Sloughhouse Adventure

Ready for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Gold Country?

Okay, so you’ve done Highway 49, walked the streets of Coloma, and seen Sutter’s Mill.  Ready for a little different adventure in Gold Country? Here’s a recent discovery drive we took (with so much crammed in, we’ll finish it in Part 2!)

Ever heard of Michigan Bar? Placer gold was discovered here at a bend in the Cosumnes river in 1848 by two men from . . . well, of course . . . Michigan. And they weren’t alone; Nisenan Indians were already here, in a nearby settlement they called Palamul.

With the discovery of gold, of course, life was no longer nearly as quiet. During the 1850s and ’60s Michigan Bar became a thriving town, with a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 souls. There was a school, a post office, blacksmith shop, hotel, and that all-important amenity: a Wells Fargo office.

Some 1.5 million ounces of gold were said to be taken from the local gravels and gold-bearing cobble. But the real winner was a gent named Samuel Putnam with the foresight to build a bridge in 1863 across the river at Michigan Bar. And not just any bridge; a tollbridge. Samuel “carried away more gold than any miner,” as the local historians say.

 * * * * * * *

So just where is Michigan Bar? From Jackson, head north on Highway 49. You’ll pass through Drytown (so tiny now, don’t blink! But once the home of 10,000 people), and continue on toward Plymouth. At the T-intersection with Highway 16, turn left (west), towards Sacramento.

Here’s what Michigan Bar looks like today — golden grassland.

About 12 miles farther in the rolling hillside you’ll come to Michigan Bar — today as remote and isolated a spot as you can find in California. Stop and take the time to read the plaque explaining the tale of this “undiscovered” historic gold discovery site. Then try to imagine what the place looked like in the 1850 -1860s when as many as 2,000 people lived here, and it was the largest town in Cosumnes Township!

Contours were from early hydraulicking — and a recent fire.

Worth a short detour:  Follow this country lane back from the main highway to see the marks that early hydraulic nozzles wrought on the landscape (those miners weren’t going to give up after early placer diggings gave out!) According to the plaque, the Prairie Ditch (completed in 1858) is still visible nearby, and once brought the water for hydraulic mining.

Leave Michigan Bar and continue west on the highway another 6.8 miles to reach an oasis of magical fresh produce at Sloughhouse. Along the way you’ll pass a stoplight at Rancho Murrietta and then cross the Cosumnes River. Consider a brief stop there to snap a picture of the photogenic old metal bridge on your right! Another three stoplights will bring you to Davis Ranch’s wonderful roadside stand.

You’ll want to linger here — even in the heat!

Amid the fantastic assortment of fresh local produce, dried fruits, nuts, and local honey, don’t miss the books tucked away on a lower shelf toward the back — local author Elizabeth Pinkerton has captured the area’s history in two fascinating volumes called “History Happened Here” — well worth taking home to enjoy later.

A loader dumps fresh-picked corn before it is bagged.

And don’t miss the “corn experience” during corn season. Freshly-picked ears are dumped from a loader down a wooden chute, where workers remove the outer husks and bag it for  you. If you’ve ever eaten FRESHLY-picked corn, you know why this alone is worth the drive!

But fascinating as it is, the Davis Ranch produce stand isn’t the original Sloughhouse. To visit that site, venture on a mile or so farther west to what is now the Meadowlands restaurant, at the corner of Meiss Road (on your left). A hotel/stage stop was built here in 1850. After the first structure burned in 1890 it was promptly rebuilt, and this intriguing site is now a California State Historic Landmark.

The original Sloughhouse was here; and the Pioneer Cemetery is just to the east.

Turn around here at the parking lot to begin the rest of your journey. As you head back east, look carefully to your right just after you leave Meadowlands to catch a glimpse of the early Sloughhouse Pioneer Cemetery.  This land, part of a Mexican land grant to settler Jared Sheldon in 1842, is said to be the oldest pioneer cemetery in Northern California. Both Jared and his wife Catherine were eventually buried here.

The first two known burials were a young woman named Catherine Austin (who died of causes unknown in 1851), and a local gent named William Daylor, who died of cholera just a few days after Catherine. Daylor had gone for Sutter’s Fort 18 miles away to get supplies, and while there, kindly tended to a dying man; by the time he got home, Daylor himself was feeling unwell. He died less than 24 hours after assisting his unfortunate fellow man.

Even before these two burials in 1851, the spot was said to be a sacred site for the Miwok Indians, who cremated their dead here.

Don’t forget to take a few selfies while you’re at Sloughhouse!

On your return trip, slow down as you pass the Rancho Murrietta Country Club (on your left), and look for the turnoff to Ione Road on your right. For “Part 2” of this trip — the fascinating detour to Ione — watch for our next post!

Happy History Hunting!!  Please keep us posted about what you discover!

Love history? Sign up for our free newsletter (top right)! And check out our Clairitage Press books here!

Was Jacob Marklee Buried Here?

