Monday, May 30, 2011

Yank's Station - Pony Express Route

El Dorado County August 30, 1993

Rolling onward into the suburbs of South Lake Tahoe at Meyers to the site of what was once Yank’s station. Ephraim ‘Yank’ Clement and his wife Lydia, bought the existing stage stop here in 1859 and expanded it to a three story, fourteen room station, with large barn and corrals. It did well as a hotel and store till 1938 when it was done in by fire, along with a good part of the town.

“Warren Upson’s first ride was then, and still is, the worst section of trail on the whole route. The road was upgrade, steep in place, rugged, and through the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Normally clogged with the traffic of the Washoe Road, its track that day was covered with snow. Deep snow that would be with him all the way to Woodfords.

Upson crossed Johnson's Summit (7382 ft) in the driving snowstorm and dropped 1300 feet on a steep 2 mile trail to the Upper Truckee River. Riding south over Luther Pass (7740 ft), he skirted Grassy Meadow, dropped through the Aspen to Hope Valley, and down the rocky West Carson River to Woodfords. After a change of Horses, he entered Utah Territory and made a final change of horses at Genoa.

Hamilton's and Upson's rides were short, but completed in extremely harsh weather, and with terrible trail conditions. They made history and created a legend in the process. The nation owes all honor and glory to them and the others who rode the Pony Express.”

Larry Carpenter
California Division, NPEA

Plaque inscription: NO. 708 YANK'S STATION-OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - This was the site of the most eastern remount station of the Central Overland Pony Express in California. Established as a trading post on the Placerville-Carson Road in 1851 by Martin Smith, it became a popular hostelry and stage stop operated by Ephraim 'Yank' Clement. Pony rider Warren Upson arrived here on the evening of April 28, 1860 and, changing ponies, galloped on to Friday's in Nevada to deliver his mochila to Bob Haslam for the ride to Genoa. Used as a pony remount station until October 26, 1861, the station was sold to George D. H. Meyers in 1873.
Location: Yank's Station shopping center, SW corner State Hwy 50 and Apache Ave, Meyers
Google maps: 38.856787,-120.012417

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Strawberry Valley House - Pony Express Route

El Dorado County August 30, 1993

Continuing up Highway 50 we roll into the Strawberry Lodge, still in operation since the 1850’s. Being just 17 miles from South Lake Tahoe, this could be an interesting alternative for accommodations, rates are pretty good, and though they haven’t figured out how to take reservations online, they do have wireless internet. It’s named ‘Strawberry’ for a guy named Berry, who for a time operated the stage stop, and he had a reputation for feeding the livestock straw instead of hay.

On that maiden Pony Express run of April 4, 1860, rider Warren Upson was up to his mailbags with snow, and division superintendant Bolivar Roberts took off with a string of mules to help him through the storm and over Echo Summit. Since it’s the same route, it makes one wonder if Mr. Upson ever crossed paths with Snowshoe Thompson

A pencil rendering of Strawberry House by Edward Vischer, about 1861

Plaque inscription: NO. 707 STRAWBERRY VALLEY HOUSE-OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - This popular resort and stopping place for stages and teams of the Comstock, established by Swift and Watson in 1856, became a remount station of the Central Overland Pony Express. Here on April 4, 1860, Division Superintendent Bolivar Roberts waited with a string of mules to help pony rider Warren Upson through the snowstorm on Echo Summit.
Location: Strawberry, on Hwy 50 (P.M. 578), 8.7 mi E of Kyburz
Google maps: 38.796528,-120.146034

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Webster's - Pony Express Route

El Dorado County August 30, 1993

At the time Warren Upson would have ridden through here in 1860, the area was known as Slippery Ford, later to change its name to Kyburz sone fifty years later.

