Bret Harte in California

He was born Francis Brett Hart in Albany, New York on August 25, 1836. His father soon changed the spelling of the family name to Harte and the young Francis changed the spelling of his middle name, which he preferred, to Bret. In 1849 his formal schooling ended at age 13 and by 1854 young Bret had arrived in California by steamship. He made his way to the Southern mines in 1855, just after most of the easy placer gold had been found and the gold rush was beginning to unwind. He wandered around Calaveras County for a while and wound up in a cabin on Jackass Hill near Angels Camp. Harte found the gold country hard, ugly, unwashed, vulgar, and lawless but it filled him with inspiration. His stories and poems later inspired many to come west.

Bret Harte

Eventually he found himself in the far north of the state along Humboldt Bay writing for a weekly newspaper, but when he wrote an editorial harshly opposing a savage massacre of local Indians he began getting death threats and fled to San Francisco. There he started a successful writing career publishing poetry and prose in The Californian, a literary journal. In 1868 he became the editor of The Overland Monthly, a new journal and it was here that many of his most famous works were published, including The Luck of Roaring Camp. In 1871 he returned to the east to continue his writing career but his popularity waned and after a few hard years Harte took a position as US Consul in Germany. He stayed in Europe the rest of his life but continued to write both poetry and prose.



  1. He would have been only 35 when he returned to the East. The West was really a young man’s game. Thanks, John.

    • It’s good to hear from you, Ron. Bret Harte was the first to tell the stories of the gold rush and it was certainly a place filled almost exclusively with young, healthy men. Ironically his first popular story, “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” is about a brand new baby.

  2. I remember reading Harte when young and I still enjoy his work along with his contemporary Sam Clemens. ( Who grew up in my neck of the country) Thank you for bringing his story back for those who don’t remember him.

    • Mark Twain and Bret Harte were close. I think Harte was Twain’s mentor. Twain stayed in Harte’s cabin at Jackass Hill, near Angel’s Camp, where he heard the story of the jumping frog that made him famous. Then Twain moved on. Thanks for writing. I love reading your comments.

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