by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In one of the first in-person presentations given since a brief reprieve from the pandemic last fall, I shared the truly remarkable story of Yda Addis this evening with some fifty members and guests of the Covina Valley Historical Society. A series of posts on this blog exhaustively detailed the oft-tragic but always fascinating life of this talented and troubled woman up through 1901, when it was thought she’d vanished into perhaps an early death or a long obscurity.
Sunday’s presentation on “The Second Life of Yda Addis,” however, included Baltimore lawyer Ashley Short’s revelations, while doing genealogical research on the family of Yda’s mother, Sarah Hillis Short, that Yda lived about four decades after she was freed from the Santa Barbara County jail after serving ten months of a year sentence from criminal libel, though she’d won the right to a new trial, which was never held.
Ashley found that Yda likely lived in San Francisco in the years after her release, perhaps then spent some years in Chihuahua, México, where her family lived on and off since the late 1860s and where her brother Judge (known as Carlos) resided until his death in 1908. By 1910, she, her mother and her mother’s sister were in Laredo, Texas and, after the latter two died in 1913, Yda, known as Mrs. Adelayda H. Jackson, relocated to San Antonio where she spent the rest of her life, including over a decade in a state mental hospital where she died in 1941.
Tonight’s talk recapped most of what I gave in a June 2020 Female Justice presentation at the Homestead, though I briefly summarized Ashley’s findings and, at the end, added a last-minute surprise, which, of course, will just have to wait until the end of this post. Here, we present another trio of the young Yda’s published poems in Los Angeles newspapers, written when she was just sixteen and in her junior year at the recently opened Los Angeles High School (Yda was among the seven graduates of the inaugural class of 1875.)
As noted in Sunday’s post, Yda’s verses caused something of a stir in the Angel City, not just with the editor of the Los Angeles Express, which published most of her work, but with the Los Angeles Herald, whose first owner and publisher was Charles A. Storke, who Yda latter married and then battled in court for most of a decade through divorce and criminal and civil proceedings involving his son, Thomas.
Each reader, of course, has to judge whether these “juvenilia” are substantial specimens of the poetic art, but, in any case, they are representative of the precocity of a teenage young woman who had clear talent as a writer, but whose unorthodox path was marked by bitterly fought battles against powerful men.
For at least some residents of an Angel City nearing the peak of its first significant and sustained development boom, Yda was something of a phenomenon, not just in the pages of newspapers, but at the high school, in literary societies and clubs and, briefly, as publisher of her own journal, the Los Angeles Independent. Independent she surely sought to be and, whatever her later years involved, she did appear to have a bright future to some Angelenos who admired her poetic abilities.
The first work appeared in the Express on 30 May:
Do you remember ever
A spring day, long ago,
When you and I came slowly—
Across the fields, you know?
Do you remember ever
Our pleasant talk that day,—
And how, because of pleasure,
Seemed short the long, slow way?
How sweet our senses
Appeared the perfumed air!
How radiantly peaceful
Were all the meadows there!
The golden grain was tossing
Breast high beside the road;
Where stalwart reapers garnered
The harvest they had sewed [sowed].
The sky was clear as water
Save where, as white as foam,
A few stray, fleecy cloudlets
Were drifting o’er its dome.
I know we crossed a brooklet;
Its waters danced and sang,
And from the turf beside it
A tall white bird upsprang.
We sang sweet “Annie Laurie,”
And all along the way,
The reapers passed, and listened
Unto the strain so gauy.
I see it all so clearly—
The sloping banks, the hill;
I hear the sweet sounds breaking
Upon the evening still.
But now the grain is garnered—
The grass has faded brown;
And we, who rode there gaily,
Have also sterner grown.
Our golden grain is garnered;
But ah! a deadly blight
Has fallen down upon it,
And day is turned to night.
Of all our by-gone pleasures,
Nothing remains, beside
The ever precious mem’ry
Of that sweet Spring-time ride.
“Annie Laurie” is a song from Scotland, purportedly composed by William Douglas about his paramour and then expanded and rewritten by Lady John Scott, whose version was reportedly popular among Scottish soldiers fighting in the Crimean War of the mid-1850s. Note how the poem waxed idyllic until the end, when it turned dark with the grain reaped, the grass browned, and a blight visited to the narrator and her companions own “golden grain.”
This touch of melancholy and the element of tempestuousness is also found in her next work, which appeared in the Express a little over a week later, on 9 June:
Clouds are floating over yonder—
Tiny, fleecy clouds, and white :
And against the sky’s pure azure,
Beautiful they seem, and bright.
O, I wonder if those tiny,
Pretty cloudlets ever form
Murky messengers of evil—
Such as herald in a storm?
Can it be such lovely vapors
Cherish tempest and unrest?
Why, they seem like downy plumage,
Torn from a cygnet’s breast.
Clouds are gath’ring over yonder—
Gone is all their sheen of pearl :
And around their leaden edges,
Brassy banners they unfurl.
Now across the dark’ning heavens
Scudding drifts of terror fly :
And, in lieu of gently zephyrs,
Moan hoarse winds, and sob, and sigh.