NoeHill photo

John Fremont’s 1845 account: February 25th. Believing that the difficulties of the road were passed, and leaving Mr. Fitzpatrick to follow slowly, as the condition of the animals required, I started ahead this morning with a party of eight, consisting (with myself) of Mr. Preuss, Mr. Talbot, Carson, Derosier, Towns, Preuss, and Jacob. We took with us some of the best animals, and my intention was to proceed as rapidly as possible to the house of Mr. Sutter, and return to meet the party with a supply of provisions and fresh animals. Continuing down the river, which pursued a very direct westerly course through a narrow valley, with only very slight and narrow bottom land we made twelve miles, and encamped at some old Indian huts, apparently a fishing place on the river.

NoeHill photo

Plaque inscription: NO. 706 WEBSTER'S (SUGAR LOAF HOUSE)-OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - This was the site of Webster's Sugar Loaf House, well-known stopping place during the Comstock rush. Beginning in April 1860, it was used as a remount station of the Central Overland Pony Express, and in 1861 it became a horse change station for pioneer stage companies and the Overland Mail.
Location: On Hwy 50 (P.M. 48. 0), 1.0 mi W of Kyburz
Google maps: 38.771099,-120.308726

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moore's Station - Pony Express Route

El Dorado County August 30, 1993

Uphill and eastward in the Caddy on Highway 50 to the next Pony Express marker from Sportsman’s Hall, we come to the wide turnout that was Moore’s remount station. Right next to the state marker are three stone sculptures that look like a cross between baby Stonehenge’s and tombstones. It turns out they are the three remaining  obelisks that stood on the four corners of the stone arch bridge that spanned the American River here from 1900 to 1930. Caltrans put them here in 1990, just in time for this 1993 visit.

We're up to 3200 feet in altitude and from here and climbing upwar, Pony Express rider Warren Upson would have encountered Broocless Bridge and galloped over the planks and rushing water in weather that was turning into a heavy snow that frist day of April 4th, 1860

John Freemont’s 1845 account:

The bottom was covered with trees of deciduous foliage, and overgrown with vines and rushes. On a bench of a hill nearby, was a field of fresh green grass, six inches long in some of the tufts which I had the curiosity to measure. The animals were driven here; and I spent part of the afternoon in sitting on a large rock among them, enjoying the pauseless rapidity with which they luxuriated in the unaccustomed food.

The forest was imposing to-day in the magnificence of the trees; some of the pines, bearing large cones, were ten feet in diameter; and we measured one 28 1/2 feet in circumference four feet from the ground. This noble tree seemed here to be in its proper soil and climate. We found it on both sides of the Sierra, but more abundant on the west.

Frémont: February 26th. We continued to follow the stream, the mountains on either hand increasing in height as we descended, shutting up the river narrowly in precipices along which we had great difficulty to get the horses.

The California State Park Commission, along with E.Clampus Vitus Chapter 49 put the state marker up in 1960. Moore’s Station was part of a toll road operated by John M. Moore snd was briefly a post office.

Plaque inscription: NO. 705 MOORE'S (RIVERTON)-OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - This was the site of a change station of the Pioneer Stage Company in the 1850s and 1860s. During 1860-1861, the Central Overland Pony Express maintained the first pony remount station east of Sportsman's Hall here.

Location: At intersection of US. Hwy 50 and Ice House Rd (P.M. 39.7), 9.0 mi W of Kyburz

Google maps: 38.769393,-120.447321

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sportsman's Hall - Pony Express Route

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

Sportsman’s Hall was the only Pony Express stop in California where riders changed.

During the Comstock boom which began in 1859, Sportsman's Hall was one of the most popular and most important places on the road. No inn on the Trail approached its size or the quality of its accommodations. The meals provided were famous to all who traveled this way and many on the Trail eagerly traveled extra miles to just eat at "The Hall." It served a host of freight wagons and as many as seven daily stages. It has been said that there were no less than a thousand head of horses and mules in the stables and corrals on many a night. You could stand in one spot and 300 wagons would pass daily.

