Days in Butte: A Glamorous Tale of Butte County by
Florence Danforth Boyle
Old Days in Butte was published in the Oroville Mercury Register from November 24, 1941 through September 25, 1943. Each new chapter came out on varying days, usually several times a week. There are 196 chapters in all. Advertised as “A glamorous history of Butte County, town by town,” the newspaper promised “adventure, romance, comedy, murder, thrilling experiences from the Days of ’49.” Superlatives notwithstanding, it is an interesting account of the pioneer life in Butte County written for the average newspaper reader. Historian that she was, Florence Danforth Boyle wrote more in the style of a columnist, telling not only the history, but intriguing tidbits about the people and happenings in her historical vignettes. The result is a very readable story that still is an excellent research tool for historians.
It is not a complete history of Butte County, but does cover the majority of notable occurrences and places. Of significant importance are the details and names that are provided in no other county history. While compiling Old Days in Butte it became apparent to the editor that Florence did not dedicate a single chapter to Oroville proper or Ophir, its original name. In contrast, Chico has fourteen chapters dedicated to its history. One wonders why. She does, however, mention many of its residents in other venues and covers numerous small surrounding communities, some of which became suburbs of Oroville. When the editor asked Betty Davis about this, she was somewhat surprised, also not having realized that this was the case, she did say that her mother “had a pretty full plate” at the time she was writing the articles. She was a homemaker, a full-time bookkeeper for her husband’s business, ran the Butte County Pioneer Memorial Museum, answered volumes of “fan mail” generated from the column, wrote and did a radio broadcast and managed the local USO along with Walter Joslyn.
Mercury Register reporter Bill Dolan’s name appears on the columns along with Florence’s from Chapter 1 through Chapter 55. Apparently Dolan was the reporter and perhaps editor through which these chapters were submitted. In 1942 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and went off to war. It will be noted that as time went on, editorial efforts on the part of the newspaper diminished and the articles were published at greater intervals. Perhaps this also was a sign of Florence’s getting tired of meeting several deadlines each week. It is quite possible that if the series had continued, the history of Oroville would have been covered in detail.
The newspaper columns are published herein just as they appeared in 1941-43. Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 had a small photograph of her in the lead paragraph. The reader also will notice the unique type style used in the title. The Mercury Register researched and resurrected “olden type” in newspaper files from 50 years earlier. In the original newspaper series, this headed each chapter. The original newspaper articles have occasional historical errors and some of the material is folklore. As is typical in historical research, Florence had to rely on memories decades old and stories passed down through families as well as on old and not always accurate newspaper articles. Sometimes, historical fact is confused with folklore or the facts have not been discovered yet. The decision was made not to delete and change what some consider questionable or inadequately documented history, as what is folklore to some historians is fact to others.
A number of historians, considered knowledgeable in specific areas of Butte County history, reviewed the text for historical accuracy. Wherever any one of them felt that the history was questionable, the original text is printed in italicized type. In several cases errors were found where documentation exists as to what is accepted today as actual fact. In these instances, brief correction is made in within [brackets] and starting with the word “Note” and ending with “Ed.” Corrections are printed in a different type font to make it obvious that they are not the original text. In other instances where a name is misspelled or is needed for clarity, it has been added in within [brackets]. Serious grammatical errors also were corrected and occasionally words were added in [brackets] to enhance clarity. There also are instances where there is confusion in the text and no way to know what was meant. Such instances are followed by [?]. The use of (parentheses) is in the original text. Newspaper names are italicized.
A map of Butte County has been added to help the reader locate the localities described herein. Also, an index is provided to facilitate finding specific people, places and stories. Readers wishing to find the precise location of the many towns, mines, bars, and the like should refer to one of the numerous California placename books. Two very useful ones are Butte County Place Names, Forest D. Dunne, ANCHR, Chico, CA 1977 (currently out of print) and the recent California’s Geographical Names, David L. Durham, Word Dancer Press, Clovis, CA 1998.
It is hoped that the publishing of Old Days in Butte will stimulate further research into Butte County history.
--Robert E. Colby
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