1947-1950. [Women] [California]
Leila Stone Archive of Letters, 1947-1950
24 pieces of typescript correspondence, many with manuscript corrections and addenda; 43 black and white photos, measuring 3 ¼ “ x 4 ¼”, thoroughly captioned on versos; Automobile Road Map of Kern County California prepared by the Route and Map Service Department of the Automobile Club of Southern California, undated, 17” x 34” (folds to 10¼” x 4⅜”).
Photographs and letters Very Good with some light creasing at old folds, a bit of fading and toning. Map Good: several small tears at intersections, moderate edge wear and toning.
A small collection (about 3 inches of letters, research material and photographs) pertaining to historian and adventurer Leila Opal Stone’s attempt to track her grandparents’ trail through Central California at the end of the Civil War. Twenty-four pieces of correspondence between Stone and noted author, publisher and California historian Marcia Wynn Samelson (aka Marcia Rittenhouse Wynn) dive deep into the topographical history of the region and the efforts of these two women to bring their shared research interests to light.
In her letters, Leila Stone wrote about her four summers working as a lookout at Mt. Shasta with the U.S. Forest Service: “We have quite a family of ‘gals’ on most of our lookouts, this year. School teachers, nurses, housewives, real estate agents, one insurance agent who does this work for a summer vacation, with pay, as I do. I wish I had the ability to string out a yarn about happenings during my four years as Lookout on these high places. I keep a diary, of course. But I’m afraid I couldn’t do all of it justice.” She also mentioned her camping trips with her sister, and her efforts to preserve the histories of pioneering settlers in California. “I believe I am somewhat like you,” Stone wrote to Samelson. “I am interested in the little homely every-day things people did during that pioneer period: their clothes, their household equipment, amusements, work, and such. We can pick up histories which tell about the great and the near-great who did big things, but they do not interest me especially. I would much rather take a peek into the homes and lives of every-day folks. There lies the real story of our pioneers.”
Samelson’s self-published books, Pioneer Family of Whiskey Flat, written in 1945, and the 1949 Desert Bonanza, were both hailed as gap-fillers in the literature of California history. Through the course of their correspondence, the women forged a friendship, bonding over their mutual interests and passion for history. Stone wrote, “You said in a recent letter that not many women enjoy reading such books; the appeal is mostly to men. I guess I am one of those women who can see things thru a man’s eye, and who can understand just why certain things would appeal to men. I didn’t trot around after my dad for nothing all down thru the years.” She was thrilled when Samelson sent her an autographed copy of Desert Bonanza: “I have a nice collection of Californiana right here in our own modest home library, and of course I have tapped as many of our western libraries as is possible. Any new material on our own beloved west is read pretty avidly in our household.”
Stone spent three years researching, corresponding with California librarians as well as “Old Timers near Bakersfield” to nail down the route her grandparents blazed across the valley, and finally was able to make the trip herself on horseback: “I have had some tough rides in my day, but that was the toughest I have ever made. We did find the old freight-stage road and got some good pictures along the way, for posterity…how those huge freights with their heavy loads and their sixteen head of mules or horses ever got around those turns is beyond me!”
In her final letter to Samelson, Stone enclosed the 43 photographs she shot with her “Eastman 35” on the ride. These photographs, all heavily captioned, are included in the collection, as are copies of research materials she received from the California State Library, excerpts from her earlier research correspondence, and a folding Automobile Road Map of Kern County, California, likely circa 1920.
A small but fascinating batch of correspondence between two adventurous women, both ardent devotees to California history. Item #368