Alas, poor Jacob Marklee! His name lives on in his namesake town of “Markleeville.” But aside from that one honor, this first pioneer has largely been forgotten.

Jacob Marklee, as he looked about 1862.

We know Marklee was a Canadian, born about 1821. And we know he had a fine eye for real estate, picking out the beautiful 160-acre parcel (which now includes his townsite) on September 12, 1861. Just a year and a half later, however, Marklee lay dead in front of his cabin from a pistol ball — the victim, in part, of his own hot temper, buckling on a pistol during a dispute with erstwhile partner Henry Tuttle. (Tuttle was later acquitted.)

But what happened to Marklee’s body? Where was he buried? When Jacob breathed his last on May 14, 1863, the town was still in its embryonic stages. There likely was no cemetery before this sudden need arose.

We’ll probably never know for certain where Marklee is buried. But two important clues have surfaced in a newspaper report from just three months later — so soon afterwards that the writer describes Marklee’s remains as lying “under a still freshly heaped mound of earth.”

This spot overlooks town, with the creek below.

Clue Number One:  After noting a “fine stream” running through the townsite, the writer reports Marklee’s grave is “overlooking it” (the stream).

And Clue Number Two: Marklee’s burial site is also described as being “on a little eminence” above town.

Every time we visit the Markleeville Cemetery, I am drawn to the isolated point of land that overlooks the town. Two towering pines grace its edges, and the creek flows peacefully below. Could this be the spot where Jacob Marklee was buried?

It certainly fits the description. And on a recent visit to the cemetery, we discovered what appears to be the outline of a grave: rocks laid in a roughly rectangular pattern, with a depression in the middle. The view is serene. And it’s exactly where Marklee should be buried: on a little eminence (high point), overlooking the town that he founded.

Could this be Marklee’s grave? A line of rocks outline an area with a depression in the middle.
The spot in the photo just above is located near the left tree.

We hope you’ll pay a visit to this quiet and peaceful cemetery soon, and decide for yourself!

To get to the Markleeville Cemetery, cross the bridge and turn right on Laramie Street. Park at the pullout and walk up Cemetery Hill (it’s a long, steep walk, so wear good shoes!)

Like to read more of the history of Markleeville’s very own “Unsung Founder,” Jacob Marklee? Additional details of Jacob’s story can be found here: http://wp.me/p8oQ7A-Z

Happy history hunting!!

Found: A Markleeville Pioneer!

The old wooden headstones that once graced Markleeville Cemetery have long since turned to dust. Time, neglect and a bit of vandalism have wreaked havoc here; sadly, most of those who rest in this historic cemetery now lie in unmarked graves.

But this week, at least one of the cemetery’s mysteries was solved! Thanks to a devoted great-grandson and his 96-year-old mother, the final resting place of Alpine pioneer Friedrich Wilhelm Koenig finally bears a gravestone. It’s been a long time coming; this November will mark 135 years from Koenig’s death.

F.W. Koenig circa 1870.

Born in Prussia about 1840, Friedrich Wilhelm Koenig (or William F. as he was also known) was one of the earliest settlers in soon-to-be Alpine, arriving with his wife, Lena, in 1862. Koenig and a partner opened a store in 1864 at the corner of Main and Montgomery Streets in Markleeville — property they purchased from the estate of Jacob Marklee himself. Evidently a cautious businessman, Koenig’s ads warned sternly against asking for credit: “None need come for goods without the cash.” Even so, by 1866 Koenig himself was out of funds and filing for bankruptcy.

Koenig switched professions from storekeeper to butcher, and in 1873 listed his occupation as “shoemaker.” These apparently were more profitable undertakings; in 1873, Koenig was able to purchase the former Bagley Ranch and moved his family to Silver King Valley. There he not only ran cattle and operated a hotel but also began hauling freight over the mountain to Bridgeport and Bodie, via Rodriguez Pass.

Koenig and Lena had a total of five children, but sadly Lena died in childbirth sometime between 1872 and 1879. William soon remarried — to a widow named Anna Heppe who was working as a dressmaker in San Francisco, with two children of her own. Together, William and Anna would have two additional children.

But wedded bliss was not to be William’s fate. On November 6, 1882, he was killed in a freighting accident on his way home from Bridgeport. His wagon was found overturned, and his body was discovered beside the road, with his neck broken. His second wife, Anna, was again a grieving widow — and a pregnant one, at that. William and Anna’s last child together, George, was born in December, just a few weeks after his father’s death.

If William Koenig ever had a headstone, it disappeared for decades. But his 96-year-old granddaughter could recall visiting his grave, and luckily was able to describe the spot precisely to her son. A team of grave-detection dogs also visited the cemetery. The granddaughter’s site description exactly matched one “unknown” grave the dog team had found.

Headstone for William Koenig. Note the round silver marker where the dog-detection team earlier found a burial.
Placing Koenig’s headstone 8-18-17.

On August 18, 2017, Koenig’s great-grandson laid a headstone to honor him. One mystery grave: solved!

Grave of Maria Mayo. Koenig’s grave is located behind this plot, near a bench.

