Sunday, December 03, 2017
"Nancy Kelsey Comes Over The Mountain: The True Story Of The First American Woman In California"
The new children's picture book from retired librarian Nancy Leek of Chico is called "Nancy Kelsey Comes Over The Mountain: The True Story Of The First American Woman In California" ($15.95 in paperback from Goldfields Books; goldfieldsbooks.com). It's available on Amazon and locally at Bidwell Mansion, Made In Chico, and ABC Books. Each page features a full-color drawing from Paradise's own Steve Ferchaud.
In a postscript Leek tells the story in greater detail, noting that Kelsey "thought that she was the first American woman in California. In fact, when she got to Sutter's Fort, Mary Walker, the wife of explorer Joel Walker, had already arrived from Oregon. But Nancy was the first woman to come to California by the perilous route over the Sierra Nevada."
Kelsey and her ever restless husband Ben "joined the Bidwell-Bartleson Party for California" in 1841. "It was a hazardous trek," Leek writes in the postscript. "Nancy was pregnant during this six-month-long journey, and gave birth to a boy at Sutter's Fort after arriving there in December 1841. The baby did not survive." She eventually had eleven children (two died in infancy). Kelsey herself died in 1896.
The children's story starts with Kelsey left alone in the mountains while the men of the party scouted ahead. She "sat on her horse, holding her little girl, Martha Ann, on her lap. She was afraid to dismount her horse. Who knew what stranger, what bear or mountain lion, might come on her suddenly?" The story quotes Kelsey's own account: "I was left with my babe alone, and as I sat there on my horse and listened to the sighing and moaning of the winds through the pines, it seemed the loneliest spot in the world."
The story then picks up the start of the journey, the arrival in California, and in 1846 Kelsey's part as the "California Battalion" helped "take California away from the Mexican government." Perhaps she helped sew the original Bear Flag.
It's been almost two centuries since Nancy Kelsey was born. This captivating book keeps alive for a new generation the life of an extraordinary woman.