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Nancy Kelsey Comes Over the Mountain, written by Nancy Leek and illustrated by Steve Ferchaud. Goldfields Books, 2015. 32 pages, full-color illustrations. For ages 5 to 10 years.


In the second book (after John and Annie Bidwell) in her Golden State Biographies series, Nancy Leek tells the true story of pioneer Nancy Kelsey, the first American woman to cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains into California. Nancy Kelsey Comes Over the Mountain is a biography for young readers with kid-friendly illustrations by Steve Ferchaud. Readers will delight in the lively prose and colorful illustrations depicting events on the California Trail and in the Golden State.


Nancy Kelsey was just seventeen years old when she set out with her husband to travel to faraway California. The Kelseys joined the first wagon train of Americans to seek a new life in the West. Thirty-two men crossed the desert and the mountains, and she was the only woman in the company. Tornadoes, swollen rivers, herds of buffalo, burning deserts and snow-capped mountains; she faced every obstacle and every peril that the men did, and she did it carrying her little daughter in her arms. In Sonoma she witnessed the Bear Flag Revolt, baked bread for John C. Fremont and his men, and helped to create the California Bear Flag. 


Leek’s Golden State Biographies are ideal for elementary school teachers who want to bring early California pioneers to life for their students.


“Nancy Leek is a master story-teller and has brought to life the heroic 1841 overland trek of Nancy Kelsey. Her book proves that women could handle just about any obstacle thrown their way.” Gary F. Kurutz, curator emeritus, California State Library and executive director, California State Library Foundation


“Nancy Kelsey had a true American spirit, ready for anything, and in the course of her long and eventful life, she did everything. Nancy Leek's charming story captures the spirit of the first American woman pioneer in California: brave, practical and good-natured, still a role model for all of us.”  Cecelia Holland


Nancy Leek became interested in Butte County history when she worked as reference librarian at the Chico Branch Library. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, she has also worked as a school librarian and a children’s librarian. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer (ANCHR, 2010) and John and Annie Bidwell: The Long and the Short of It (Goldfields Books, 2015), a picture book biography for young readers. She is also the co-editor of The Miner Poet: Poems of Pres Longley (Stansbury Publishing, 2013).


Leek grew up in Millbrae, California; Kamakura, Japan; and Kodiak, Alaska. She and her husband, Jim, are the parents of five grown children. They live in Chico, California where they have a large garden, a small orchard, and a flock of chickens. Nancy serves on the boards of Bidwell Mansion Association and Chico Friends of the Library, and blogs about California history at


Steve Ferchaud, a native of California and a resident of the town of Paradise, has been drawing for as long as he can remember. His parents say that he never went through a “scribbling” stage. He has illustrated over thirty books, including the Benjamin Franklin Award winning book The Carpenter’s Legacy. He received The Golden Quill Award for best illustrations for The Man Who Spoke to Cats, and NCPA Award for best illustrations for Joshua and Bigfoot. He feels honored to be chosen to illustrate a children’s book about local hero John Bidwell.

Nancy Kelsey Comes Over the Mountain by Nancy Leek

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