Bret Harte

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Francis Bret Harte (August 25, 1836[2] – May 6, 1902) was an American author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering life in California.


Life and career

He was born in Albany, New York, on August 25, 1836.[3] He was named Francis Brett Hart after his great-grandfather Francis Brett. When he was young his father changed the spelling of the family name from Hart to Harte. 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. His formal schooling ended when he was 13 in 1849.[4] 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 known as 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 killed at the village of Tutulwat 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 publishing 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.[5]

Harte married Anna Griswold on August 11, 1862, in San Rafael, California.[6] From the start, the marriage was rocky. Some suggested she was handicapped by extreme jealousy while an early biographer of Harte, Henry C. Merwin, privately concluded that she was "almost impossible to live with".[4]

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