Over the Back Fence

CROFT: Author relives wild days of Mother Lode as ‘Hardluck Lin’

composed@tds.netSeptember 20, 2013 

DEBBIE CROFT

“Sonora was the Wild West before it even knew what the Wild West was,” says Linda Teigland Clark, Mother Lode Gold Rush living history persona and author. The main free-time activities in Sonora back then consisted of drinking, brawling, gambling and prostitution – crime was rampant.

In the year 1850 alone, 30 murders occurred in Tuolumne County, with 12 taking place in one week. What to do with the criminals became a huge problem. Chaining them to a large oak tree was the first solution. After two tries the county succeeded in building an escape-proof jail. The old jail still stands in Sonora. Today it houses the Tuolumne County Historical Society.

Using historical facts from newspaper clippings, old letters and biographical works, Clark has a wealth of material to draw from.

Her character, Hardluck Lin, is based partly on the stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst. “Charley” was actually a woman. She disguised herself as a man for survival and practical purposes. Her secret wasn’t discovered until after she died.

“I believe Parkhurst was an opportunist, willing to do whatever was necessary to better her circumstances and follow her love of adventure and horses,” Clark said.

In costume using gestures and a brogue typical of the era’s roughest crowd, Hardluck’s appearance is authentic in every detail, from her pin-striped men’s pants, leather vest and boots to her flat-brimmed hat. It was a time when serviceability was more important than style.

“Miners carried everything they owned on their person as they moved from camp to camp,” she says. “Few could afford a mule, hence the wide belt upon which anything that could be attached or hung.”

A “possibles” bag carried small objects, and the long kerchief served as a sling, a napkin, a washrag or even a bandage.

In her book “The Small Window,” Clark brings to life the reality of the westward movement and how it impacted one family. Actually, it’s the story of Hardluck’s beginnings. Lin and her younger brother and sister were orphaned while traveling to California. Her parents and older brothers died of cholera, leaving it up to her to hold the family together, to provide a living in the untamed land.

Kathy Harrington, president of the Tuolumne City Memorial Museum, says, “Played out against the backdrop of one of the country’s most tumultuous periods, the author manages to weave the strong social themes of the day into the story without having them intrude, making it educational as well as entertaining … a touching, tender love story …”

Clark grew up watching TV westerns in Minnesota, the same area where Laura Ingalls spent her early childhood. While in college, Clark discovered history of the American West as a worthy subject for study. Her own Nordic heritage found its way into her book.

When Clark married and relocated to California, she began learning about her husband’s Scottish and English ancestors. Settling in Siskiyou County, the immigrants became miners, carpenters, shopkeepers and bridge-builders. Eventually they established the community of Scot Bar, based on their faith, work ethic and strong family values.

Hardluck Lin will appear at Groveland’s Living History Day at the Mary Laverone Park on Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

She’ll also be at Columbia’s Stories in Stone on Sept. 27 and 28, and Oct. 4 and 5 at 7 p.m. At this event in Columbia’s historic cemetery, re-enactors share experiences of former residents from the area. Clark will portray Abbie Starbird, a young mother who died of consumption. Reservations are required for this guided walking tour. Admission is $25 each. Call (209) 588-9128 for details.

“Hard luck is better than no luck, and certainly better than bad luck,” she says when asked about her name.

As a spinner of yarns, teller of tales and keeper of history, this fascinating woman reminds us that it was the north wind that made the Vikings, and it’s our attitude that shapes a life.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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