South Pass interview

Half-title page of South Pass, with a sweet prairie flower below the title

Here’s an interview with historian extraordinaire Will Bagley on his newest book, South Pass: Gateway to a Continent (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014).

I had the privilege of editing and designing this book last year. Will is one of the best writers I know, and working on his texts is always a joy. This is a narrative book (as opposed to one made up of primary source documents) and very easy to read, in a style similar to Will’s other series for the University of Oklahoma Press, Overland West: The Story of the Oregon and California Trails.

Will is a great storyteller and knows how to knit all of the background goings-on into a comprehensive lesson. He laughs throughout the interview–his delight in the material is clear and infectious.

South Pass was the easiest way over the Rockies, used by Indians, fur traders, missionaries, forty-niners, and Mormon pioneers. It was also a site crossed by the Pony Express, stagecoaches, and the telegraph. Named a National Historic Landmark, South Pass is one of the few places in the country where the trail to the West has remained untouched, where we can go and really see the world that the pioneers saw 150 years ago. In his afterword, Will writes about the legacy of the area and the importance of its preservation:

Even better, with the American West seemingly doomed to have its public resources privatized, encouraging a swift and brutal transformation of our natural landscape into industrialized “sacrifice zones,” South Pass belongs to you and me. As the twenty-first century begins, international corporations increasingly desire and demand unfettered access to the gold, oil, gas, coal, and the rare earths hidden in our nation’s last, best places; they even strive to monetize—a horrific word—the wind and sun. Yet virtually all of South Pass is unchanged, and its classic open emptiness still belongs to the American people.

This epigraph from the book emphasizes the history still seen there:

Stand on South Pass now, and you will find it as still and peaceful as if no clamor of empire had ever surged through it. Antelope will drift close to see what you are up to; no smokes stain the dark blue sky; the riotous rendezvous of the fur hunters, held for a dozen years after 1825, have left neither mark nor echo, not even a tepee ring. The wheels that between 1836 and 1869 rocked and creaked and squealed up the Sweetwater and down past the westward-falling
trickle of Pacific Creek have left ruts that are still visible in places among the sage and bunchgrass if you look hard, but modern travel does not go this way. Both Highway 30 and the railroad cross the divide at Creston. All that crosses
South Pass now is Wyoming 28, a secondary road. And here is a lesson, not only in history, but in the fallibility of prophecy based on false premises.

–Wallace Stegner, Marking the Sparrow’s Fall

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8 is great

This is the eighth anniversary of Capital A Publications! I remember my very first day very clearly–spent in my temporary office, working on the index for The Land Beyond: Italian Migrants in the Westward Movement, by Dr. Gloria Lothrop, and later going to the office-supply store to buy a big bag of rubber bands. Since then, I’ve moved into a real office, but I’m still going through that stash of rubber bands.

My workflow has improved over the course of producing nearly ninety (!) books and over sixty journal issues since that day in 2006, but I continue to do indexes and remain fascinated by the materials and humbled by the amazing authors and brilliant collaborators I have had the pleasure of working with.

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A Los Angeles pioneer

A new book just came in from the printer, and I’m very excited about it. George Carson: Los Angeles Pioneer, by Judson A. Grenier, is another collaboration with the Historical Society of Southern California. Grenier’s association with the Carson family began in 1972, so the book has been a long time coming! The result of his years of labor is an easy read, with a lot of photos that put faces to the many Carson family members discussed in the biography.

From the back cover:

Among the pioneers who shaped the county of Los Angeles in the nineteenth century, few men played a more decisive role than George Carson. Although a city of more than ninety thousand people bears his name, history books offer little mention of him and his accomplishments.

Born along the Erie Canal in central New York, Carson was reared near Chicago, enlisted as a drummer boy during the war with Mexico and marched west to the Spanish settlement of Santa Fe, where, after discharge, he began a career supplying American outposts in the West. In 1853, he drove a flock of sheep from Mexico to Los Angeles and settled in the central city as hardware store owner and livery stable operator. Carson’s business and fraternal connections won him a seat on the town council and soon thereafter, the elected office of County Public Administrator. In 1857 he married Victoria Dominguez, daughter of Manuel Dominguez, longtime owner of Rancho San Pedro, the first Spanish land grant. Carson assumed management of the ranch and introduced large-scale sheep raising and diversified agriculture and later participated in one of the most intensive land surveys ever attempted in the county. He led the development of Redondo Beach, Terminal Island with its rail lines, the port of Los Angeles, and other communities, all from land once part of the Rancho San Pedro. At Carson’s funeral in 1901, he was celebrated as one of the most influential pioneers in local history. This biography aims to restore his place in the annals of his adopted homeland.

I copyedited and designed the text, which turned out beautifully, but the covers are the part that I am particularly proud of.