‘Folsom to Placerville, Hangman’s yes I will
Remount and then I’m gone, make Sportsman’s Hall by dawn
Now my ride is done, hand off to Warren Upson
Second rider to the test, maiden run of the Pony Express’ 
© Radio Flier Music

Walter Harmon, the 30 year owner of Sportsman's Hall closed the historic landmark restaurant on Sunday, November 7th 2010, so he can focus his time and energy on the health of the soil. He got into organic compost, so as of this writing, the turn key restaurant is on the market for $950,000.
Property Features:
·         5000 sq. ft. Restaurant/Bar
·         1800 sq. ft. Patio Area with Gazibos, Tables and Chairs
·         Covered Bandstand on Patio
·         High Quality Carpeting in Dining Areas
·         High Quality Tile in Restrooms
·         High Quality Dining Room Tables and Chairs
·         All buildings in good condition including roofs
·         Thermopane windows throughout
·         Restaurant building has 600 Amp/3-Phase Electrical Service
·         High-Tech Restaurant Equipment
·         Seating 150 inside and 150 outside
·         Approximately 1 Acre of Open/Land for new development
·         2 Bars /20 feet and 37 feet long
·         2 Heating and Cooling Coleman Presidential II Heat Pumps
·         Large Paved Parking Area and Off Street Parking
·         5 Residential Income Rental Units
·         Sportsman’s Hall is known for it’s history
·         4 Pony Express Monuments in front
·         High Traffic Location just 45 minutes from both South Lake Tahoe and Sacramento
·         Signs on Highway 50 in both directions point out the Historic Landmark Restaurant - Bringing people off the highway
·         Ready to Re-open/Turn-key Operation / Need Food and Employees
Sportsman’s Hall Restaurant
5620 Pony Express Trl
Pollock Pines, CA 95726

(530) 344-7593

Plaque inscription: NO. 704 SPORTSMAN'S HALL OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - This was the site of Sportsman's Hall, also known as Twelve-Mile House, the hotel operated in the latter 1850s and 1860s by John and James Blair. A stopping place for stages and teams of the Comstock, it became a relay station of the Central Overland Pony Express. Here, at 7:40 a.m., April 4, 1860, pony rider William (Sam) Hamilton rode in from Placerville and handed the express mail to Warren Upson, who two minutes later sped on his way eastward.
Location: 5622 Old Pony Express Trail, Cedar Grove
Google maps: 38.749364,-120.618639

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Placerville - Pony Express Route

Sam Hamilton on right

El Dorado County August 30, 1993

Supposedly, this ad ran in Missouri and California and obviously no young man could possibly resist such tantalizing copy that promised so much adventure. In truth, the riders varied quite a bit in age, to as old as forty, but they did tend to be smallish. Originally, and in order to save weight, the company wasn’t going to allow the riders to carry guns, but changed their minds.

Every rider took the following oath:
"I, ......, do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."

The two riders that made the first eastbound ride through California were Sam Hamilton and Warren Upson, and they are the subjects for my song ‘Pony Express.’ We’ll be covering more details of the ride with ensuing landmarks along highway 50, but as to Placerville, Sam rode in at 6:45 am on April 4, 1860, having covered 45 miles in four hours after a three hour delay with the ferry, and riding through mud, in pitch darkness through a freezing rain. He changed horses here for last leg of his ride, a twelve mile run to Sportsman Hall, before the handoff to Warren Upson. In spite of the awful weather, they made great time.

1993 photo

This song is part of the album ‘Gold Country’ to be released in the near future. The intent is to musically convey a feeling of horse and rider, the pace, and with the stops they made.

PONY EXPRESS                  © Radio Flier Music

My name’s Sam Hamilton, first rider on the maiden run
Got my satchel, knife and gun, ridin’ through the rain and mud

My name’s Sam Hamilton, first rider on the maiden run
Put my horses to the test, ridin’ for the Pony Express

Quarter to three I’m runnin’ late, in the darkness I await
The delta steamer comes I hope, waitin’ on the Antelope

Steamer’s here I’m off in a flash, through the rain and mud I dash
Can’t rest I got to ride, mile count is seventy-five

Cold rain from the North, on this April 4th
I’ll say for all to hear, 1860 is the year 

Folsom to Placerville, Hangman’s yes I will
Remount and then I’m gone, make Sportsman’s Hall by dawn

