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Up and Down California in 1860-1864

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  • Publication Year: 1931

Up and Down California in 1S60-1864, the Journal of William H.Brewer. Edited by Francis P. Farquhar. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1930. Pp., 601 ; illustrations, 63; price, $6.00.

During the past century American mountaineers have keenly followed the early exploration of the Sierra Nevada range of California through the pages of Clarence King’s Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada and the Yosemite Hook and other publications of the California Geological Survey of 1860-64. With the appearance of the journal of William H. Brewer we have, at last, the comprehensive and intimate narrative covering those four years of exploration. Far from duplicating earlier printed material, it provides a new perspective from which to enjoy the story of early California exploration and mountaineering. Its great wealth of detail and its easy flowing style make this new volume most entertaining to anyone who is the least interested in California of post gold-rush days.

With the formation of the California Geological Survey in 1860, William H. Brewer was chosen by the chief, Professor Josiah Dwight Whitney, as second in command. His professional attainments were not those of a geologist, but his broad training in many sciences and his wide practical experience made him invaluable as one of the leaders of the field expeditions. Brewer was not only capable but also industrious and meticulous in the matter of keeping written records. Besides recording the scientific and other official data of the expedition, he found time to carefully prepare a personal journal which was sent in serially numbered letters to his family in the East. It is fortunate indeed that these letters were preserved so that now at the end of more than half a century they can be combined to give us the intimate story of the explorations of the California Geological Survey.

The editor, Francis P. Farquhar, is particularly well qualified to undertake the task which he has so admirably completed. Widely known among mountaineers of America as an expert climber and as the editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin he has for years engaged in research in an effort to bring together all historical data relative to the mountains of California. It is due to his enthusiasm that the Brewer journals have been brought to light and added to the important literature on the history of California. Mr. Farquhar’s careful arrangement of the material into chapters and into five books, one for each field season, and his well written introduction in which he presents a lucid picture of the times as well as a brief outline of Brewer’s life, make it possible for the reader to thoroughly enjoy the content material in a manner which would be impossible were the journal presented in the usual diary form.

Certain chapters will be of special interest to mountaineers. The first of these is one which occurs in Book III and pictures the ascent of Mt. Shasta in 1862. While this was not the first ascent, it is nevertheless one of the most memorable. Shasta was reputed to be the highest mountain in the United States and only in the previous year had a barometer been taken to its summit. Measurements of the California Geological Survey fixed the height at 14,440 ft., a figure which closely approximates the later precise determination.

There follows a chapter in Book IV telling of the exploration of Yosemite and the Tuolumne Meadows region and of visits to the Calaveras Grove and other groups of giant sequoias. The party spent considerable time at the headwaters of the Tuolumne River, named Mt. Lyell, the highest point in what is now Yosemite National Park, and climbed to within 125 ft. of its summit.

The most fascinating chapters of all are perhaps those bearing the titles “The High Sierra of the Kings River” and “Owens Valley and the San Joaquin Sierra.” Here we follow the expedition into the hitherto unknown southern Sierra Nevada, where they make the first ascent of Mt. Brewer, thinking it the highest peak in the range but discovering on the horizon beyond dozens of summits which seem to rise to altitudes of more than 14,000 ft. Realizing that one of these is probably the highest mountain in the United States, Clarence King and Richard Cotter leave the party and attempt to reach that goal. Although the mountain proves unattainable on account of the lack of supplies, they name it after their chief, Josiah Dwight Whitney. This part of the Brewer journal is particularly fascinating if one can concurrently refer to King’s delightful book, which gives his youthful impressions of the same adventures.

Up and Down California is strongly recommended to mountaineers, particularly those interested in the exploration of the Sierra Nevada and early history of California.

Ansel F. Hall.

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