JSNH&B home • Fall 2010 • vol. 3 no. 2

Letter of January 27, 1852

Dame Shirley (Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe)

The Shirley LettersOne of the most remarkable records to come out of the California Gold Rush was a series of letters written by a young woman, describing life in the rude mining camps of Indian Bar and Rich Bar along the Feather River. The author, who signed her pieces “Dame Shirley,” was Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clappe (1819–1906), who had accompanied her husband, Dr. Fayette Clapp (his original spelling), westward in 1850. Author Bret Harte knew of her accounts and may or may not have used them in writing his own manuscripts; Clappe generously referred to the similarities as “Unconscious Plagiarisms.”

Clappe’s letters, written in 1851 and 1852 to her sister Molly in Massachusetts, were first published in 1854 in the San Francisco literary magazine The Pioneer. In this letter Dame Shirley describes a memorable Christmas celebration.

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Barbara VineyardRead by Barbara Vineyard, President of the Sierra College Board of Trustees