Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pioneer Odd Fellows

Photo of the more appealing Snoeshoe Thompson Monument

Alpine County August 4, 2009

With this landmark we bid farewell to Alpine County and five of the six state landmarks within….gonna get to Ebbetts Pass (the 6th) someday down the line. In retrospect, Ebbetts Pass not being down the line is the reason it was pushed to the way-back of the station wagon. You see, most everything around here of historical significance deals with trying to get out of here one way or another, and puts us on the route of many names; Carson Pass, Route 88, 1862 toll road, Amador/Nevada Wagon Road, etc. Unlike its other two lane brethren that cross the Sierra, 88 stays open year round, except for extreme snowstorms, and is the alternate to US 50 when it closes due to avalanche or flood. From the time of the Pioneer Odd Fellows inscribing their names here in 1849 till 1869 when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, this was the equivalent of Interstate 80.

On January 3, 1944 this site was designated California Historical Landmark #378 for the simple reason that some guys inscribed their names on a rock in the pass nearly 100 years prior. Bigger things have happened. It’s confusing, for it isn’t as if these were the first Odd Fellows to California, a lodge was already established.    

Who are the Odd Fellows? Well, an unofficial mission statement would go like this: ‘Independent Order of Odd Fellows aims to provide a framework that promotes personal and social development. Lodge activities aim to improve and elevate every person to a higher, nobler plane; to extend sympathy and aid to those in need, making their burdens lighter, and to be a great moral power and influence for the good of humanity.’ The boys at E Clampus Vitus on the other hand, who likely put this landmark on the map, profess absolutely none of that.

Plaque inscription: NO. 378 MEMORIAL TO PIONEER ODD FELLOWS - On some large rocks near Carson Pass, a group of pioneers inscribed their names and the emblem of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 1849.
Location:  On State Hwy 88 (P.M. 5.3), 14.4 mi W of Woodfords
GPS 38.692184,-119.986008

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kit Carson Marker

Kit Carson

Alpine County August 4, 2009

From the Old Emigrant Road marker we head east on highway 88 for three miles. It was this route Kit Carson had picked using information obtained from Washoe Indians to guide the Fremont expedition out of Nevada and over the Sierra to Sutter’s Fort in winter conditions in early 1844. And sure enough, as the Washoe had warned, there was no food or game along the way the they had to resort to eating some of their dogs, horses, and mules.

'Kit Carson Marker' actually denotes the spot he carved his name on a tree.

John C. Fremont

There’s a pastoral place in Snake Valley, Utah named Pruess Lake, not for the hybrid Toyota but for Charles Preuss, the melancholy ‘old guy’ cartographer on the Fremont expeditions. While it seems as if everything in sight was either named Carson or Fremont from these early expeditions, the best Mr. Preuss could get was that small body of water in rural Utah…and misspelled at that.

Charles Preuss

As well as being a mapmaker, Preuss was an artist, and the illustrations he made of the expeditions were engraved and accompanied the published reports, for just like Facebook or a blog, it’s simply better with pictures. The maps and guidebooks from the expeditions became best sellers and helped the country expand to the Pacific. But again, all Preuss got out of it was temporary employment.

It was a bit like a serial western, with Fremont as the heroic Lone Ranger and Kit Carson as Tonto, his trusty sidekick. And then there was Preuss as the grumbling tenderfoot they needed to bring along.

To that trio of main characters, Fremont hired a group of cherry-picked civilians that were French-Canadian and American, seasoned hunters and trappers that could endure the hardships without complaint. Just about all of them were illiterate, so written record of the goings on were confined to Fremont’s notes and Preuss, who kept a diary for his wife. Biographers had to rely on Fremont field notes which were remembered and often enhanced after the fact, for the existence of Preuss’ notes were unknown. It turned out they had remained in his family and were found in the early 1930’s in his native Germany after a derivative ‘memoirs of a northern California pioneer’ was published. Attempts to retrieve the notes came to a halt with Hitler coming to power and eventually they were found in the American Memorial Library in Berlin in the 1950’s.

As it turned out the notes were mostly complaints about food and long hours in the saddle, along with tart observations of Fremont’s leadership and decision-making process. When combined with Fremont’s notes however, a good account of the first three of the four expeditions can be had. Preuss diary also exposes his weltschmertz;  that unique German word meaning roughly a growing world-weary sadness. That sadness eventually got to Charles Preuss and he committed suicide in 1854 at the age of 51.

The fold out from the 1845 report showing the 1844 route of the winter crossing of the Sierra Nevada. It begins on the East Fork of the Carson River near Markleeville, Ca (on the right) and ends at Sutter's Fort at New Helvetia (Sacramento) near the American and Sacramento Rivers.

Plaque inscription: NO. 315 KIT CARSON MARKER - On this spot, the summit of the Kit Carson Pass, stood the Kit Carson Tree on which the famous scout Kit Carson inscribed his name in 1844 when he guided the then Captain John C. Frémont, head of a government exploring expedition, over the Sierra Nevada. The original inscription was cut from the tree in 1888 and is now in Sutter's Fort, Sacramento.
Location:  On State Hwy 88 (P.M. 5.2), 14.5 mi W of Woodfords
GPS 38.694889,-119.989007

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Old Emigrant Road

Alpine County August 4, 2009
From Coulterville in Mariposa County we’re going to magically skip across Tuolumne County 125 miles to the winding scenic landscape viewed from state highway 88 in Alpine County. When formed in 1864, Alpine County had a population of 11,000, due to the Comstock rush, but today is reduced to a tenth of that, and like Mariposa, has no incorporated cities. Additionally, Alpinians have no traffic lights, no college, no high school, no fast food, no gas stations, no theatres, no convenience stores, no dentist, no supermarkets,no banks, and no ATM’s. In other words, you might consider being self contained when you come here 

Also apparently missing is the Old Emigrant Road plaque that we’re headed to. Dedicated on November 5, 1958, it stood by the highway telling passers by of the path to Placerville till some road agent of questionable ethic made off with it the spring of 2011. Sadly, unless there is local effort and financing, it will not be replaced, for even when economic times were good, the state has shown little interest in maintenance or replacement..

For a time, this was the most popular route over the Sierra Nevada range with 120,000 people passing through from 1849 to 1852. And later in 1859 there was a second run when silver was discovered in Virginia City.

Originally the improved route came to be when the Mormon Battalion on their return to Utah sought an alternate to the Truckee River Route the Donner party used. The earliest white explorers through the region included all-stars Jedediah Smith and Joseph Walker, but it was John Fremont and Kit Carson, in their famous midwinter trip across Alpine County and the Sierra Nevada in 1844 that brought attention to possible travel routes across the range. Since it was Alta California at the time, you could say these explorers were immigrants and not emigrants.

Plaque inscription: NO. 661 OLD EMIGRANT ROAD - Here the Old Emigrant Road of 1848 swung down across the meadow now covered by Caples Lake (Twin Lakes) and climbed along the ridge at the right to the gap at the head of the valley. From this summit (9,460 feet) it descended to Placerville. This rough and circuitous section became obsolete in 1863 when a better route was blasted out of the face of the cliff at Carson Spur.
Location:  Lake Caples, on State Hwy 88 (P.M. 2.4), 173 mi W of Woodfords
GPS 38.706699,-120.043847
Marker not well displayed but great view of lake.  No G-13 500' apporoach signs.