William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863-1910

By Ben Procter | Go to book overview
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2 The Rebel from California

In 1863 Phebe Hearst was a young bride and new mother who, over the past year, had experienced an extended honeymoon to San Francisco via New York City and Panama. Yet, once in California, life was far from idyllic for her, at least at first. Although previous biographers have written that George Hearst ensconced her at San Francisco in "a handsome brick dwelling on fashionable Rincon Hill" and then showered her with silks and laces and jewels, such was not the case. Early in June, 1863, fewer than six weeks after her sons birth, she accompanied her husband, George, to Nevada City, enduring a 160-mile stagecoach ride over dusty roads and rugged terrain. Upon arrival, conditions did not improve appreciably. The weather was insufferable, the temperature rising to more than one hundred degrees during June and July, the town fathers continually dousing the planked streets and sidewalks with water to prevent the possibility of fire. Even though housed at the National Exchange Hotel, which was easily the best accommodation in town, and having a personal maid to help with young Willie (as they called him), Phebe was alone much of the time, far from family and friends. And what did she do to occupy her time? The answer was dismally rhetorical. George was away for extended periods, overseeing his business interests across the mountains, in Virginia City. So in this remote mining community on the side of a forested slope, she felt completely isolated, unable to cultivate, much less replenish, her cultural and intellectual needs. 1

Phebe Hearst would soon change these circumstances, however. By the end of July she took young Willie back to civilization, as represented by the Russ House in San Francisco, before purportedly moving into a "brick

-11-

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