Only see! from out the cloud-bank
Darts a jagged, flashing spear :
‘Tis the weapon of the storm-king,
And a hurricane is near.
Clouds are thick in inky blackness,
Vailing [veiling] all of Heaven’s light.
But a few short hours since mid-day,
And the world is dark as night.
Lightnings glare, and thunders shiver :
Howls the wind, and drifts the rain;
O, I fear that I shall never
See the blessed calm again!
But the bitt’rest pain is, knowing
That the dainty cloudlets fair
Those I gazed upon so fondly—
Brought the tempest in the air.
Note that a cygnet is a young swan.
As for the third of the trio, it was published in the Los Angeles Herald on 14 June and was written by Yda, who recited the verses, for a year-end program at Los Angeles High. The paper noted that “one of the most creditable efforts of the evening was the original poem of Miss Yda Addis.” After thanking her for allowing it to be published, the Herald added that “the lines are shorn of half their beauty by losing the fine rendition of Miss Addis, but still contain merit sufficient to make them welcome to our readers.”
Notably, this longer work traded on the heavily romanticized perspective of the pre-American Southwest or, perhaps, northern Mexico, the latter being where Yda and her family lived for several years prior to coming to Los Angeles in 1873, while also employing standard white narratives of the savage Indian. While certainly not an analogue, there is a strain of the romance that animated Helen Hunt Jackson’s immensely popular novel, Ramona, which was published a decade later.
Gaily singeth Spanish Lola,
Standing in the old zaguan [hallway],
Where the brilliant tropic blossoms
Fall her cool retreat upon.
Lustrous, silky, thick and ebon[y]
Hang her braids of sweeping hair;
Scarlet blossoms of granada [pomegranate flowers]
Twined among its meshes there.
Dreamy Lola looks and listens,
Pauses in her low refrain;
But she hears no nearing footfall,
And the song begins again.
Rustling are the palms above her,
Drowsy is the hum of bees;
Lola waits to meet her lover
‘Mid such lulling sounds as these.
Eighteen Summer knoweth Lola,
And not one of them can tell
When her heart beat not in gladness
At the coming of Manuel.
Tall and brown in Manuelito,
Strong and brave in pride of youth,
And Lolita trusteth wholly
In his vows of love and truth.
Dusky hair and scarlet blossom,
Olive cheek and throat of pearl,
Song of love and note of swallow,
Slanting sun on form of girl.
This the scene within the patio,
Turn we now where, far away,
Cruel on the dusty prairie
Shines the scorching sun to-day.
Clouds of dust rise thick and stifling
On the quiv’ring Summer air;
Should of rider, neigh of palfrey [a saddle horse used by women]
Mingle with te sound of prayer.
Here the lurking, wild Apache
Fell, with arrow keen and true,
On a band of weary trav’lers,
Worn and armless, brave—but few.
And the savage gains the battle,
Pushing on with demon yell;
Twang of bow, and target’s rattle,
Like a band of fiends from hell.
There, beside the trampled road-side,
Pierced with arrows thro’ the breast;
Damp his brow with clinging death-dew,
White the lips that Lola pressed.
Poor Manuel lies sorely wounded,
Wounded, truly, unto death;
For his eye is fixed and glaring—
Short and broken comes his breath.
Fierce the warriors strive around him
But he heedeth not their cries,
“Angel madre! Santa Mio! [Mother angel! My holy one!]
“Lola!” murmurs he, and dies.
All in vain, O waiting Lola!
Is thy watch for poor Manuel;
You shall meet, but son or later
None on earth may dare to tell.
Put away the scarlet blossoms,
Don the robes of grief and loss,
Only this remains, Dolores;
‘Tis the blessed Savior’s cross.
There are other poems by Yda that will be shared in future posts, but these three are certainly notable for variety, rich language, and evidence of no small amount of ability from the teenager. Perhaps some of the darker strains are emblematic of an emotional and mental state that grew stronger and more animated as she aged, though it may be unfair to link her artistic utterances to her future actions in life. Regardless, these pieces are very interesting to read and the Express in its 18 April edition referred to “a power of imagery that could only emanate from a true poet.”
As to that last-minute surprise, that came last Saturday evening, when Heather Brand got in touch to say that she’d signed up for the talk because she’d just, that day, purchased, at a antique store near San Antonio, a painting signed “Y.H. Addis / 1888 / México.” Heather had never heard of Yda, but she and her sister spent the night researching her! The still life may be a representation of items important to the artist, including a letter that appears to be addressed to her mother in Chihuahua (Alfred Addis, who left his wife and children a few times before returning to them, died a couple of years previously), books, and what looks to be an ink well and pen, as well as a brush and a fabric-covered decanter on a table with a floral-print cloth or, maybe, a shawl covering it.
There is some limited evidence that Yda submitted works of art in competitions at fairs in the first half of the 1890s, including pencil drawings and photography, while she painted “small Spanish pictures while jailed in 1899 on a charge, later dropped, of the attempted murder of her attorney and, she claimed, husband Grant Jackson. Who knows whether more of her surviving paintings are out there, but the fact that the one Heather acquired was so close to where Yda lived for about the last thirty years of her life, is notable.