The Shirley Letters

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Society in the Shirley Letters The Shirley Letters is a beautifully detailed account of how life was during the gold rush. Ms. Clappe gives the reader insightful details about her surroundings and the activities and encounters, which took place during her time on the Feather River. While it could be argued that there are many themes to her time spent on the river, I think it is about the society in the mining camps that is the main theme. These letters tell a story about how the miners created a social structure and way of life that adapted to their mining lifestyle in a remote location along the Feather River. In “Dame Shirley’s” third letter she writes about how Rich Bar came to be. She tells the story of how the rumor of gold sent a company of 100 on a 45 mile journey. Only carrying with them, “a pair of blankets, a frying pan, some flour, salt pork, brandy, pick axe, and a shovel” (p. 26) in search of gold. It only took a few days for Rich Bar to be “claimed” and “five hundred men had settled upon the bar for the summer” (p. 26). I think that this story is a good example of how people would easily uproot their lives in their search for riches. The letter goes on to tell us that the once poor miners who became suddenly wealthy, would become “a pair of drunken gamblers” (p. 27) and lose all of their fortunes. She tells us that this is a common scene in the mines. In letter four, Clappe gives us a detailed account of a funeral procession for a young man who had been killed after falling into a deep mining pit. She describes a scene in which a dozen men are carrying a coffin. The men are described as being “neatly and cleanly dressed in their miner’s costume, which, consisting of flannel shirt, almost always dark blue color, pantaloons with the boots drawn up over them, and a low-crowned, broad-brimmed, black felt hat” (p. 31). Although they

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