Peter Hardeman Burnett: California’s Forgotten First Governor | Mechanics' Institute

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Peter Hardeman Burnett: California’s Forgotten First Governor

Join reporter, editor and Western historian Greg Nokes for a rousing discussion about the life and times of Peter Burnett, the state of California’s first governor.

About the book: The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California

Tennessee-born Peter Burnett had one of the most impressive resumes of any early leader in the American West. He was the first elected governor of California and a justice on the California Supreme Court. He was also a self-taught attorney, wagon train captain, legislator, gold miner, and land agent for the new city of Sacramento. But despite his accomplishments, he is scarcely remembered in the state’s history, in large part because of his racism. A former slaveholder, he could never seem to get beyond his single-minded goal of banning racial minorities from the American West. Without white-washing Burnett’s racist past, R. Gregory Nokes’ new biography helps to restore Burnett’s place in history by recognizing his achievements, including his important role in organizing the first American governments in both Oregon and California, and helping elevate California to statehood.

R. Gregory Nokes has traveled the world as a reporter and editor. He is author of three non-fiction Western histories. His latest book is The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California, published last year (2018) by Oregon State University Press.

Greg’s earlier books are Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon in 2009, and Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory in 2013, both also published by Oregon State Press. Greg spent more than forty years in journalism, during which he traveled to more than fifty countries. As a reporter in Washington, D.C. for The Associated Press, he covered the State Department and traveled with several presidents and secretaries of state on foreign trips. He was also a correspondent in Latin America, with postings in Buenos Aires and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Greg started his career as a reporter for the Medford Mail Tribune, and finished at The Oregonian, where he was both an editor and reporter. He retired from journalism in 2003 to embark on a second career as an author and lecturer on Western history. A native of Oregon, Greg did his undergraduate work at Willamette University. He attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow in 1971-72. Greg and his wife, Candise, live in West Linn.

Meet the Author(s)

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4th Floor Meeting Room
Taryn Edwards - 415-393-0103

Future Meet the Author(s)

Sep 26 - 6:30pm

The Dead Beat Scroll
Author Mark Coggins in conversation with Randal Brandt

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Oct 15 - 6:30pm

LITQUAKE: 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week
Author Tiffany Shlain in conversation with writer Kevin Smokler

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Oct 17 - 6:30pm

LITQUAKE: Cantoras
With author Carolina De Robertis