Home -> Paul Elder -> A Tramp Through Bret Harte Country - Preface

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A desire to obtain, at first hand, any possible information in regard to reminiscences of Bret Harte, Mark Twain and others of the little coterie of writers, who in the early fifties visited the mining camps of California and through stories that have become classics, played a prominent part in making "California" a synonym for romance, led to undertaking the tramp of which this brief narrative is a record. The writer met with unexpected success, having the good fortune to meet men, all over eighty years of age, who had known - in some cases intimately Bret Harte, Mark Twain, "Dan de Quille," Prentice Mulford, Bayard Taylor and Horace Greeley.

It seems imperative that a relation of individual experiences - however devoid of stirring incident and adventure - should be written in the first person. At the same time, the writer of this unpretentious story of a summer's tramp cannot but feel that he owes his readers - should he have any an apology for any avoidable egotism. His excuse is that, no twit notwithstanding ding the glamour attaching to the old mining towns, it is almost incredible how little is known of them by the average Californian; for the Eastern tourist there is more excuse, since the foot-hills of the Sierras lie outside the beaten tracks of travel. He has, therefore, assumed that "a plain unvarnished tale" of actual experiences might not be without interest to the casual reader; and possibly might incite in him a desire to see for himself a country not only possessed of rare beauty, but absolutely unique in its associations.

But the point to be emphasized is that the glamour is not a thing of the past: it is there now. Nay, to a person possessed of any imagination, the ruins - say, of Coloma - appeal in all probability far stronger than would the actual town itself in the days when it seethed with bustle and excitement. Not to have visited the old mining towns is not to have seen the "heart" of California, or felt its pulsations. It is not to understand why the very name "California" still stirs the blood and excites the imagination throughout the civilized world.

If this brief narrative should induce anyone to "gird up his loins," shoulder his pack and essay a similar pilgrimage, the author will feel that he has not been unrewarded. And if a man over threescore years of age can tramp through seven counties and return, in spite of intense heat, feeling better and stronger than when he started, a young fellow in the hey-day of life and sound of wind and limb surely ought not to be discouraged.

Thomas Dykes Beasley.

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