streeter Sale 2971. Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, pp. 54-55: “The book has rightly been accepted as a chronicle which catches the spirit of the early ’fifties in Southern California. Although it admittedly contains many exaggerations, it is based essentially on fact.... Bell is frequently monotonous...but he can also be very good. Take for example his definition of a ‘gringo’: ‘Gringo, in its literal signification, means ignoramus. For instance: an American who has not yet learned to eat chili peppers stewed in grease, throw the lasso, contemplate the beauties of nature from the sunny side of an adobe wall, make a first-class cigar out of a corn husk, wear open-legged pantaloons, with bell bottoms, dance on one leg, and live on one meal a week. Now the reader knows what a terrible thing it was in the early days to be a gringo.’” Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 15. Zamorano 80 #5. ($300-600)


California’s foremost cultural historian, Kevin Starr, wrote in his Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era that “American literature in Southern California begins” with the publication of Reminiscences of a Ranger. This rollicking book is the most important chronicle of Los Angeles during those rough-and-tumble days of the early 1850s as it transitioned from a Mexican town to a “semi-gringo” town. It also is the first cloth-bound book to be printed, bound, and published in Los Angeles, which in itself signaled the town’s progress.
Like so many others, Bell came to California in 1850 as a gold seeker, failed to strike it rich, and headed to Los Angeles in 1852 in search of better prospects. When violence was becoming so commonplace in “El Pueblo,” he joined the Los Angeles Rangers to campaign against the banditti that roamed the streets and countryside. Not one to pass up a good fight, the Kentucky-born Bell left Los Angeles in 1856 to accompany William Walker’s filibustering expedition in Nicaragua, then joined the forces of Benito Juárez in Mexico in 1859, and finally enlisted in the Union Army. Surviving the Civil War, he returned to Los Angeles, practiced law, fought local corruption, and from 1882 to 1888 published The Porcupine, a periodical aptly named for its stinging style.
Bell wrote Reminiscences of a Ranger from 1878 to 1881. His journalistic skills permeate the volume allowing him to capture the flavor of Los Angeles during the violent and raucous early 1850s when his rangers struggled to bring peace to a town better known as “Los Diablos.” He covered the activities of such then-well-known characters as Joaquín Murieta, Jack Powers, Jim Savage (“the Tulare King”), and scores of others. While much of the volume focused on brawls, lynchings, drinking, gambling, and other assorted vices, it also offered a wonderful view of the mixing of cultures in Southern California. His eloquent accounts of fandangos, fiestas, a stagecoach race, and a cattle stampede demonstrate another side of life. Bell wrote with sympathy concerning the plight of the Indians and Californios. Rightly proud of his literary endeavor, Bell plugged the volume in The Porcupine, writing “It is unique, fresh, sprightly, combining the grave and the gay, the sad and mirthful, history as cheery as fiction, seen from the bright side of life. 457 octavo pages; gold embossed; bound in cloth; $2.00 postpaid.” Typical of books bound in that era, it was issued in different colors of cloth including blue, green, and red.
It is not clear how well Bell’s book sold upon publication. One story had it that a fire destroyed most of the first edition, but as documented by Lawrence Clark Powell, Bell sold the Holmes Book Store a cache of 200 copies in 1904. Because of the book’s compelling subject matter and breezy style, several later editions have been published beginning in 1927 with Wallace Hebberd. The 1933 edition issued by Primavera Press used Hebberd’s leftover sheets and added a new title page. A three-volume, slipcased production of 1,500 copies came out between 1965 and 1967 as a seasonal gift issued by Advertisers Composition Company. In 1999, the prestigious University of Oklahoma Press brought out another edition with a fine introduction by John Boessenecker.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Biographical Files, California State Library; Lawrence Clark Powell, California Classics (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1971), pp. 279-91; Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: California through the Progressive Era (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 31-34; Franklin Walker, A Literary History of Southern California (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1950), pp. 51-59.

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