David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Sketches Of Early California: A Collection Of Personal Adventures. Introduction and Commentary by Oscar Lewis. Compiled by Donald de Nevi. San Francisco: The Chronicle Publishing Co., 1971. Illustrations. 181 pages. $6.95.
For Oscar Lewis, “Early California” was the late 1830s to the late 1840s. This, Lewis claims, was “the critical decade of California history” because the period saw the arrival of the first emigrants and the gold rush. That, of course, is a highly debatable assumption.
Lewis sets the scene for this collection of lively first-hand accounts with a section on “The Pastoral Years.” The scene is one of tranquility and harmony — the old stereotype of romantic California in the “Days of the Dons.” Reminiscing in this section are Guadalupe Valejo, a nephew of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo of Sonoma; William Heath Davis, who had an especially kindly attitude toward the Californios; and Brigida Briones. The latter, the least-known writer in this volume, provides a woman’s glimpse at “Domestic Life in 1828.” Part II, ethnocentrically entitled “The First Emigrants,” consists of two selections from John Bidwell and overlooks the obvious: that Anglo-Americans were not the first emigrants to California. Part III contains five lively accounts of the Gold Rush, Lewis’s forte, by John Marshall, E. C. Kemble, Charles B. Gillespie, E. G. Waite, and Dame Shirley. Like other Lewis volumes, this one is aimed at a general audience. Nearly all of the selections have been published elsewhere, some on many occasions. Lewis provides no critical commentary, no bibliography (he does not even tell exactly where he drew the selections from), and no index. Scholars will still need to refer to the original accounts because Lewis has omitted portions of them without indicating it. Yet, the selections are vivid, interesting, and well-illustrated with contemporary engravings. Many will find this a satisfying evening’s reading.