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Lot 114

Mayhem in the Mines
Lurid Layton in pictorial wraps

114. [ORTON, A. R. (attributed)]. Two Eras in the Life of the Felon Grovenor I. Layton. Who Was Lynched by the Vigilance Committee, at Sonora, Tuolumne County, California, June 17th, 1852. For Robbery, Murder, and Arson, He Having Robbed Three Chilians [sic], Two Men and One Woman, of Ten Thousand Dollars in Gold Dust, at Mormon Gulch, Murdered and Burned Them, Together with Their Cabin, May 28th, 1852. New Orleans, Charleston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia: Published by A. R. Orton, 1853. [9]-39 pp., woodcut text illustrations. 8vo, original yellow pictorial wrappers (wrapper title: Artful Deeds in the Life of the Felon Grovenor I. Layton, Who Was Lynched by the Vigilance Committee, at Sonoro [sic], Tuolumne County, California, June 17, 1852. [portrait of Layton] For Robbery, Murder, and Arson.), upper wrapper with title and imprint printed in red, border and portrait of Layton printed in green, lower wrap with lynching scene printed in green, original stitching. Wrappers with several closed tears neatly mended and a few small voids (not affecting text or illustrations). Wrappers and text moderately soiled and wrinkled. Preserved in a dark green morocco and green cloth slipcase, green cloth chemise.

     Second edition (the first edition was put out by the same publishers in 1852). Cf. Cowan I, p. 137. Cf. Cowan II, p. 386. Howes L159. Vail, Gold Fever, pp. 23-24. Not in Jumonville, but perhaps not intended to be.

     Baltimore publisher Orton, about whom little seems to be known, published in the 1850s numerous accounts resembling this one, all being stories of murders, mayhem, and eventual hangings. It is believed that he in fact wrote most of them and that any number of them, such as this work, are fiction. In this story Layton, originally from New York City, descends there into a life of dissipation, gambling, drinking, prostitution, and murder before determining to depart for California, where after numerous other similar crimes, he is finally hanged in Sonora.

In the introduction to the 1998 Book Club of California edition, editor Richard Dillon describes the work as “the best-written book in terms of seeming authenticity.” Popular culture, early Gold Field fiction, interesting insights on attitudes toward Chileans in the Gold Rush, and a rare outlaw item in collector’s condition.

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 641b:

According to Kenneth Johnson in his article, “The Quest for Layton,” The Pacific Historian, V. 16, No. 3 (Fall, 1972) (pp. 60-63) this publication was another example of fiction presented as fact. In researching the rogue, Johnson could find no record of Layton or the publisher, Orton. Layton’s California adventures begin on page 31. According to the text: “Among the first who took the gold fever, was Grovenor. He became thoroughly intoxicated with the exhilarating idea of digging the precious metal. Gold! Gold! Gold was his food—his raiment—God.”


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