Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome — Appendix

Lizzie Pershing in:

'A Camp of Women'

In the spring of 1876, a group of five young women from Santa Barbara hired Mr. Bishop, a quiet gray haired teamster with a wagon and mules. They also borrowed a large tent, packed two barrels with provisions, took fishing tackle, gun and rifle, and started their trip west from Santa Barbara along the coast on April 1. Their intention was to ultimately reach the remote Gaviota Pass. Such a women camping expedition must have been pretty unusual for that era, and the newspaper article describing this trip got wide publicity and was reprinted many times in papers all across the United States. We learn that "three young [male] professors of Santa Barbara College hinted at dangers [of such a trip] and suggested, if an escort was desired, that they would be happy to join. But the girls held a meeting, and while agreeing that the professors were nice young men, and the most agreeable gentlemen in Santa Barbara, they preferred to take this camping trip alone".

For these Chronicles it is of interest that one of those young ladies was Lizzie K. Pershing (1852-1938). Less than three months after the camping trip she would become only the second woman to climb Half Dome.

The newspaper account of the camping adventure, under the title "A Camp of Women", was written by one of the participants, Emma Hardacre. It was originally published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, where the author was only identified by her initials, "E. H." I don't have access to the original article, and I am quoting its content from a reprint in the Daily Picayune, New Orleans, July 23, 1876. The Courier article was also reprinted in California, in the Santa Barbara Weekly Press, and in the Pacific Rural Press.

Lizzie Pershing is introduced in the article as "a native of Pennsylvania. She has brown eyes and brown hair, and the prettiest hand and foot in California. She is a brilliant writer, fine elocutionist, and is blessed with a dry, droll manner, and has a conundrum or story for every occasion. She is a Methodist and a scholar... Her pet name is Percy". Later in the article, we learn more about Lizzie's appearance. Everybody is gathered around the camp fire, and Lizzie is "wrapped in a carriage robe of white and red... with her hair hanging in two long braids down her back". The entry in their log for Wednesday, April 5, 1876, describes a celebration of Lizzie's [24th] birthday a day earlier: "Yesterday was Percy's [i.e., Lizzie's] birthday, and we got up a grand dinner for her, and drank her health in Jamaica ginger. She had received eight letters from her home and friends before leaving Santa Barbara, marked 'Not to be opened until the 4th.' She brought them with her, and yesterday morning we gathered around her to see what the birthday letters contained. They are loving home letters from the father and mother, from whom she has been parted two years. They hope in a few weeks to see her at home again, entirely cured of the rheumatism, for the relief of which she came to this climate. If they could look at her now, during this trip—sleeping on the bare ground, tramping around in the dewy grass, sitting bareheaded by the camp-fire until 12 o'clock at night, getting her feet soaking wet on the beach—they would not recognize their invalid daughter".

Mrs. Hardacre also tells us about the other three young ladies in this expedition:

Kate Bronson is a native of New York. She has deep blue eyes, black hair and a most exquisitely fair complexion. She is a fine musician and a devout Presbyterian—one of those sweet, unselfish girls who have not a bit of originality, never have been known to make a witty speech, but who are beloved by every one, and to whom people turn for help and comfort instinctively when trouble overtakes or death bereaves them.

Abbie Hails is a native of Massachusetts. She is a brunette, slender and wiry in form, quick and nervous in motion, decided and sensible in her opinions, affectionate in heart, and demonstrative in manner. As the "Hoosier Schoolmaster" says, "She is a Methodist, and likewise a Christian." She is also a poetess, botanist, mineralogist, conchologist and taxidermist.

San Louie Anderson is a native of Ohio. She has golden hair, blue eyes, dark eyelashes and eyebrows, slender form, fascinating manners, and independent ways. She is a Unitarian of argumentative turn of mind. The languages and bones are her specialties. She can say more original and funny things than any one I ever knew. She is known here by her friends as Jo, that nickname having been given to her at Ann Arbor.

Miraculously, a stereo view from the Santa Barbara camping trip was found recently, and we can now associate faces to the names of the participants. This photo is now in a collection of Phil Nathanson, and he kindly allowed me to copy it here:

Camping party in the backcountry of Santa Barbara in 1876.

From left to right: Emma Hardacre (sitting), Mr. Bishop (barely visible in the background),
Lizzie Pershing (standing), Abbie Hails (sitting), Louie Anderson (with a gun), and Kate Bronson (standing).
The photo is from the collection of Philip D. Nathanson.


