Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yanks in the Redwoods Carving Out a Life in Northern California

Hi Frank! Since I write historical fiction, I love interviewing an author about a non-fiction history book.
Your book, Yanks in the Redwoods Carving Out a Life in Northern California is about Humboldt and Mendocino County. Did you ever live in those counties?

No, I haven't lived in either Humboldt or Mendocino counties, although I've driven up to Mendocino County so often, during the past ten years I feel like a native sometimes.
The real reason I chose to write about Mendocino County was that that is where Round Valley Indian Reservation (or Nome Cult Indian Farm, as it was originally called) is. I retired from teaching in 1999. While I spent a number of years in graduate school studying US and British history during the 70s, I never had the time to do the kind of in depth research necessary to write a book. When I was a kid, I read in the 4th grade US history text about settlers moving across the plains in wagon trains. I've never stopped wondering about why they did it. What made them pull up stakes to take on such a difficult, sometimes dangerous journey to settle in a wilderness territory? What was their real story as opposed to the Hollywood 1950s and 60s version? In the same text I'd read that the Indians were placed on reservations. My mind conceived that once they were on reservations, somehow they were safe.

 What was the most unusual fact that you uncovered in your research?  

 I was taught in elementary and secondary school that the pioneers were hard, tough, brave, entirely on their own and self-reliant. Most were all of that. However, what really surprised me the most was finding out they worked so much together. Whether they were settlers who started the lumber mills or farmers, ranchers, reservation employees, home makers, or miners, much of their real daily work involved cooperating with others.

 What was the funniest part of your book Yanks in the Redwoods that you wrote about? 

 To me the funniest story was when Tom, a leading Ft. Bragg figure about 1900, brought one of the ladies of the night to ride around the track at the annual fair near the Noyo River in his horse and buggy. Many of the single men and others in the crowd recognized and must have been surprised to see both Tom and this blonde "bombshell" riding around in the buggy. The crowd went wild; like when a team scores on a "Hail Mary" pass to win a football game. But no one heard the small voice of a young boy who tugged at his mother's sleeve to say, "Mommy, Mommy, who is that lady riding with out Daddy!?"
 I know that the subject of red light districts is a controversial subject for historians, even today. However, it must be remembered that many of the loggers were single men. They either chose to be single or perhaps were single simply because the old West had few eligible-for-marriage women during most of the nineteenth century. Historians must be fair and open-minded. It is hoped that readers will be the same. Not a good idea to put today's moral standards on the pioneers and settlers.

 I think controversy makes for great interest! Tell us, what is the saddest fact that you uncovered?

  For me the saddest fact was that Etta Stevens Pullen and Wilder Pullen were unable to produce a child. Etta's diary (she started it in 1864 while just sixteen in Hallowell, Maine) tells how sad she felt about having to leave her friends in Maine to travel over three thousand miles to Little River, California, a tiny hamlet perched on the rugged northern California coast. She made entries about her daily toils in her diary for almost thirty years, until 1890. She had a stillborn child and sadly also suffered skin and foot problems but her spirit and love of life comes across with the excitement of being a member of a community that was building a great state. We are blessed with Etta's diary because her family placed it in the hands of a good local historical museum, Kelley House.

 What was it like to read other people’s diaries?

 A good diary is a wonderful chance to see how a real person felt about their life and times. While each of us is different in many ways, there are many things most of us want in life: the chance to contribute something to the world, to become a success, even to make a difference. Diaries are irrefutable evidence in some cases. We have some ideas about early California from men like Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Very different ideas about the same things may come from an Indian woman, Lucy Young, and the white settler, Etta Stevens Pullen. Comparing them was fun and exciting.

 Did you actually go the Smithsonian to do your research? What was that like?

 Yes, I did go to the Archives in Washington, DC. Just as I went to the National Archives when I was doing research on Fort Wright for my first book. I had this opportunity to visit there because I was staying with my brother-in-law's family for a short time during a family visit in 2007. There was a bright young man who greeted me who I'd emailed about my area of research. After I produced my CA driver's license and signed in, he led me to a room where there was an electrical outlet, white gloves, and plenty of room to sit down. It was completely QUIET!
I spent about two and a half days reading and taking some photos (they're in my book) of George Gibbs' "Journal."  He kept it after he arrived in California in 1849 and contains notes taken mostly from 1850 to 1852. I was interested mostly in what he wrote about the settlement of the Humboldt Bay area and the Indians. Gibbs was one of our first ethnologists and was a librarian. During and after the Civil War he worked at the Smithsonian as a linguist and interpreter of the tribes of the West. I felt like a king while I was looking at his journal and my hands literally shook with excitement that I was reading someone's own handwriting after so many years.

