Francis Bret Harte (August 25, 1836- May 5, 1902) was an American
author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering
life in California. Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, on
August 25, 1836. He was named Francis Brett Hart after his
great-grandfather, Francis Brett. When he was young his father,
Henry, changed the spelling of the family name from Hart to Harte.
Henry's father - Bret's grandfather - was Bernard Hart, an Orthodox
Jewish immigrant who flourished as a merchant, becoming one of the
founders of the New York Stock Exchange. Later, Francis preferred
to be known by his middle name, but he spelled it with only one
"t," becoming Bret Harte. An avid reader as a boy, Harte published
his first work at age 11, a satirical poem titled "Autumn Musings,"
now lost. Rather than attracting praise, the poem resulted in his
family's ridicule. As an adult, he recalled to a friend, "Such a
shock was their ridicule to me that I wonder that I ever wrote
another line of verse." His formal schooling ended when he was 13
in 1849. He moved to California in 1853, later working there in a
number of capacities, including miner, teacher, messenger, and
journalist. He spent part of his life in the northern California
coastal town of Union (now Arcata), a settlement on Humboldt Bay
that was established as a provisioning center for mining camps in
the interior. The 1860 massacre of between 80 and 200 Wiyots at the
village of Tuluwat was well documented historically and was
reported in San Francisco and New York by Harte. When serving as
assistant editor for the Northern Californian, Harte editorialized
about the slayings while his boss, Stephen G. Whipple, was
temporarily absent, leaving Harte in charge of the paper. Harte
published a detailed account condemning the event, writing, "a more
shocking and revolting spectacle never was exhibited to the eyes of
a Christian and civilized people. Old women wrinkled and decrepit
lay weltering in blood, their brains dashed out and dabbled with
their long grey hair. Infants scarcely a span long, with their
faces cloven with hatchets and their bodies ghastly with wounds."
After he published the editorial, his life was threatened and he
was forced to flee one month later. Harte quit his job and moved to
San Francisco, where an anonymous letter published in a city paper
is attributed to him, describing widespread community approval of
the massacre. In addition, no one was ever brought to trial,
despite the evidence of a planned attack and references to specific
individuals, including a rancher named Larabee and other members of
the unofficial militia called the Humboldt Volunteers.
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