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

Lot 61

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Item 61. Powers’ Afoot and Alone—“This delightful octavo may be considered the most interesting postpioneer travel account of a journey to California. It is a classic of Western travel literature” (Kurutz).

61. POWERS, Stephen (1840-1904). Afoot and Alone: A Walk from Sea to Sea by the Southern Route. Adventures and Observations in Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, etc.... Hartford: Columbian Book Company, 1872. [vii]-xvi [17]-327 [1] [1, ad] pp. (complete), engraved frontispiece and plates by True Williams, text illustrations. 8vo, original brown gilt-pictorial cloth with design repeated on verso in blind, gilt-lettered spine. One corner bumped and inconsequential shelf wear, text clean and bright, overall an unusually fine, tight copy of a book seldom found in this state. From John Howell–Books, with consignor code HME, indicating that this book is from the collection of Dr. Herbert M. Evans, noted book collector and discoverer of Vitamin E.
First edition. Clark, New South I:177: “Valuable for its characterization of Southern social classes and social life.” Cowan I, p. 181. Cowan II, p. 498. Edwards, Enduring Desert, p. 202. Graff 3339. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1995 & vol. 1, pp. 223-24. Howell 50, California 723. Howes P537. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 61. Munk (Alliot), p. 181. Norris 3095. Rocq 16356. Saunders 3106. Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, pp. 60-61. Zamorano 80 #61 (J. Gregg Layne): “So keen were his observations of the Indian tribes of California that his notes were published some five years later by the U. S. Department of Interior as Volume III of Contributions to North American Ethnology.... [The book] became so popular and was so widely read that it is today almost impossible to find a fine copy.”
Artist True W. Williams also illustrated works by Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, and Bret Harte, including two other Zamorano selections—Twain’s Roughing It and Miller’s Life Amongst the Modocs (American edition). With this volume we include Powers’s California Indian Characteristics and Centennial Mission to the Indians of Western Nevada and California.... Preface by N. Scott Momaday. “Stephen Powers As Anthropologist” by Robert F. Heizer. [Berkeley: Designed and Printed by Lawton and Alfred Kennedy for] The Friends of the Bancroft Library, University of California, 1975. [6] v [3] 57 pp., color frontispiece (reproduction of watercolor of Yurok), plates (photographic), text illustration (portrait of Powers). 8vo, original stiff red wrappers printed in blue. Fine. This annual Bancroft Keepsake (#23) includes a preface by Momaday that puts a number of Powers’s outdated and ethnocentric assertions into a more modern context. (2 vols.) ($200-400)


Harwood P. Hinton, in his introduction to the Book Club of Texas edition, notes that Afoot and Alone “documented the last foot excursion across the continent before the railroads linked the oceans.” Because of Powers’s method of travel, this delightful octavo may be considered the most interesting postpioneer travel account of a journey to California. It is a classic of Western travel literature along with Mark Twain’s Roughing It and Samuel Bowles’s Across the Continent.
Powers, a journalist by profession and an experienced hiker, left Raleigh, North Carolina on January 1, 1868, and embarked on a 3,556-mile, ten-month walk across the continent to San Francisco. In his preface, the imaginative pedestrian presented the following rationale for his book: “The walk from Sea to Sea, the story of which is here narrated, was undertaken, partly, from a love of wild adventure; partly from a wish to make personal and ocular study of the most diverse races of the Republic.” As stated by Hinton, it was his desire “to describe the attitude and conditions of the common man.”
Bitten by the travel bug and blessed with unusual powers of observation, Powers wrote “these were the happiest days of my life” as he tramped across the South, “the great empire of Texas,” New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California. Upon reaching California, he compared it to Greece, calling his journey’s end the “land of golden sunsets, of golden hills, and of golden mines.” While impressed by its natural scenery, Powers was often critical, decrying the filth and impoverished conditions he saw. He lamented the passing of the Eden-like, pastoral life of the Hispanic era and the greed and tumult caused by the Gold Rush. Wistfully, he sighed, “Then came the fatal discovery [gold], and all this Paradise became a great, roaring Pandemonium, a hell on earth.” San Francisco he described as the “ultimate city” but, with its sand and fierce wind, called it “the most hideous site of all great American cities.” During his peregrinations into the valleys and along the coast, Powers frequently encountered fascinating people from disgruntled “blanket men” to hard-drinking ranch hands and farmers. He took careful note of the Native Californian cultures he encountered. In the evenings next to a campfire or in a cabin, the lone traveler recorded the day’s adventures.
This journalist, who favored his feet over horses and stagecoaches, then transformed his daily record into a series of articles which he submitted to Lippincott’s Magazine and San Francisco’s new literary periodical, the Overland Monthly, beginning in 1869. Powers wrote under the peculiar nom de plume of “Socrates Hyacinth.” Bret Harte, the editor of the Overland Monthly and an astute judge of talent, saw a book in Powers’s essays and helped him land a contract with the Columbian Book Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Afoot and Alone rolled off the presses in 1872 and was sold by book agents, a common form of marketing. The publishing company offered the attractive volume in three binding styles: fine cloth binding for $2.00; with gilt edges added, $2.50; and in half morocco, $3.50. The gold-stamped upper cover illustration of Powers with his knapsack slung over his shoulder and the caricature-like engravings by True W. Williams added to the charm and marketability of the book.
Following the publication of his book, Powers continued to write articles and stories for the Overland Monthly and travel throughout California and Nevada. The Indians of California and their ill-treatment particularly attracted his attention, and in 1877 the federal government published his pioneering work, Tribes of California. Afoot and Alone enjoyed modest success, and in 1884, the Columbian Book Company reprinted it. Recognizing its singular value and importance, The Book Club of Texas in 1995 published a fine press edition of 300 copies with a brilliant introduction by Harwood P. Hinton detailing the life of this free spirit.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Harwood P. Hinton, Introduction to Afoot and Alone (Austin: The Book Club of Texas, 1995)

Item 61. Upper cover of Powers’ Afoot and Alone.