Now my ride is done, hand off to Warren Upson
Second rider to the test, maiden run of the Pony Express

Cold sleet turns to snow, up the western slope he goes
Yeah we passed the test, first riders of the Pony Express

2008 photo

Plaque inscription: NO. 701 PLACERVILLE-OVERLAND PONY EXPRESS ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA - Gold rush town and western terminus of the Placerville-Carson Road to the Comstock, Placerville was a relay station of the Central Overland Pony Express from April 4, 1860 until June 30, 1861. Here on April 4, 1860, the first eastbound pony rider, William (Sam) Hamilton, changed horses, added an express letter to his mochila, and sped away for Sportsman's Hall. Placerville was the western terminus of the Pony Express from July 1, 1861 until its discontinuance on October 26, 1861.
Location: SW corner of Main and Sacramento, Placerville
Google maps: 38.727924,-120.803154

Friday, May 20, 2011

Studebaker's Shop

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

For $10 apiece, young ‘Wheelbarrow Johnny’ (1833-1917) built his innovative versions on contract for the guys that owned the blacksmith shop here on Main Street, and they were popular. Like most everyone that was making good profit in business, he deposited his money with Adams & Co. Word of their financial collapse got to him and rather than take it lying down, he laid in wait in the dark of a Placerville night and sure enough, he caught the bankers wheeling gold out the back of their building, most likely in one of his wheelbarrows. At gunpoint Studebaker got his $3000 back and saved himself from the panic of 1854 that rocked California.

With the knowledge of how to build a better wagon for westward travel, he moved back to his native Indiana and went into business with his brothers by 1858…just in time for the civil war and the government contracts that followed. Before ever making a car, they produced 750,000 vehicles. He returned for a visit to Placerville to a hero’s welcome and great fanfare, garlands of flowers, and banners reading ‘Glad Your Back.’ Today, you can still put your entry in the John M. Studebaker International Wheelbarrow Races at the El Dorado County Fair.

Sometimes a song will just about write itself, as if it was already there. It would be nice if they all came about like that. The concept of generations with different Studebaker vehicles came from a Saudi saying my grandfather picked up while there that ‘My father drove a camel, I drive a Cadillac, my son drives an airplane, and my grandson will drive a camel’…or something to that effect. The melody is loosely based on a traditional fiddle song called ‘The Ways of the World’. 

STUDEBAKER                     © Radio Flier Music

I’m a 49’er in Hangtown
Here for a day or two
Need a wheelbarrow to push around
The dirt I’m a-diggin’ through

Well there’s a wheelbarrow
That’s the best by far they say
Make’s ‘em deep and narrow
The wheelbarrow Johnny way

Chorus) And I’ll push my Studebaker
Up and down the hills
Push my Studebaker
From the mine to the ten stamp mill
Push my Studebaker
From the ten stamp mill
Push my Studebaker
Full of gold to Placerville

He moved back to Indiana
And he’s makin’ wagons fine
For the trip to California
Got a whole assembly line

Well my son is a-movin’ west
Needs the best dang wagon made
Son, there’s one that makes the test
The wheelbarrow Johnny way

And he’ll ride that Studebaker
Up and down the hills
Ride that Studebaker
No finer wagon built

Old John, he did make her
No wagon built as well
Ride that Studebaker
All the way to Placerville

My grandson is a-comin’ north
And wants to take the wheel
To visit me he’ll set forth
In a brand new automobile

Well grandson, what you need
The best car that is made
Its agreed no car exceeds
The wheelbarrow Johnny way

And he’ll drive that Studebaker
Up and down the hills
Drive that Studebaker
No finer car is built
Old John he did make her
No car is built as well
Drive that Studebaker
All the way to Placerville

Formerly on the wall of a building that is no longer around, the marker now sits in the corner of a Starbucks patio

