In late 2010, having volunteered to assist Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California, with research in pro-secession activity in California, director Susan Ogle handed me a list of names, places and events for possible investigation. One of those names was that of Dan Showalter, a California politician turned Confederate cavalry officer of whom I'd never heard.

Becoming fascinated just after reading the barest outline of Showalter's life, the next year found me hunting down everything I could find about this largely forgotten character. When I had finished my research -- which included the discovery of several previously unpublished items as well as obtaining the only known photograph from a Showalter descendent -- I had so much material that Susan exclaimed, "You've got a whole exhibit right here!"

And with her guidance, on November 5, 2011, co-curated by myself and Susan Ogle, my "Dan Showalter: California's Arch Rebel" exhibit went on display at the Drum.

Now being slated for removal in August 2012 in that ongoing round of ever-successive new exhibits that mark good museums, I've started this website as a place where, over time, I can memorialize and expand upon all the material accumulated on this remarkable Californian.

Hope you'll return often as this website expands and enjoy!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"On my road to that land of promise called California"

In trying to determine how best to start and then develop this site, it seems the easiest way to get the most down quickly and at least get going is to try here to replicate the exhibit as it appeared at Drum Barracks. In looking over my initial plans for the display frames, I recall that a few changes were made due to the physical necessities of reproduction sizes. While I don't have a revised set of plans reflecting those changes, in every case the result of the change was to omit something -- so in going by my original design nothing is lost and even a bit more is gained at this early point. So what you'll see now will be the visuals together with written commentary (minimally expanded), frame by frame in the next series of posts, as I would expect them to have been seen as one viewed "Dan Showalter: California's Arch Rebel."


In November 1852, a 21-year-old Dan Showalter, disillusioned with home life in the vicinity of what would become Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and heeding the call of adventure, left his home for the gold fields of California.

Four generations earlier, in the years around 1750, three Showalter brothers, all Mennonite missionaries, had come to America. The family had spread across Virginia and into western Pennsylvania -- then still the frontier. Ulrich, son of one of the three immigrant brothers and Dan's great-grandfather, fought in the American Revolution despite Mennonite disapproval of warfare.

John M. Showalter, Dan's father, broke away from the family's long Mennonite tradition, becoming Roman Catholic in order to marry a young Irish immigrant, Mary Anne Donnelly, mother of Dan and seven of his siblings. Mary Anne died in 1850; shortly thereafter, to Dan's disapproval, John married Sarah Kelly, with whom he had another seven children.

Dan attended Madison College in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He is reported to have had fiery red hair and piercing eyes. A previously unpublished letter of November 13, 1852, sent from New York, reveals his great sense of excitement to be heading to "that land of promise called California."

An engraving of New York Harbor on the front page of "Gleason's Pictorial" dated two weeks after Dan Showalter's visit en route to California.

Letter of Dan Showalter to his brother-in-law Sam O'Connor, written from New York on November 13, 1852, while en route to California. Previously unpublished, this transcript comes from Showalter family records and bears notes regarding the letter and its provenance at the bottom.

A clipping from the Daily Alta California of September 13, 1857, describing a trip of note by horse. This and the clipping below reveal Showalter as having attained some social standing.

This clipping from the Sacramento Daily Union of March 2, 1857, lists Dan Showalter as a presenter at a benefit to honor a local citizen.

A clipping from the Sacramento Daily Union of June 7, 1858, reporting on a large fire in San Andreas. Among the casualties listed are losses to the Showalter mining concern.

The official record of the 1860 U.S. Census showing Dan Showalter residing in Township No. 1 of Mariposa County, California (Coulterville). To this day, there are no actually incorporated cities in Mariposa County.

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