“Dear Mad’m”
(Stella W. Patterson)

So many times in recent years, I have been asked by those who have read the book ‘Dear Mad’m’ if I knew her. They also ask if I had any knowledge of what happened to her after the years that she wrote about while living on her remote mining claim in the 1940’s after she turned 80 years old.

I only knew of her as one of the rural residents who lived the simple life deep within the walls of the Klamath River canyon west of Happy Camp where I lived. At the time, none of us were aware that she was a writer or where she came from. We only knew of her as an old lady that lived on her mining claim.

Years later after her book was published following her death, her story of the years on her claim became dear to our hearts, her vivid descriptions of happenings along the river, were real to all of us who also lived in the area prior to electricity and the conveniences of city life.

Excerpts from a newspaper column written by Medford Mail Tribune Regional Editor Marjorie O’Harra May 22, 1968 is a nice tribute to the author and I have kept the clipping along with a photo that I had of Mrs. Patterson since that time. I share my research with those who have read the pages of that book.

Ms O’Harra wrote:--“ In 1946, Stella Patterson, an author who lived in San Francisco where she enjoyed concerts, lectures, parties and many of the refinements of metropolitan life, decided she would spend a year on a mining claim she owned in Siskiyou County.

The fact that she was 80 years old and that she would be living alone in rugged, wild country, didn’t slow her up a bit. She packed her bags, took a bus to Arcata, hitched a ride on a mail truck, and arrived at her cabin, a log and lean-to structure perilously perched on a bluff overlooking the Klamath River, in the middle of the night.

And she stayed, for several years.

Her nearest neighbors were two miners. Rather than bother with the formality of names, she called one, Dearsir, and the other, Up-and-Up, and they called her Dear Mad’m.

Dear Mad’m fought everything from goats on the roof to bear in her garden and frequently she did things wrong, like “straighten up” Dearsir’s tool shed. She made friends with Frenchie, a garlic-nibbling, book-reading fellow whose background was questionable, and she grew to love Millicent, the little Karok Indian girl who read Emily Post. She was frugal when she bought her groceries in Happy Camp but poured over catalogues and ordered expensive seeds and bulbs for her flower garden.

She proved it is never too late to seek adventure and a new life and she wrote a delightful book about it all called, “Dear Madam”.

The book was published in several languages and was well received in the United States and many foreign countries because the author had the knack of sharing not only her philosophy of life and her experiences, but her friends as well.

It was because of the book that we took a trip down the Klamath River. In Happy Camp we were told that Mrs. Patterson died before her book was published but that ‘Dearsir still lives down there where he has always lived’.

At the same time we were cautioned that social amenities were not exactly a way of life with Dearsir, and that he may, or he may not, choose to receive us.

We probably will never know if Dearsir felt especially affable that day, or if he just wondered at what the dogs were barking, but he came out of his cabin and he seemed to understand why we had come.

In fact, he seemed pleased. Apparently we weren’t the first devotees of Dear Mad’m who wanted to meet her friends.

He said he was still mining up the canyon and that it was too bad we hadn’t arrived a few days earlier-before he did his ‘spring clean-up’ work. He said he would take us to his placer mine if we’d like, and yes, it would be fine if we called him, Dearsir.

He pointed to a forest trail that he said led to where Dear Mad’m’s cabin had been (the spot now cut away because of highway re-alignment) as we trudged up the steep hill toward the mine, and, he asked if we had seen her garden, now tenderly cared for by three Chicago businesswomen who had been so smitten with the book they purchased her property for their retirement home.

We had. And it was still beautiful.”

And on the cover of my First Edition book is this information:-- Mrs. Patterson writes of herself--- “I was born in Stockton, California, in 1866 in that tumultuous period following the close of the Civil War. I was educated by tutors and in private schools, graduating at Mills Seminary (now Mills College) at the age of sixteen. I wrote my first story for publication when I was fourteen; it was accepted, printed and paid for by the Oakland Tribune, to the horror of my English teacher. After studying in Europe I returned to California and led a social life in San Francisco, belonging to the literary set and basking in the light of Jack London, Ambrose Bierce and other writers. I wrote stories for Century Magazine, Colliers, and others. Then in 1906, came the earthquake and fire in San Francisco which changed my whole life. Most of my worldly possessions were lost. I fled from the ruins of my beloved city and have never returned. I decided to live in the quietness of faraway northern California and have grown to be a part of this wild and beautiful Siskiyou country. It is the sort of life I love and expect to continue.”

Like many of the other readers of one of my favorite books, I wanted to know the rest of the story and her last years. It took hours of computer research before coming to an entry in California Deaths, 1940-97 that I found that she had died December 23, 1955 in Shasta County at the age of 89. A trip to the Shasta County Courthouse revealed that the cause of death was Coronary Artery insufficiency and was signed by a doctor who had been attending her in Anderson, CA. since May of that year. She was laid to rest at Lawncrest Memorial Park in Redding December 27, 1955.

Since I live near Redding, I knew I had to visit her grave. One sunny fall day I asked directions to her final resting place and located her headstone, simply carved with dates of birth and death, I noted the day of birth Oct. 14, 1866. The day that I located her grave was October 13, 2002, I returned the next day with flowers for her birthday.
(Written by Hazel D. Gendron)
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