Plaque inscription: NO. 142 STUDEBAKER'S SHOP (SITE OF) - This shop was built in the early 1850s. The front part housed a blacksmith shop operated by Ollis and Hinds, and John Mohler Studebaker rented a part of the rear. Here he had a bench and sort of woodworking shop where he repaired and worked on wagon wheels and the like. A little later he began to make wheelbarrows for the miners' use. He became engaged in the making of ammunition wagons for the Union Army - from that grew his extensive wagon and carriage business and, eventually, the automobile business.
Location: 543 Main St, Placerville
Google maps: 38.729313,-120.7953

Note: After being taught by ‘Uncle Dave’ Frey (of the song, Moonlight Motor Inn fame) to drive in Idyllwild, California at age eleven, a 1947 Studebaker flatbed truck was this writer’s first ride. His motive was that by baiting me with the opportunity to drive a real vehicle, all that had to be done was drive it down the road about a half mile and fill the flatbed with sand, and then bring it back. The magic of solo control and wind-in-the-face speeds of 20 miles per hour through the split and levered windshield wore off quickly.

Then there was the Chicken Hawk. In 1953, Studebaker came out with a landmark aerodynamically styled car that remains contemporary even today. They were called ‘Champion’ ‘Starliner’ and ‘Starlight’, and evolved through the fifties as ‘Silver Hawk’, ‘Power Hawk’, and ‘Golden Hawk’, till they finally piled so much chrome and goofy add-ons to it that it became pretty ugly. Around 1965, and in the heart of this writer’s life in the drag racing world, a friend of a friend associate had taken one of these and developed what may remain one of the most unique single purpose vehicles ever concocted. This black primered pre rat rod special Studebaker had welded to its frame a two foot extension beyond the front bumper with a heavy six inch pipe that sat low to the ground and served as ram, with the sole purpose of making 60 mph runs at free standing shopping carts, strategically placed like a goldfish in an Oscar tank. In perspective it worked like a pitching wedge hitting a golf ball. Every couple of months or so a call would come in that the Chicken Hawk would be making a night run with details of time and place. Gotta admit, though certainly a destructive act, there was nothing quite like witnessing the precision of a Chicken Hawk v. shopping cart event, as the tossed cart flipped skyward with the Chicken Hawk slipping underneath and evaporating into the darkness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Placerville and Snowshoe Thompson

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

If the great gold rush has a hub, it’s probably here in Placerville. It was also the terminus of the silver rush of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Rather than yak up old Hangtown and its history, this dispatch is going to concentrate one just one person, that in a way, ties things together.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains have little respect for man or machine as this last winter of 2010-11 proves. As of this writing on May 8th, there is still 15 feet of snow on the road over the Tioga Pass and they may not be able to open it till well into June. The railroads, highways 50 and 395, and Interstate 80  are often forced to temporarily close in storms. Imagine back in the 1800’s the isolation Californians had from the east…that is until Snowshoe Thompson came along. “People Lost in the World, Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier” – read an ad in the Sacramento Union, and Jon Tosterson saw it and said “I’m your man.” Actually, he was the only person to answer this call to carry mail during the snowed in winter months over the Sierras between Placerville and Mormon Station (to become Genoa) in the Utah territory (to become Nevada).

Raised in the Telemark region of Norway he knew the ten foot long oak planks would take him over the snow a lot quicker than the basket style snowshoes than Indians and Canadians used. They called anything that kept you on top of the snow ‘snowshoes’ then, Also, it’s likely he’d figured out an early version of the telemark turn allowed by using a flexible birch binding, and with a long pole for balance, braking, and climbing, he was set. With minimal rations of dried meat and biscuits, light clothing, and no water (eating snow), he’d set out with a pack weighing up to 100 pounds and ski nonstop for the most part for three days to cover the 90 mile route. It’s still amazing when you think about it, and yet with all the marathoning and iron manning going on these days, there are as many people answering this challenge as there were with the original Sacramento Union ad. As an avid back country cross-country skier for a number of years living in the eastern Sierras in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, thinking of John Thompson’s abilities to travel that distance, and with that weight and equipment remains almost incomprehensible.

They even came out with this postal stamp for him while he was still delivering the mail, and yet he was never paid.

