GRS in a “Third Space”: Sharing ‘Stewart Gold’ with the Native Sons of the Golden West

(Thanks to the kindly efforts of WordPress Happiness Engineer, the missing post has been found!)

The Native Sons of the Golden West is a fraternal lodge like the Elks, and does community service like the Lions.  It comes from a noble old tradition of men’s lodges and women’s clubs which did much good work in their communities before government had the resources or the inclination.  Part social, part uplifting, part hard work and fund-raising.  These are community groups in some ways similar to Christian churches, since the meetings usually include a meal – a “communion,” one might call that – followed by shared exhortations and fundraising to fulfill community needs. Service/fraternal clubs often emphasize one or two areas of need.  Shriners built a hospital for crippled children; the Lions Club builds parks and helps the blind; the Grange supports farmers.

George and Ted (Theodosia) Stewart played an important role in the service/fraternal club movement during their years at the University of California, Berkeley.  In 1927, Ted helped found the University Section Club – so named because it had sections for members with different interests.  The Drama Section was the one in which George and Ted were active, writing and performing plays in a reader’s theatre style.  The socialization was a highlight for the Stewarts and the other members; and in the best tradition of such clubs, money raised by the Drama Section Club was used to buy milk for poor children.  The Section Club’s motto, “Friendship and Philanthropy,” is a fine statement of the character of all such groups, including the Native Sons of the Golden West.

In such friendship and philanthropy, the service/fraternal groups are an excellent example of what Robert Putnam, in his classic work Bowling Alone, calls “high social capital.”  According to Wikipedia, social capital was first defined in the way Putnam uses it by a West Virginia Educator, Supervisor of Rural Schools L.J. Hanifan.  Hanifan wrote:

I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit… If he may come into contact with his neighbour, and they with other neighbours, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbours.

(Read the entire book here.  Chapter VI is about social capital.)

The next leader to use the term was another famous educator, John Dewey.  It is interesting to note that educators, like Hanifan, Dewey, and Putnam understand the need for and the positive power of social capital, while some businesses and public agencies seemingly do not.  t.

George R. Stewart wrote about attacks on social capital in a brilliant chapter in his award-winning book Not So Rich As You Think. Although primarily about pollution and waste, Stewart also considers the waste of human talent that low social capital a threat to society.  As I wrote, in an earlier post about the book:

In a chapter entitled “Waste Without Weight” Stewart describes how the modern corporate state weakens social capital by constantly moving people around and thus prevents those people from ever developing a sense of community.  He suggests that the disorder caused by [such practices] may have a terrible effect on the personalities of humans, theorizing that juvenile delinquency may be one result.

In a society driven by the “bottom line,” economic capital becomes pre-eminent, and social capital is (purposefully, perhaps) weakened.  But the Native Sons, the Section Clubs, and their ilk, keep social capital alive. These organizations are “Third Spaces” – places other than home or work where people informally gather to share ideas and meals in a relaxed, informal, voluntary atmosphere, and often organize to plan improvements to their communities.

So when old friend Paul Lapachet, at his sister Beth and Brother-in-Law Brian’s annual Christmas Eve Gathering in their beautiful Twin Peaks Home,  invited me to speak to the Native Sons of the Golden West annual Discovery of Gold Celebration Banquet (which honors James Marshall’s discovery of the nugget that started the Gold Rush) I enthusiastically agreed. In the stressful time of a major move, it was good therapy to work up a presentation that would appeal to the diverse membership of the NSGW who were attending the banquet. 

The banquet was held in Rancho Cordova, close to the Gold Discovery site at Coloma. A great storm which hit the area didn’t  deter attendance.

The talk was well-received.  Several people asked for more information about GRS and his work.  Hopefully,  there’ll be some new GRS fans soon.

Old friend, John Lucia, formerly of California state parks, an avid collector of and restorer of historical objects and houses, attended the talk. Afterwards, I accepted John and Angela Lucia’s kind invitation to leave the  motel and stay in their magnificent home in an historic neighborhood of Sacramento. p1040663

John Lucia on the porch of his and Angela’s historic Sacramento home.  (Angela was cooking.)

Then the massive storm  – a GRS Maria if ever there was such – cleared, Donner Pass opened, and I headed east and south in the aged Chinook, to Carson City, Nevada.  It’s not easy to make such a major change at this stage of life; but talking about George R. Stewart, staying  with the Lucias (who knew the Stewarts), and then  moving to Stewart Country, was encouraging and uplifting.

So far, I’ve met a fine bookseller, an artist, a writer, and other residents who inform me that Carson City has decided to become a city of outdoor recreation and the arts.  GRS would be most happy – as I am. I feel  at home  here.

I’m now staying within walking distance from Stewart, Nevada, where GRS took this iconic portrait:

Author George R. Stewart in one of his favorite places, Nevada

Thanks to Paul Lapachet, I’ve learned a lot about the NSGW.  For one thing, I’d always assumed that one had to be a descendant of someone who arrived in California before 9,9, 1849.  But that’s not the case – anyone who was born here can join.

I also learned how much good work the NSGW does in the field of historic preservation and interpretation. For example:  the group places historic plaques in many locations;  saved Sutter’s Fort from demolition; and is raising the funds to restore the Pioneer Monument at Donner Lake State Historic Park (a monument they originally built and donated to the state) AND build a new interpretive center there.

I intend to join the NSGW.  I encourage all of you to consider it, too.

(Written in Stewart Country, not far from the California Trail  and Donner Pass.)

George R. Stewart joins the Twenty-Mile Museum

In a recent post, I described the Twenty-Mile Museum – the interpretive signs that line the historic route of U.S. 40 over Donner Summit – placed by the Donner Summit Historical Society.  Next spring, a sign for George R. Stewart will join the Twenty-Mile Museum.

