Years ago, Walt Wheelock, founder of La Siesta Press in Glendale, California, handed me a tattered olive green box with the letters “MES” hand-printed in black ink on one side. Inside were the original manuscript and photographs for the book Mines of the Eastern Sierra written by Mary DeDecker, past president of the Death Valley 49ers (1987). Considered one of the top three women botanists in California, Mary DeDecker, who was completely self-taught, was recognized nationally for her expertise. She founded the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society and wrote Flora of the Eastern Mojave published by the California Native Plant Society. A deeply concerned environmentalist, she had recently studied the condition of native plants at Fort Irwin, per the proposed expansion saying, “they have devastated the countryside; they have torn up the plants.” She was often opposed to the BLM’s management style when it came to the California desert, so in a way, it was ironic when the BLM presented her with an enormous plaque for her work on native plants.
Perhaps they were thankful, like we all were, for the education Mary gave them. When Walt Wheelock asked writer L. Burr Belden who could write a book about the old mining camps of the eastern Sierra Nevada, Beldon said, without hesitation, “Mary DeDecker!” Her book, Mines of the Eastern Sierra, was combined with Belden’s Mines of Death Valley in our Spotted Dog Press book, Death Valley to Yosemite: Frontier Mining Camps and Ghost Towns.
Unlike so many in the Eastern Sierra who had the luxury of knowing Mary for years, I was a latecomer, barely squeezing into that tiny window of precious time passing. But during that space in time, towards the end of a life that spanned a century and ended at the beginning of a millennium, I learned that Mary DeDecker was a woman of integrity and intelligence who had, amongst her many accomplishments, created her own amazing life.
From the Archives, ©2011 Spotted Dog Press, Inc.