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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > “California as I Saw It”

[Detail] Emigrants Crossing the Plains. 1869.

Descriptive Writing | Journal Writing | Tall Tales and Humor

The diversity of materials in the collection gives teachers the ability to cover a wide range of reading and writing skills. Stories, sketches, journalism, autobiography, and other forms of personal expression can all be found in California as I Saw It. The narratives offer an exciting view of history through the filter of life stories, from many different points of view.

1) Descriptive Writing

The natural beauty of California inspired many of the narrators in the collection to write descriptions of the region.

Search on travel and natural history for text such as:

A little further, and we struck to the left up a mountain road, and for two hours threaded one valley after another, green, tangled, full of noble timber, giving us every now and again a sight of Mount Saint Helena and the blue, hilly distance, and crossed by many streams, through which we splashed to the carriage-step. ...

En route for the Yosemite, p. 231 California: A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate, April, May, June, 1877, by Mrs. Frank Leslie

But we had the society of these bright streams--dazzlingly clear, as is their wont, splashing from the wheels in diamonds, and striking a lively coolness through the sunshine. And what with the innumerable variety of greens, the masses of foliage tossing in the breeze, the glimpses of distance, the descents into seemingly impenetrable thickets, the continual dodging of the road which made haste to plunge again into the covert, we had a fine sense of woods, and spring-time, and the open air.

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters, Chapter I, p. 13

The new state of California aroused the curiosity of many living in the Eastern and Midwestern states of the U.S. Several authors wrote detailed descriptions of their travels in the region for tourists and the curious.

Search on description, surveys, and guidebooks for text such as:

The country is low and flat, much of it uncultivated, and all for sale. Some newly planted orange groves and apricot trees are seen, as well as vast fields of mammoth cabbage and beet gardens. The road leaves the main line at Saugus and descends through the lovely valley of Santa Clara until the coast is reached at San Buenaventura, and for thirty miles you run along the sea. How salty and bracing the air smells, and what a change from the flower-scented breezes we have left behind! The approach at night is a weird and beautiful sight. There is light enough to distinguish the overhanging presence of the Santa Ynez mountains. The harbor gleams with myriad lights, the town bristles with electric sparks, and opens eyes, arms and doors to give hospitable welcome to its best patron, the stranger.

Mary H. Wills, A Winter in California, Chapter IV, p. 48