While he was at it, he was among the first few pioneers of skiing in California and was instrumental in the birth of ski racing, and by setting poles for gates, invented the racing gate.     

The Snowshoe Thompson (non state) landmark and sculpture is a 5 minute walk up Placerville's Main Street.

This song has taken some time to put together and refine, and perhaps it should be called ‘Ninety Miles to Genoa’….who knows, but one should probably stick to first instincts. In calling the good people of Genoa, Nevada to check on pronunciation and it turns out they call it Gen-NO-ah, and not Gen-oh-wah…a big deal in phrasing. There are two other songs about Snowshoe Thompson; one done by Johnny Horton, and the other by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and both quite frankly suck. An example:
Go man go
Gonna get on thru the snow
Mush man mush
Gonna get on thru the slush
Go man go
Means mush in eskimo
So mush man, mush man, mush man go!

…….Yikes! That’s scary awful.

The recording of this song should be done sometime this summer of 2011.

SNOWSHOE THOMPSON              © Radio Flier Music

Ninety miles to Genoa
Through the night and day

Bindings strapped, wide brim hat
Light coat of mackinaw wool
On his back a heavy pack
He skis from Placerville

He ate dried meat and hard tack
And for water he ate snow
Eighty pounds upon his back
And Eighty miles to go

(Chorus) Haul the mail Snowshoe Thompson
Haul the mail away
80 miles to Genoa
Through the night and day

No blankets just a charcoaled face
So’s not to go snow-blind
A three day race at steady pace
No sleep of any kind

Up along the American River
Where other men would freeze
Medicine and mail to deliver
Up the slopes on giant skis

(Chorus) Haul the mail Snowshoe Thompson
Haul the mail away
60 miles to Genoa
Through the night and day

Some days so nice he could ski it twice
Others were pure hell
Sleet would turn the snow to ice
And he’d slide clear off the hill

Its Johnson’s pass and on to Myers
Brings Tahoe into view
30 foot drifts test his desire
To bring the mail through

(Chorus) Haul the mail Snowshoe Thompson
Haul the mail away
40 miles to Genoa
Through the night and day

Twenty winters through the wild
And never lost his way
Learned to ski as a child
Raised back in old Norway

Leavin’ Woodfords and on his way
A-skiing three days in
No reward and never paid
For mail deliverin’

(Chorus) Haul the mail Snowshoe Thompson
Haul the mail away
20 miles to Genoa
Through the night and day

Everybody wants to know
Why he did this for no pay
Through the snow at ten below
He was thanked in many ways

For the town shuts down, they gather ‘round
Once again he did prevail
Skis in their hero Snowshoe Thompson
With the U.S. mail

(Chorus) Haul the mail Snowshoe Thompson
Haul the mail away
All the way to Genoa
Through the night and day

Plaque inscription: NO. 475 OLD DRY DIGGINS-OLD HANGTOWN-PLACERVILLE - This rich mining camp was established on the banks of Hangtown Creek in the spring of 1848. Millions in gold were taken from its ravines and hills, and it served as a supply center for mining camps and transportation terminus for the famous Comstock Lode. John M. Studebaker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Phillip Armour, and Edwin Markham were among well-known men who contributed to Placerville's history, as did John A. 'Snowshoe' Thompson, who carried from 60 to 80 pounds of mail on skis from Placerville over the Sierra to Carson Valley during winter months.

Location: NE corner of Bedford and Main, Placerville

Google maps: 38.729707,-120.799028

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hangman's Tree

El Dorado County August 29, 1993 

Sadly, we can no longer hang out with George any longer around the Hangman’s Tree Bar, the building was condemned and shut down and its ultimate fate is still in the air. ‘George’ was the name for the dummy stuffed in old clothes that for years has been hung from the second story roof at the very spot of the infamous and long chopped down tree that was one of the more popular hanging spots in a town that conducted over 1000 hangings in the 1800’s.