The paperback cover, shown above, has a matte cover with a shiny gloss on the white border and title. It is subtle, but I like how it highlights the signature used for the title. Because Carson has not been included in history books, I wanted his name to be very prominent in this one.

For the hardcover, we used gold stock for the end papers, which echoes the brilliant gold stamping on the front cover. As with the paperback, the George Carson signature is the focus–the subtitle and author name are blind stamped in the leather binding. It was hard to simulate in a file what the blind stamping would look like, but Pat Adler-Ingram, the head of HSSC, took the leap with me and was very pleased with the result.

—————

George Carson: Los Angeles Pioneer by Judson A. Grenier · Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California, 2014 · 208 pages · 56 maps and illus. · index · 7 x 10 · ISBN 978-0-914421-35-1 (hardcover); ISBN 978-0-914421-34-4 (paperback)

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Spring again

The spring 2014 Overland Journal has just gone to the printer! Here is the mailing wrap (more about why we do the wrap here). On the cover of this issue is Karl Bodmer’s Funeral Scaffold of a Sioux Chief, engraving with aquatint, 1839. Museum Purchase, Museum of Nebraska Art Collection.

From OJ’s editor, Marlene Smith-Baranzini:

The smart readers know that if the design isn’t great, the words also don’t come off that well. You have enhanced both.

The end product of another great collaboration!

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Color!

A new book for the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library has just arrived! This one is special because it’s printed in full color. I often do color covers and dust jackets, but color text is often very expensive, and even doing four pages in color doesn’t happen that often in my projects. However, I’ve recently started using a digital printer who can do short runs in color for nearly the same cost as black and white, and this booklet was a perfect match for that capability. With twenty-three images, most of which are really vivid, it would have been pretty tough to turn them all into greyscale. Here’s a sample page spread. You can see here how we used one of the blues from the cover in the running heads and captions, too.

Upon receiving his shipment, the book’s author, Robert Senkewicz, a longtime collaborator, wrote this:

To say that we were pleased with them would be a massive understatement! We thought they turned out sensationally.

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Wood type

I saw this artwork at the new Journalism building at the University of Montana, where I went to school. The artist is Lloyd G. Schermer, the former publisher of the Missoulian, and the sculpture is composed of antique wood type, engravings, and foundry type.

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Two cover designs

I just finished working on a fun little book, Anodynes and Nostrums: A Century of Patent Medicines for Infants and Children.

I usually only work with an image chosen by the author, so the potential for doing something different was very inspiring! I was able to find a bottle of Baby-Ease–one of the patent medicines discussed in the book–at an antique store in town. Sean Girard, my photographer husband, took the photo, and the layout is designed to look like a label on the bottle. The type was inspired by some of the ads run in the book. The title is set in GrekoDeco, and the rest is Artcraft. (I see Artcraft used pretty often, most recently in a board book about an apple farmer.)

The author, Dr. Anita Britt, ended up wanting something with more color, so this is the second go-round, using a vivid image from the text:

The book will be out soon!

Anodynes and Nostrums: A Century of Patent Medicines for Infants and Children by Anita L. Britt, PhD · Los Angeles: Figueroa Press, 2014 · 64 pages · 32 full-color images · paperback · ISBN 978-0-18-217303-7

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A different kind of book

Last month, I designed a board book for my son, who is seventeen months old. Since we do not live near family, I put lots of photos of his aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, and grandpas so that he might recognize them when we do see them. It was only twenty-four pages long–a far cry from my usual projects! (It took longer to choose the photos than to lay it out.)

Alas, the quality of the printing and coating was pretty terrible, and the company has refunded my money. They did say that they’re getting new equipment soon, so I’ll try doing another book with them. I love the idea of being able to make my own books!

The first image below are the back cover, spine, and front cover, followed one of the page spreads from the inside. I used bold italic Century Schoolbook for the labels.

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Bagley’s bibliography

New from Will Bagley, historian extraordinaire: 412 pages of bibliographical information for accessing more than 2,500 primary accounts and almost 2,000 secondary sources of emigrants’ experiences on the Oregon and California Trails.

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Grrrrr

The winter issue of Overland Journal is at press! One of the articles, “A New Eldorado in California, 1849,” is a chapter from a book that I worked on last year. California Through Russian Eyes, 1806–1848, compiled, translated, and edited by James R. Gibson, is volume 2 in the Arthur H. Clark Company series Early California Commentaries, which is edited by my frequent collaborators Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz.

About the cover image: Louis Choris, Canis ochropus [latrans] (Coyote), 1818, watercolor. From Eschscholtz, Zoologischer Atlas, plate XI. From 1815 to 1818, Choris, a Russian artist, accompanied a scientific exploration voyage that spent nearly a month in California. While there, Choris sketched and painted a series of plant and animal species, including this realistic interpretation of the coyote. Courtesy of the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

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