Looking over the various pages on the Historical Society’s website, a few weeks ago,  I found a link to their Newsletters.  Since there was none with an article about GRS, I contacted the Editor, Bill Oudegeest,to volunteer to write one.

After receiving the first draft, Bill suggested the Society would be interested in placing a GRS interpretive sign along the old highway, if financial sponsorship and help with the sign’s research and writing were available.  I sent in some photos and text, posted a message to the GRS group, and soon the design was underway, the cost fully sponsored.  Thanks to Brian and Beth, Steve and Carol, Bob and Sandra, Paul F., Denise and Barney, John and Angela, Willie, Joyce, and Alan, the sign will be installed next spring. Caltrans has approved the sign’s location; Bill has done a fine layout.   The sign will be installed very near the Historic U.S. 40 access point for the Pacific Crest Trail – which is also the closest access to George R. Stewart Peak.  This means that hundreds of hikers on the PCT, day hikers in the Donner Summit area, drivers sauntering over Historic U.S. 40 (the subject of a legendary book by GRS), or anyone who visits the Society’s small museum in Soda Springs will learn about George R. Stewart and his remarkable books.  Hopefully, many of those people will take the short side-trail and scramble to the top of George R. Stewart Peak (named in honor of GRS by the Board of Geographic Names).  The round trip from Historic U.S. 40 is only about 3 miles.

Those interested in George R. Stewart and the Donner Summit area owe thanks to all those involved in this successful project.  The Donner Summit Historical Society is always looking for members; one way to show your thanks is to join!

Below is the current draft of the GRS Interpretive Sign.  It will be placed next spring, after the old road reopens.  Some of us are already dreaming about a dedication celebration.  Stay tuned.

 

GRS sign latest

 

A Decade of Western History

After his foray to Gettysburg, Stewart returned to the country he loved, and knew best – Donner Pass, the Central Sierra Nevada, and the Bay Area.  During the 1960s he would write one short book and one long book about the Westward Movement:  Donner Pass And Those Who Crossed It; and The California Trail.

Donner Pass, like his short book about Thomes, was a special limited-run book.  Printed by Bill Lane of Sunset Magazine for the California Historical Society, it was a kind of a Stewart potpourri about Donner Pass.  There were chapters about the first wagon train to get over the Pass – the Stevens Party – and the Donner Party.  Those chapters were a re-write of what he’d already put into his children’s book about Moses Schallenberger and his ground-breaking book Ordeal By Hunger.  There were chapters about the building and operating history of the transcontinental railroad, a new subject for GRS.  He included a short history of highways over the Pass.  At the end, there were brief essays about place names, geology, and local plants and animals.  The place name essay was classic GRS.  The natural history essays were atypical for him – he usually wove that information into his longer works – but they were much in keeping with the time.  1960 brought the beginning of the Environmental Movement, with its focus on protecting other species; and  California travelers on Highways like US 40 were beginning to carry guidebooks that described the natural and human history of what they were passing through.

That’s really what Donner Pass seems to be – a guidebook for the auto traveler.  It’s short enough so that the “navigator” in a vehicle can read the sections aloud for the driver and other passengers; and in the best environmental sense it is designed to increase awareness of history and the natural world.  The hardbound edition might not be carried along in a car, but the paper-back edition, with its eye-catching use of color on the cover, surely would be.

You can buy either version at a very reasonable price, and they’re still good guides if you drive old U.S. 40 over Donner Pass.  The old highway, when it’s open in spring, summer, and fall, is a pleasant alternative to I 80.

cover

For decades, Stewart had been fascinated by the westward movement to California.  His research for Ordeal By Hunger took him to many of the sites connected with the Donner Party’s trip from Michigan to California.  In the west, at least, he drove or even hiked many rough, isolated miles of the Trail. (One of those explorations, in the late 30’s, first brought him to the place he would immortalize in Sheep Rock.)  The Anna Evenson Stewart Family Photo Collection includes a color photo of Stewart and a colleague, miles from nowhere on an old section of wagon road, with Stewart leaning on his luxurious Citroen sedan – which he probably bought since a driver could easily adjust the ground clearance on the car.

Stewart also did literary research and interviews.  The Bancroft has one of the finest – if not the finest – collection of diaries and journals from those who made the overland trip before the railroads.  Stewart made good use of that resource.  He even had the chance to interview some of the elderly who had made the trip – notably, the legendary Ina Coolbrith.  Coolbrith was the first Poet Laureate of California, guided Jack London through the books of the Oakland Library, and otherwise helped create a literature of California.  The story of her entry into California, in the arms of Wagon Train Scout James Beckwourth, is one of the enduring and endearing stories of the Westward Movement.  Stewart interviewed her just before her death.

When all was said and done, George Stewart put his decades of research into a book.  The California Trail:  An Epic With Many Heroes  In its several hundred well-illustrated pages, Stewart presents a detailed but interesting history of that great American story, from the first crossings by foot, through the last year with good statistics, 1857. The California Trail is still considered the best book on the emigrant movement into California by overland wagon train.

He worked on his book at the same time his old friend and fellow author Wallace Stegner was writing a book about the Mormon Trail for the same series.  In a wonderful letter, Stegner, who was teaching at Stanford, suggested that since the two men were writing books about the trails on two sides of the Platte River (The Mormon Trail was on one side, the California Trail on the other) they should get together and discuss the books (presumably over drinks and  barbequed burgers).

The book has been reprinted, and is still widely-available.  I’d recommend you look for a first edition – sometimes cheaper than the paperback reprint.  The cover illustrated is for the paperback.

cal trail cover