History 330, Wednesday Night
Documentary Source Analysis
Letters written by Louise Smith-Clappe to her sister, Molly, painted a detailed image of life during the California Gold Rush. Twenty-three letters described the vast Northern California landscape, the diversity of the people who lived in the same towns, and a rare insight into Native American culture with a keen focus on women. Known by the pseudonym ‘Dame Shirley,’ Louise Amelia Knapp Smith was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey to parents Moses Smith, the schoolmaster of an academy in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Lois Smith (Lee), both of who passed away by the time Louise was eighteen years old.
Louise attended a variety of female-only seminary schools, but finished her education…show more content… The voyage took five months, and Isabella passed away en route and was buried at sea. The young couple initially settled in San Francisco, but later moved north to the Gold Fields due to Fayette’s health concerns. They moved to what was then called ‘Indian Bar’ which is near the town of Quincy in Plumas County, California. It was from here that Louise coined the pen name “Dame Shirley” and wrote her letters which made her and her accounts famous.
Part of the allure of Louise ‘Dame Shirley’ Clappe’s writings were the rare observations of Native American women. She had conflicting opinions of Maidu culture, showing disgust with their dirty and rough appearances, but a fascination which inspired her to learn more. Clappe observed, in her very first letter on September Thirteenth, 1851, the women in how they gathered materials to make bread, including flower seeds, acorns, and grasshoppers, and how they would carry their findings in handmade willow baskets, which they would hang on their backs from their…show more content… They were later published as a book in 1922. It is unclear as to whether or not Louise Clappe actually sent the letters to her sister. Historians have considered her letters to be of such great writing skill that many believe her letters were actually intended for publication. Her final letter, dated November Twenty-First, 1852 lamented on her decision to leave Indian Bar to return to San Francisco. That final letter seems to paint the most detailed portrait of the beautiful landscape, the trees, the rivers, and the serene moonlight. She also speaks directly to her sister, Molly, describing herself as having been a feeble and half dying invalid, who is now perfectly