As one might think, there are a load of ghost stories tied to this spot and tethered to the bar, a local institution since the 1930’s, with a variety of tales strung out through the years. Still, when it came to tying up a new song about this obvious choice among the landmarks, a slightly different course was used; the ‘hangtown fry,’ still found on many a breakfast menu in the region. There are two stories of how it came about; one was that the meal was the ‘last meal’ request of a convicted man before wearing the noose, and the other was that a miner who had just made a strike came into what eventually was called the El Dorado and ordered a meal made up of the most difficult to acquire ingredients in the booming mining village….eggs, bacon, and oysters. Cost of this feast was about six dollars, which was a lot of money then and it became a badge of success of the miner who’d made it after living off what he could hunt, fish and supplement with canned beans.  

The Hangman's Tree is in the upper left of this 1850's photo.

Hangtown, cir. 1860 - OAC photo

This little slide blues number written in April 2011 is what could be called a first cooking song.

HANGTOWN FRY               © Radio Flier Music

Let me tell you clampers how it all begun
Texas Swifty – eighteen fifty one
At the El Dorado with a story to tell
They called it Hangtown then, they call it Placerville now

“Boys I struck the lode and it ain’t no joke”
Pulls a one pound nugget from his leather poke
“I’m a hungry miner, been livin’ on beans”
“Cook up the most expensive food you’re offer’in”

Chorus) You ease in some eggs, big slice of bacon
Slip in the oysters, get the pan to shakin’
Roll ‘em up and flip that omelet, to the sky
You’ve got the Hangtown Fry, the Hangtown Fry

Mining town justice when you play it loose
Was a dance with Satan from the hangman’s noose
When desperados choose to kill and steal
They order this concoction for a last meal 

Plaque inscription: NO. 141 HANGMAN'S TREE - In the days of 1849, when this city was called Hangtown, vigilantes executed many men for various crimes. This was the site of Hay Yard, on which stood the 'Hangman's Tree.' The stump of the tree is under the building on which the plaque is placed.
Location: 305 Main St. Placerville
Google maps: 38.728384,-120.802381

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Marshall Monument

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

Here stands the poster child for California state landmarks, and the cover illustration for the state’s book on the subject. It has been said that he’s pointing in the wrong direction, but then again, its more about the statement and the importance of this gold discovery to the degree that they built this monument 120 years ago. Unlike the many thousands to follow, Marshall wasn’t looking for gold.   


The monument is made of granite and is thirty-one feet tall, and on top of that is the ten foot six-inch tall bronze statue of James Marshall. J. Marion Wells designed it, and it was cast in San Francisco. It was erected by an Act of the Legislature, in May of 1890 at a cost of $5,000. James Wilson Marshall is buried beneath the monument, making this a heck of a gravestone for a guy that died broke.


California's shortest highway

State Route 153 (SR 153) is a very short state highway in the U.S. state of California in El Dorado County. It estends only 0.5 miles from the junction of Cold Springs Road and SR 49, in the town of Coloma in the heart of California's Gold Country, to the monument marking the grave of James Marshall, whose discovery of gold along the American River, January 24, 1848 sparked the California Gold Rush. -Wikipedia


Plaque inscription: NO. 143 MARSHALL MONUMENT - In 1887 the State of California purchased the site for a monument to commemorate James Marshall, who in 1848 discovered gold near Coloma. Marshall's discovery started the 'gold rush,' that westward trek of Argonauts that marked a turning point in California history. The figure of Marshall atop the monument is pointing to the place of discovery on the South Fork of the American River.
Location: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma
Google maps: 38.800169,-120.89202


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gold Discovery Site

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

There are landmarks all over the place around here in Coloma and though most aren’t state markers, they’re worth a look.Nearby is ‘Gold Boys Gold’, ‘The Tailrace’. ‘Partners in History’, ‘James Marshall” (state), ‘Coloma Road’ (state), ‘Mormon Cabin’, ‘Sutter Mill Replica’, and ‘Sutter Mill Timbers.’ In fact, it seems like most structures in Coloma are landmarks of one kind or another, so as to keep them preserved for us all to see. The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West put this discovery site marker up in the centennial year of 1948, and from the looks of it, they built it themselves, in quilting party fashion.