I love your description of hands shaking and feeling like a King. I did some research at UC Berkeley and had a similar experience holding a real letter sent from a Japanese American girl interned at the Tanforan Horse stables to her aunt! 

Tell us about the books you have written.

 My first book,  Killing for Land in Early California Indian Blood at Round Valley, 1856-1863, came out in 2005 (actually republished in 2006 with the illustration section). The second one, Yanks in the Redwoods Carving Out a Life in Northern California was copyrighted in September, 2010. It actually was also republished in early November, 2010 with the maps and photos. That's the way Algora Publishing works; always publishes the text first as a kind of "pre-publication" version; then the final work.

 Tell us what it was like to publish.

  I thought Killing for Land would be published by Creative Arts Books, a Berkeley company during 2003. Josh Vallee, the copyeditor and I met numerous times during the summer and early fall of that year. Then with only a couple of weeks to go, just before Thanksgiving, I was supposed to see the publisher. When I walked up the building there was a sign saying, "Out of business!" I did meet with a young woman who told me they would put the entire book on a CD or zip drive, which they did. I was very upset but just revived my efforts to send out queries and proposals to various publishers. In January 2004 after sending out many letters and emails, I got a reply from Algora Publishing. They are a small independent, mostly scholarly press in Manhattan. Robert Reich first published with them.
 If you go to you'll see their home page. They are a really small but are very good in my opinion. You have to be patient and do everything - every part of your work - yourself. Do not expect a whole lot of assistance because they are just too busy. What I don't like about this company is that sometimes I feel they don't do enough to promote a book once it's published. It's just not feasible, however, for them to extend money for book tours or much advertising. You have to pay for that and plan all that yourself. I value the independence a lot! No one tells how to do your work or what to study and write about. You have almost complete freedom. Algora provides authors with an instructions list, a faq list, and  frequently asked questions along with the contract. They don't answer all
the questions you will need to ask. It's a trial and error process to some extent.

 I interviewed an author whose publishing company went out of business and she ended up buying 1,000 copies of her hard covered art book, storing and selling them herself!
How long did it take you to write your books?

 It took me at least eight years to write the first book. I did research at Held-Poage Library in Ukiah, at Bancroft, at the California History Room at the State Library in Sacramento, at the State Archives and the California Military Museum, and CSU-Sacramento: all in Sacramento. I also did research at the Schultz Library at Sonoma State and at the Annex at the Sonoma County Public Library. I am in the debt of many librarians.
It took me almost six years to write the second. I found the second book easier to write because the subjects just came together faster. Also, I had the diaries that I did not have for the first one. It is easier to write the second book because you can avoid some mistakes, but it may be that my first book will be more important in the long run. An author is unable to judge that kind of thing.

Yanks in the Redwoods came about at first because I already had the Superintendent Henley investigation depositions from the National Archives on a microfilm roll. It fascinated me to read about how these eyewitnesses viewed their work on the Mendocino Reservation. Sadly, there are very, very few records about what the Indians thought and felt. I found the Applegate diary and Stanley Taylor's story on line.  In 2008 I found Etta's diary and Lucy Young's story at Kelley House in Mendocino. They are public record-which means there is no copyright on them. I had some problems with getting permission from some authors who refused to give me permission to quote directly from his works even though I will ALWAYS credit authors and historians. I expect the same from others.

 Do you have a system of research? 

