Not much is known about the women of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony, including Jou Schnell, the Japanese wife of the colony’s founder John Henry Schnell. Silk is a fictional account which imagines what life may have been for these women and men in 1869–1871.

Author’s Note: The nonfiction sources used for this fictional creation included Daniel A. Métraux’s The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm and the Creation of Japanese America, Discover Nikkei articles, and Gary Noy’s Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues.

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Chapter Three—Neko-chan

Nozomi chased her black cat through the fields of Wakamatsu Colony in Gold Hill. She still was not allowed to bring the cat inside of their home. “Kitanai,” her mother said, pushing Neko-chan out with the ends of a straw broom.

Even though Nozomi was only seven, she was given a list of chores to do on the colony. Wash and clean dishes from meals. Help her mother with the laundry. Change the linens on the beds regularly and keep her eye out for bedbugs and cockroaches.

Other than babies, there were no other children in Wakamatsu. Nozomi’s skin ...

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Chapter Two—Wheelbarrow Wars

Shinshi-san went into her second bedroom, the one filled with mulberry leaves, and checked on the status of her silkworms. Hundreds of white skinny caterpillars, thinner than her pinkie finger, had devoured thick layers of leaves that she had laid out last night. It amazed her that these creatures could eat so much, literally many times more than their actual weight. Some of the leaves were totally bare, only their thin veins remaining.

How could she keep her babies alive until they could reach the stage where they would spin their silk cocoons? She knew that it was ridiculous ...

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Chapter One—Jou Schnell: Keeping House

Jou Schnell looked out her window of her small four-room, wood-framed house on Gold Hill. Through the walnut trees, dappled light streamed onto the dew-covered grass, a common sight during the last days of summer in California.

Her nursemaid, Okei, was late. She was just a child herself. Only about seventeen. Jou remembered when she herself was seventeen, seven years ago, when the Tokugawa shogunate still held power over her childhood home in Japan. The magnificent Tsuruga Castle in Wakamatsu was still standing in its full magnificence at the time, a beacon for all samurai still loyal to the shogunate ...

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