Thursday, October 19, 2006
A history of Butte County in the 1800s, town by town
By DAN BARNETT
She called it "a glamorous tale of Butte County." In the early 1940s, longtime Oroville resident Florence Danforth Boyle (1892-1973) wrote 196 "chapters" about county history for the Oroville Mercury-Register.
Those columns have been collected in large-size paperback format as "Old Days in Butte" ($19.95), published by the Association for Northern California Historical Research and edited by Robert Colby. The book covers the history not only of Paradise, Chico and Oroville (originally Ophir) -- though the latter gets only scant attention -- but also Biggs, Gridley, Stringtown and dozens more.
I think Lyon Books in Chico can get copies and it's also available from Association for Northern California Historical Research representative Barbara Mahler at bmahler116 @aol.com. It sets a high standard for local history. Colby and those who worked with him to compile and edit "Old Days in Butte" looked carefully at each column, putting unverified or folklore accounts in italics and adding corrections in brackets.
For example, the column for Feb. 23, 1942 quotes a verse ("Here I lay me down to sleep, / To wait the coming morrow; / Perhaps success, perhaps defeat / and everlasting sorrow. / Let come what will, I'll try it on / My condition can't be worse -- / But if there's money in the box / It's money in my purse") and then says:
"The author of that little verse was at one time a resident of Thompson's Flat -- a man whose daring exploits later made him one of the most famous characters in the old west. He was Black Bart, colorful highwayman feared by every stage driver in Butte County during its early days. The little piece of poetry was found attached to an empty express box taken from a stagecoach held up by Black Bart. It was his custom to leave a verse with every box he opened after taking its contents. Black Bart was reported to have posed as a dentist while living at Thompson's Flat, wealthy mining community located but two miles north of Oroville."
With the benefit of subsequent research, Colby adds an editor's note: "Current research indicates that Black Bart left poetry in only two holdups, on Aug. 3, 1877 in Sonoma County and on July 25, 1878 above Berry Creek in Butte County. ... Also, there is no evidence that he lived in Thompson's Flat." I love this attention to detail.
"Old Days in Butte" also includes an invaluable name and place index by Carlene Marek and a map of Butte County, drawn by Steve Schoonover, locating the towns, existing and long gone, described in the book.
The Foreword is by Betty Boyle Davis, Florence Danforth Boyle's daughter. Davis' account is rich with detail; I was especially struck by her mother's early interest in pioneer history -- and her hiking abilities. As a high schooler she hiked "to Berry Creek, Brush Creek, Yankee Hill and other outlying areas. On one occasion she encountered three mountain lions. She did not miss a step, just raised her arms in a threatening manner, let out a ferocious war whoop and continued on her way. The frightened animals ran away."
Florence Danforth Boyle was deeply involved in the establishment of a place to "house pioneer relics." Eventually "the Butte County Pioneer Museum was deeded to the city of Oroville in 1999 to insure its future."
An insight into our past is ensured with the publication of "Old Days in Butte." Don't miss it.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.