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Remarkable life of Clarence king

Posted: Tue Jan 01, 2019 8:16 am
by balzaccom
I've often recommended Clarence King's book, Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, as one of my favorite books about the Range of Light. King writes beautifully, and his perspective as a member of the Whitney survey that really put the Sierra on the map (literally) is quite wonderful.

Over the years, I've heard some complaints (mainly from geologists) who have suggested that King may have exaggerated his own role in the survey party, and I'm in no position to disagree with those. But he is a writer, and a good one, and he tells absolutely wonderful stories about the Sierra in the very earliest days of the exploration of that range by the United States.

The book is now out of copyright, so you can find versions on the internet for free. No excuses!

But as I was doing some research on Clarence King for fun, I came across the rest of his story. And it is quite remarkable. It turns out that in his capacity as a geologist working on the 40th parallel survey, he investigated and exposed one of the biggest diamond mine frauds in the US, and gained international celebrity because of that. He also saved untold numbers of people who were going to invest in that mine.

And in a completely unrelated story, he led a remarkable double life in his later years. He somehow managed to pass himself off as an African American railroad employee, fell in love with a freed slave woman, and married her. They lived happily for almost fifteen years, he often leaving to work in the West, and she staying behind with their children in Massachusetts. He believed strongly that the future of the human race depended upon inter-racial marriage. Here's a link to his Wikipedia bio....and you can read all about it. More Googling will get you more details

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_King

Re: Remarkable life of Clarence king

Posted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 11:02 am
by rightstar76
Paul, thanks for sharing this fascinating story. I had never heard of it until your post. I always learn something new on HST. :)

I did some googling and found this:
Not until he lay dying of tuberculosis in Phoenix in late 1901, his last desperate hope of a desert cure gone, did James Todd write a letter to his wife telling her who he really was.
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/sto ... =129250977

Re: Remarkable life of Clarence king

Posted: Mon Jan 07, 2019 10:33 am
by gdurkee
For sure King was pretty interesting and made major contributions to geology and the Sierra. I think one of the early maps he produced made the first use of hillshading to indicate terrain depth. In his popular writing, I'd seriously fault him for exaggeration. I suppose in his defense, he knew what the eastern audience wanted -- danger around every corner, bandits, impossible peaks -- but some of his stuff was outright fiction. The end of his life was incredibly sad -- to say nothing of feeling he had to hide his marriage from the outside world and his own life from his wife and kid(s??). Because there were questions about his marriage certificate, his wife was was denied government benefits upon his death and, if I remember right, was denied even on appeal to the courts. Clearly a racist decision.

Re: Remarkable life of Clarence king

Posted: Sun Feb 17, 2019 11:10 pm
by jeremiahkim
balzaccom wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 8:16 am
The book is now out of copyright, so you can find versions on the internet for free.
Just downloaded a copy for the Kindle. I had no idea about his personal life as well. How incredibly sad.