 Don't know that I have a system. I try to go to the sources that I think might hold the facts.
You might use newspapers- they are on microfilm mostly. You have to physically go to a library and spend the time reading first. You probably have some secondary sources also- books or historical articles in journals- they are also mostly in libraries. Sometimes it is very frustrating to find blind alleys since some books in libraries are SUPPOSED to be there, but aren't really. Sometimes, if its personal papers you think that a library has an extensive file, it turns out to just be a few pages of letters on something unrelated to your subject. Then you just spin your wheels. But I've found some authors like David Donald, for example, who was one of the leading experts on Lincoln, to be very encouraging and cooperative. Professor James J. Rawls, who lives in Sonoma, was also very encouraging.
I also have tried to interview some but haven't had too much luck so far with this method. I bought a tape recorde, but it turned off during an important interview I did with a prominent Indian whose name is Robert Renick. He lives in Willits. I will try again. Many Indians are understandably reserved. Some are still hurt by the fact they were the subjects of genocide by the whites and the fact the whites were so prejudiced against them they were excluded from really being members of California society. I mean they could not even vote! Indians got the vote by the early 1920s in America but none of them really were considered American citizens. Many of us don't realize that there are wounds- very deep wounds- in the psyches of so many Indians.
But I try to always ask non-Native Americans, "How would YOU feel if you were used for target practice?"
"How would you feel if your ancestor's grave sites were destroyed and actual bones removed, labeled, and placed in boxes in places like U.C. Berkeley, a long way away from where they lived?" "How would you feel about having to always deal with diseases like Diabetes?" "How would you feel.....?" The list of questions goes on and on.
My aim is to tell the story, whenever possible, of the regular people, Not so much, leaders or politicians. Their stories are out there, but it takes time, energy, luck, and hard work to find them.

 What are you working on now Frank? 

 I've been reading and doing a little "spade work" type research about Jean Lefitte. Was he just a pirate or a hero? Also, about some of the southern cruisers- the Alabama, the Florida and the Shenandoah. As yet, I haven't decided on a definite subject. I'm too busy trying to promote Yanks in the Redwoods.

 Thanks Frank for the inside look into writing, researching and publishing history books!
To buy Yanks in the Redwoods locally it is available at SOCO Coffee in Santa Rosa, Bean Affair in Healdsburg, Barking Dog Coffee in Sonoma.  Outside of sonoma county go to Amazon. 

This week’s winner of Otherworld Tales by Charles Markee was Laura! Congratulations!
Post a comment to be eligible to win Yanks in the Redwoods.
HOW TO POST:  at bottom of interview, press blue comments. Go to end of everyone's comments. Under Post a comment, scroll under select, select name/url, type in your name and email address on ONE line, no url necessary. Press post comment, press preview to see if posted. If it didn't,  do silly computer word then post comment! Thanks! PS it's easy once you get the hang of it!
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  1. Many biographies are written about outstanding men and women, but I've seen very little written about common folks. Frank's work seems to be a celebration of the history of regular people: the kind you meet at the store; who work every day; raise their kids; and deal with the vicissitudes of life. I laud his effort to dig out the facts about these ordinary every day heroes and then create a document in their honor.

  2. Jeanne Jusaitis, mizitis@comcast.netMarch 11, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    I found this book and interview particularly interesting. There's so much history, right here in Northern California, to research. My great grandfather had an Indian Trading Post in Ukiah in the 1800s, and that's where my grandmother was born. It's so great to be able to put all of those old family stories in context. Thank you.

  3. this sounds like a facinating book...looking forward to reading it

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  4. Loved the interview...sounds like a great book!


  5. Thanks for this interview. I appreciate reading about Frank's first book "Killing for Land." And the fact that he was expecting it to be published, but the first company went out of business.

    I love historical fiction, so I'm interested in reading both of his books.

    I'm posting my name and blog because my WordPress ID was refused, this happens with Blogger.

    Deborah Taylor-French

  6. I enjoyed this interview with Frank Baumgardner. Great job, Jeane & Frank!
    History has so much to give us and lend us ideas to understand ourselves. Thanks!

  7. Another interview job well done. The book sounds very interesting and since I own acreage in redwoods in Mendocino County, am anxious to read it. The publishing part of the interview was very informative. Thank you!

  8. Linda L Reid lindareid100@sbcglobal.netMarch 22, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    From publishing information to living amongst the redwoods, this was a great interview.
    My hometown is Healdsburg and I look forward to reading this book.

  9. Another great interview Jeane. Will look forward to reading Frank's book. He is inspiring too, to keep working toward publication, after the first publishing company went under. Thanks Barbara Toboni

  10. Many of the single men and others in the crowd recognized and must have been surprised to see both.