Frank Forrest Latta

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Frank Forrest Latta (1892–1983), California oral historian and ethnographer of the Yokut people and historian of the early settlement of the San Joaquin Valley.

Early Life[edit]

Frank Forrest Latta was the son of Presbyterian minister Eli C. Latta and teacher Harmonia Campbell, born on September 18, 1892, in Stanislaus County, near Orestimba Creek. Latta lived most of his life in the San Joaquin Valley.

As a young boy Latta worked on several ranches in the San Joaquin Valley and became interested in the stories of the early pioneers, and in 1906 began interviewing people and gathering research regarding early life and early farming in California. Latta also spent much time researching the Miller & Lux farming corporation and its founders Henry Miller and Charles Lux.

To support himself Frank F. Latta became a teacher. He taught drafting and carpentry at high schools in Gustine, Porterville, Shafter and Bakersfield, California from 1915 to 1945. In 1919, he married Jeanette Allen and they had four children.[1] When not teaching Latta was traveling the San Joaquin Valley, interviewing pioneers and Native Americans, gathering artifacts articles or writing at home. He published a large number of articles in San Joaquin Valley newspapers during the 1920s and 1930s.[2]

Historical and Ethnographic Writing[edit]

In the early 1920s he began interviewing surviving Yokuts and settlers acquainted with them. Among these was Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, ("Uncle Jeff"), the youngest son of a settler on the Kern River from Texas, William Mayfield. Uncle Jeff grew up in a Yokuts village, following the death of his mother. His story prompted Latta to write his story, first as a series of newspaper articles, then as a book Uncle Jeff's Story : a tale of a San Joaquin Valley pioneer and his life with the Yokuts Indians in 1929. First printed in 1936, California Indian Folklore was Frank Latta's first work that specifically focused on the Native Americans of the San Joaquin Valley, describing the culture of the many tribes of the Yokuts. Also in 1936 he published a small book El Camino Viejo á Los Angeles, describing the route and history of El Camino Viejo, the old Spanish road and the settlements along it on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, from Los Angeles to what is now Oakland. Born near were that road crossed Orestimba Creek, it was a route that he had traced on his trips through the valley and taken photos of many of its features and landmarks. In 1938, Latta was honored with the presidency of the League of Western Writers.

Latta helped found the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield in 1941 where he worked both as a curator and as its director from 1945 until 1956. Latta also continued his research into the Yokuts. From this information gathered for more than a half-century, interviewing over 200 elderly Yokuts and a number of settlers, Latta compiled and published the Handbook of Yokuts Indians, in 1949. The first edition was published through the Kern County Museum in a first issue of only 500 copies. A revised and enlarged edition would be published by him in 1977.[3]

Also in 1949, Latta published his book Black Gold In The Joaquin, the story of the oil industry in the San Joaquin Valley in California, from the Indian usage of the oil, to the discoveries and the development of the extraction technology from the mid - 19th century to 1900.

In 1956 Latta moved to Santa Cruz, purchasing the Gazos Ranch in southern San Mateo County, formerly the Steele Ranch, south of Pescadero, California near Gazos Creek. He and his wife Jean intended to retire there and to turn the ranch into a historical museum to house his extensive collection of historical items he had collected over the years. He also intended to expand it into an 80-acre picnic and camping area stretching for a mile along the coast between Ano Nuevo Island and Pigeon Point with a realistic California Indian village and a pioneer California town.[4] After going through official county procedures, Latta thought he was on his way to beginning his larger project, and made a public announcement of it, but then was stopped in the late 1950s.[5] However he was able to establish the Rancho Gazos Historical Indian and Early Californian Museum.[6]

Later Life[edit]

Late in his life he published a series of books from information he had gathered over many years. The Dalton Gang Days and the Saga of Rancho El Tejon were first published in 1976. Tailholt Tales, a much expanded version of Mayfield's memoir, was also published in that year, decades after his first efforts at correcting, commenting upon and filling out the original slim volume[7] in the 1920s. Death Valley '49ers was first published in 1979, and Joaquín Murrieta and His Horse Gangs, first published in 1980.

Frank Forrest Latta died in Santa Cruz in May 8, 1983, and was buried at Hills Ferry Cemetery in Newman, California not far from where he was born.[8]

References[edit]