Book Reviews of Nellie E. Ladd.

1. "New book chronicles 19th century mining camp history through the images of an amateur photographer.

The cultural history of an area often survives only if those with the means and motivation take an interest in preserving it. Such is the case with the mining camps in what is now called the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, which saw the influx of Gold rush entrepreneurs during the area's mining boom of the early 1800s.

In her new book, "Nellie E. Ladd, Mining Camp Photographer of the Trinity Alps," Valerie Budig-Markin brings together Ladd's photos with stories of life among the miners and their families in the upper New River area.

The book is an examination of an area where entire towns and mining camps have been lost to the ravages of time, fires, floods, mudslides, avalanches, and scavengers. In many cases, Ladd's photographs of the many physical artifacts and structures in the area are all that have survived.

One chapter, titled, "Local Character & Stories," tells of rough and rugged men, strong, independent women and animals both domestic and wild.

"Photography is another way to tell history of those usually left out of historiography: Mary Blaine, the local madame; the wives and children of the miners; and such themes as elections, home decor, animals, work, play, structures built and fallen or burned down, the importance of water in a hot, dirty place," said Budig-Markin.

Ellen "Nellie" Elizabeth Casey Graham Ladd was born in 1859 in New Hampshire. She made her way to the West and in 1886 married Frank Ladd in San Francisco. After they were married, Frank and Nellie headed north, settling near the town of New River City.

The town was later renamed Denny and is now known on a Forest Service trail map as "Old Denny," northeast of the current town of Denny. The Ladds bought the Denny Store in 1894 and besides her roles as amateur photographer, mother, wife and store owner, Nellie also served as postal clerk and elections clerk. She was one of the first American women to vote in 1920. Many of her photographs were sold as postcards in the store.

The Ladds lived in Old Denny until 1921, when they closed up the Denny Store and moved downstream to "New" Denny. Their two sons, Grover and Willard, had already moved there to homestead for the family.

"Photographs are primary sources of history," said Budig-Markin. "I also wanted others to have access to the photographs, which the Trinity County Historical Society agreed to house and protect". She is also grateful to the Trinity County Historical Society which gave the Old Denny historical research a home and shared Nellie Ladd's photographs with her".

Excerpts from a review by Jennifer Morey. The Times-Standard, October 24, 2004


2. HSU professor Valerie Budig-Markin described her new book to me the way a person would talk about a family photo album. "These are Nellie Ladd's boys," she said, pointing to a group photo of men and women gathered around a cookhouse doorway. "And this photo of Clara Moore hauling firewood - that was a joke. It was staged. She was just fooling around with that mule."

Her fondness for her subject is evident as she pages through the book. Nellie E. Ladd, Mining Camp Photographer of the Trinity Alps (1859-1922) was written by Budig-Markin, illustrated with photographs by turn-of-the-century photographer Nellie Ladd and published by Naturegraph Publishers in Happy Camp.

The more she got involved, the more interested she became in the stories that Nellie Ladd's photographs told. Ladd lived in the area now known as the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, where she documented the lives of miners and their families.

Nellie Ladd and her husband, Frank, both New Englanders, arrived in the area in 1886. They settled near the Mountain Boomer Mine, which was located about a mile outside of New River City and near the headwaters of New River. Remnants of the Boomer sawmill still stand, and fragments from the Ladd's first cabin may still be found around there. It's hard to tell, though - the land has changed so much since Ladd's arrival because of mining and timber operations. That's just one of the important aspects of life in the Trinity Alps that Ladd documented with her camera.

"Her landscapes were interesting," Budig-Markin said, "because in many cases they were deforested because they used a lot of the wood for fires or in some cases they used boilers for steam to power the mines. And some of these areas are now reforested. We think of deforestation, but in this case we can see a reforestation between then and now. There are also photographs that show a lot of devastation of the landscape from mining, but there's also this sense of accomplishment." She turns to a photograph of a man and a woman holding a little dog. They're sitting on a sluice, possibly at Slide Creek, and water is rushing through it. It was designed so that gold would be left behind blocks of wood at the bottom of the wooden structure. "It's such a casual photo," she said. "Here's this young man who has probably built the sluice. And the woman beside him is dressed in white, carrying her dog. It's a very unexpected combination of the domestic and the production-oriented aspects of life."

There's no doubt that Nellie Ladd lived in an extraordinary time. She was a frontier woman who struggled to make a life for her family in a rugged and difficult environment, but who also had a clear affection for her neighbors and the landscape. Moments that must have seemed so ordinary - her children sitting at a table studying, a couple of workers pausing to rest inside a stamp mill - are extraordinary now. How could life have been so different just a hundred years ago? I asked Budig-Markin if she thought that Nellie Ladd knew that she was recording history, or if she was just taking photographs for her own amusement.

"I thought about that," she said. "I look at some of these pictures and I get the sense that she knew she was recording something for later. Especially the series on Slide Creek there are many more pictures than the ones I included that follow the process, as if she is trying to document how the sluice worked.

Nellie E. Ladd, Mining Camp Photographer of the Trinity Alps is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of miners who lived in this area a century ago and a valuable resource for local historians. It's carefully footnoted and includes appendices that contain voter and census records from New River. Best of all, Budig-Markin's sense of excitement and discovery comes through in the text. "When I started this project, I wanted to be totally open to whatever it would become," she told me. "I wanted to let it develop" - she laughed - "develop like a good photo."

Book Notes by Amy Stewart, North Coast Journal, October 21, 2004