[A hand written note on the back side of the stereo view reads]:

By the tent door L. K. Pershing. Has since made the ascent of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, a daring feat of endurance & nerve unequalled the world over. Abbie Hails, the taxidermist, clearing away lunch[?], bouquet of wild flowers. Kate Bronson with the everlasting coffee pot. San Louie Anderson, the hunter of the party with a handfull of game. But why doesn't she "hold up her gun up"? A blonde with hair cut & draped like Rosa Bonheur a fine sweet face too, not easily forgotten, once the dust of the camp washed off. She gave the best lecture of the last college course, Woman's Bread & Butter. Miss E. Hardacre, the correspondent, exhibits her botanical specimens. Sea Gull upon the tent. Bishop, the quiet gray old cook. Rear of the camp on the left—a strange looking crooked old Sycamore. "Jo" is studying medicine, says she was cut out for a man, but isn't.

[On the left margin]:

3 of them are college teachers.

As stated above, one of the participants was (Olive) Santa Louie Anderson (1852-1886), known by her friends as Jo. (In some documents, her name is stated as "Louise Anderson"). At the time of the camping trip, she was completing her partially autobiographical novel An American Girl, and Her Four Years in a Boys' College, about a young woman being the only female student at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The book was published by D. Appleton, New York, two years later (1878). Among her other writings, the short story "A Romance at South Dome" was published posthumously in the Overland Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 43, July 1886, pp. 57-74. The plot of the story is somewhat weak, and it is unrelated to Lizzie Pershing's achievement in 1876, but the narrative shows that the authoress was quite familiar with the Half Dome climbing attempts and techniques. While Louie has never climbed the Dome, her knowledge of the subject was probably at least in part due to her friendship with Lizzie. Miss San Louie Anderson tragically died in June of 1886, in a drowning accident near Rio Vista, in the Sacramento River Delta.

Abigail Isabella Hails (1848-1927), known as Abbie, was a school teacher in Santa Barbara public schools for many years. She never married. Her grave is in the Santa Barbara Cemetery.

Katharine C. Bronson, known as Kate or Kittie, was born in about 1855, in Connecticut, but spent most of her youth in New York state. She came to Santa Barbara with her mother, who was a Civil War widow. During the 1880 Santa Barbara census, Kate was unmarried. I don't have much information on what happened to her after that year. She died in 1945, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

Emma Hardacre, nee Chamberlain (1843-1930) was a native of Illinois, and at one time claimed that "Chicago was the pride of my heart". She first came to Santa Barbara from Louisville, Kentucky in May of 1875 to visit her sister, Fannie (Mrs. W. B. Metcalf), who had come west as a bride two years before. Emma would come back to Santa Barbara again and again, and eventually (in the mid 1890s) make her home there. By that time she may already have been separated from her husband, George W. Hardacre, who would die in Portland, Oregon in 1911. One of their daughters, Winnie, also came to Santa Barbara where she would become Mrs. Frank J. Maguire. Emma was best known for her article on Juana María, an Indian woman who had been left alone on the San Nicholas island, seventy miles off the Santa Barbara coast for eighteen years. Her story was published in the Scribner's Monthly in 1880. Emma died at the age of 86 in Santa Barbara, where she is buried in an unmarked grave next to her sister Fannie. Read more about Emma.

Epilogue: Bon Voyage

The school year 1875/76 at the Santa Barbara College, where Lizzie was teaching, ended in May. As we saw in the article about the camping trip (above), Lizzie's health was completely restored by now and the time came for her to return to Pennsylvania. Only one thing remained on her to-do list: A visit to Yosemite before the trip back home. A local newspaper published the following announcement:

Santa Barbara Daily Press, June 5, 1876, p. 4

A trio of feminine correspondents will leave Santa Barbara on Friday morning, on a trip to the Yosemite. Mrs. Hardacre, correspondent of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Miss Lizzie K. Pershing, correspondent of the Pittsburg Chronicle, and Miss Louise Anderson, correspondent of the Ladies' Repository, have written some graceful and interesting letters from Santa Barbara during the winter past. The two last named ladies have also been engaged in the College during the [school] year just closed. Our fair Saint Barbara drops her most elaborate courtesy to these ladies, whose gifted pens have so highly complimented her in letters to the East, and bids them bon voyage.

Two of them, Miss Pershing and Mrs. Hardacre, indeed left Santa Barbara on steamer Senator on June 9, and arrived to San Francisco on June 11. However, Miss Anderson's name is not in the passenger list.

Chronicles of Early Ascents of Half Dome