It’s a pet peeve, and this writer’s opinion that Francisco Lopez’ gold discovery in what is now Los Angeles  County at the ‘Oak of the Golden Dream’ in 1842 should be considered the true and original discovery of a substantial gold deposit in California. Ah, but that’s another story to be covered in a later dispatch from 1994….about 100 landmarks away.  

Plaque inscription: NO. 530 GOLD DISCOVERY SITE - This monument marks the site of John A. Sutter's sawmill. In its tail-race, on January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold and started great rush of Argonauts to California. The Society of California Pioneers definitely located and marked the site in 1924 - additional timbers and relics, including the original tailrace unearthed in 1947, were discovered after the property became a state park. The State erected the Marshall Monument overlooking this spot in 1890 through efforts begun in 1886 by the Native Sons of the Golden West. Location: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, follow trail from Gold Discovery parking lot to American River, State Hwy 49 (P.M. 23.3), Coloma
USGS Quadrangle Sheet Name: GARDEN VALLEY
Google maps: 38.804835,-120.902052

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coloma Road

El Dorado County August 29, 1993

Skipping Placerville and the landmarks within for the time being, we head up highway 49 to where this gold rush began in 1848. The unincorporated township of Coloma today is a visual showpiece of museums and old buildings dedicated to reliving the atmosphere of Marshall’s gold discovery. The imagery that stuck from walking around here in 1993 eventually became inspiration for the lyric of the song below. But first, here’s part of James Marshall’s account:

"I went down as usual, and after shutting off the water from the race I stepped into it, near the lower end, and there, upon the rock, about six inches beneath the surface of the water, I discovered the gold. I then collected four or five pieces and went up to Mr. Scott (who was working at the carpenter's bench making the mill wheel) and the pieces in my hand and said, 'I have found it.'
'What is it?' inquired Scott.
'Gold,' I answered.
'Oh! No,' returned Scott, 'that can't be!'
I replied positively, 'I know it to be nothing else.'"
-          James Marshall

Coloma 1850's - OAC Photo

This song written a week ago was a long time in the making, for the melody is derived from a long time wish to use the essence of some of the hymns written by ‘uncle’ Major Evander Penn (the Texas evangelist) in the 1870’s from his publications of ‘Harvest Bells I and II’. In comparing this style to other music of the era such as minstrel or Stephan Foster popular songs, the music is more stark, simple, and exact, to be easily read and performed by congregations. The lyric is meant to show an example of the actual existence that awaited most of the 49’ers, many of whom arrived penniless and resorted to digging tiny claims with sticks and spoons, sleeping on cold wet blankets and dying from disease. Though the ‘air’ this style allows is a pleasure to play, it admittedly isn’t very perky. As with the rest of these ‘gold country’ songs being newly written, a decent recording of them should be worked up this summer of 2011.  

                  © Radio Flier Music

A miner’s eyes grow weary
The lamps in the camp grow dim
A winter’s night cold and dreary
The state of the fate he’s in

Dreams of life in Indiana
Left a wife for the knifing of the cold
Chased the race to California
And Coloma’s oceans of gold

Ch) See the ghosts of broken miners
Still searching for the mother lode
Neath the swaying oak the forty-niners
Pace the shade of
Coloma Road

He came to Coloma’s gold fields
Only to leave his bones
The silt and soil now conceal
Another lonely miner died alone

Present marker location
Syd Whittle photo

Plaque inscription: NO.
-COLOMA - Here in the valley of the Cul-luh-mah Indians, James W. Marshall discovered gold on January 24, 1848, in the tailrace of Sutter's sawmill. The old
Coloma Road
, opened in 1847 from Sutter's Fort to Coloma, was used by Marshall to carry the news of the discovery to Captain John A. Sutter. During the gold rush, it was used by thousands of miners going to and from the diggings. In 1849 it became the route of California's first stage line, established by James E. Birch.
Location: Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, in Gold Discovery parking area, State Hwy 49, Coloma
Google maps: 38.800169,-120.891806