"He is furry, huggable, and cute; he is also big, wild, and scary. He is the legendary California grizzly bear."
That was the introduction of my column about the grizzly bear exhibit at the Courthouse Museum four years ago. The "Bear in Mind: The Story of the California Grizzly" exhibit was based on a book by Susan Snyder, who also co-curated the exhibit.
I am pleased to announce that Susan Snyder will be the keynote speaker at the Merced County Historical Society annual membership meeting on Feb. 10 at the Merced County Board of Supervisors' Chambers.
Susan is a well-established author and head of public services at The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley. Uncovering dusty treasures in the stacks of The Bancroft Library, Susan has written "Bear in Mind: The California Grizzly," "Past Tents: The Way We Camped" and "Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries."
She also co-authored "Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates."
While the first two books have been successfully developed into traveling exhibits that our museum has had the pleasure of hosting, "Beyond Words" is equally successful in captivating readers' attention as it documents art-decorated journals in a span of 200 years.
A dedicated diarist, Susan writes, "The past was lived by individuals, and their intimate diaries can be invaluable to historians, supplying the rich cinematic particulars of personal experience not otherwise available. Journals do not transcribe reality, but create an authentic common language with which we understand each other's lives."
Susan has deep roots in the Central Valley. Although she was born in south Pasadena, she grew up in the Central Valley. At the age of 16, her family left Chowchilla for Chico.
Among the 55 journal entries, Susan has included a few entries that depict the wilderness of the San Joaquin Valley.
Diarist George Hayden was a volunteer soldier in the Mexican-American War.
Before the war began, his regiment went on an expedition to the Tulare Lake region to tame horse thieves and Indians.
In describing the lower San Joaquin Valley in his June 20, 1847, diary, Hayden writes, "Being now on the western plains of the river, we found it very hot in the sun, and the scanty herbage all parched up. Saw many droves of wild horses, some of which contained over 1000 (sic). This was a beautiful sight to behold, line after line of these untamed and unfettered steeds were spread out upon the flat plains, as far as the eye could reach, looking in the distance like a large army, drawn out in battle array."
The wildlife in the San Joaquin Valley captured diarist Andrew Jackson Grayson's interest. This ornithologist and bird painter joined his friend Von Schmidtt's surveying trip to the Tulare region in 1853. While describing a tarantula nest in his Sept. 27 entry, Grayson writes:
"It is very ingenious construction built of mud and lined with a substance like the common spider web -- and as smooth as satin or velvet, but the singularity is the door of his home which opens and shuts on a hinge, and when closed is not only water tight but air tight."
Grayson's artwork of birds was exhibited at the Courthouse Museum in 2004.
Susan's journal selections germane to the Sierra Nevada are also special treats.
Diarist Robert Eccleston left valuable information about the foothills and Indians. As a member of the Mariposa Battalion, Eccleston fought the Miwok and Yokuts in the Mariposa Indian War and kept a diary of the experience. The diary was later published under the title "The Mariposa Indian War, 1850-1851."
Both of Joseph LeConte's children paid tribute to Yosemite in their diaries.
Carefree Caroline (Carrie) described her monthlong 1878 camping expedition in Yosemite Valley in both words and illustrations. She tells of meeting new acquaintances, having humorous conversations and planning fun excursions.
Her brother, Little Joe, on the other hand, was a trailblazer and skillful mapmaker who loved to go on adventurous explorations. In his six-week tour of Yosemite in 1889, he climbed several summits, fell asleep on a narrow ledge that was several thousand feet above the valley floor, and sketched a map of the grand canyon of the South Fork of Kings River.
"Beyond Words" is a collection of stunning drawings and vivid narratives.
For more stories from the pages of illustrated diaries, please join us at our annual meeting on Feb. 10 at the Board of Supervisors' chambers for Susan's presentation at 2 p.m.
Her books will be available for sale, and there will be book signings as well.
Also at our membership meeting, new officers and board members will be sworn in and awards will be presented. The Le Grand Community Garden Club and LifeLine CDC are the winners of the 2013 Estep-Burchell Community Grant for their history projects and each will receive $500.
The Courthouse Museum will be closed on Feb. 10.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at email@example.com.