But several additional mysteries about Koenig still remain. Was his death truly just a tragic accident? Koenig was an experienced teamster, and there were whispers that perhaps foul play had been involved. A coroner’s inquest was convened, which concluded the death was accidental. To this day, however, the family has its suspicions. Koenig apparently had been in an altercation with a suitor sweet on Koenig’s oldest daughter. And according to a story handed down from generation to generation, the team’s outside lead horse had been shot.

And one more mystery:  Where is Lena, Koenig’s first wife? It’s possible she was buried in Silver King, near the ranch. But at least one family member believes she, too, is interred in Markleeville Cemetery, next to William.

Want to visit the Cemetery for yourself? After crossing the Markleeville bridge,  turn right at Laramie. Park at the turnout and take the (long!) walk up the steep hill to the cemetery at the top.

And if you look closely, there is, indeed, a second silver marker on an “unknown” grave not far away from William’s.

___________

Watch for our next blog — we may just have found the spot where Jacob Marklee himself is buried!

 

Memoir Writing: Getting Unstuck

It happens to every would-be memoir writer: your words somehow just stop flowing. Or maybe, despite good intentions, they never get started.

So you keep telling your kids you’ll get those family stories on paper. You ogle memoir books in the library and your local history museum. But when you sit down in front of that blank piece of paper or computer screen, a dozen urgent tasks popped up to drag you away, every time. Like . . . polishing the top of the fridge.

It’s oh-so-understandable and utterly common! But what do you do about it?! How do you go from “wannabe” memoir writer to “here’s my book”?

Even “bad” times make great memoir fodder!

Let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t kick yourself. Guilt won’t help you get words onto paper.

Here are three tips to try, starting right now, to help get your memoir launched and off to a running start:

(1)  Pull out your calendar.  That’s right — make a date with yourself and pencil “memoir time” in. Pick a day, pick a time, and block out half an hour. Just half an hour is enough to get you off to a rolling start! And here’s the magic kicker: before that first writing session ends, pencil in another date for your very next writing session. Things written down on a calendar tend to “happen,” especially when the commitment isn’t overwhelming (like half an hour). Before you know it, those memoir pages will start to add up!

(2)  Give yourself permission to start in the middle.  Some people had totally fascinating childhoods. But often our memories as a five-year-old aren’t the ones we most want to get down on paper.  Don’t get stuck thinking you have to write about your life chronologically. It’s okay to start with your most interesting stories — the ones you really want to write. You can always go back and fill in the backstory parts later.

Do you have happy memories of someone special?

(3)  Use prompts when you get stuck.  Talking with a friend, relative, or caring acquaintance about your life can often help get memories rolling again. It can also be helpful to hear what someone else wants to learn about. Ask that person to listen and ask you questions. Examples of helpful question “prompts” that can spur your writing on include:

When did you feel most special or proud?

Who was your favorite relative, and what is your happiest memory of them?

What was the first job for which you actually got paid?

What helped you survive the toughest times of your life?

I’d love to hear about your real-life struggles with memoir-writing! Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to include suggestions in future blog posts.

 

 

 

Walt Monroe Exhibit

 

Alpine County artist Walt Monroe was born in the tiny mining town of Monitor in 1881. His artistic talent became evident quite early when he began sketching murals in chalk on the schoolhouse walls at the old Webster School.

Monroe home in Markleeville. Walt was born in Monitor, the first of 8 children, and the family later moved to Markleeville.

At the age of 17, Walt had his first exhibit of wooden carvings. “In Markleeville, Alpine County, California lives a boy by the name of Walter Monroe. He is a genius in his way,” reported the Nevada Appeal in 1898. “There is on exhibition at the Briggs House some very superior hand carvings of horses and dogs done by this young life. His perfect work is done with a jack knife.”

Monroe paintings.

As an adult Walt lived a bit of a nomad’s life, roaming the mountains on foot or astride  his motorcycle, with painting gear tucked in a specially-equipped sidecar.  He traveled and painted from Bishop to Mount Hood, Oregon and as far east as the Great Lakes, sometimes trading his art work for gas or lodging. Perpetually low on funds, his canvas could be a scrap of cardboard, the back of a metal sign, or a wooden box lid.

But Alpine County was always Walt’s home base, and he returned here frequently. His paintings include many scenes of Alpine life including the old homestead at Grover’s Hot Springs and the peaceful vista at Blue Lake. Walt died July 13, 1945 of Hodgkin’s Disease, and is buried at the Merrill Cemetery.

Today, Walt is finally being recognized as the fine artist he was, and his paintings are becoming more and more sought-after by collectors. One of his works was recently discovered in a local antique store and snapped up for just $40 from a seller who didn’t recognize Monroe’s name.

Interest to see Walt’s paintings for yourself? A very special exhibit of Walt Monroe paintings has been assembled by the Alpine County Historical Society, and is on display at the Alpine County Museum through August 31, 2017. Although some works are part of the Historical Society’s permanent collection, other paintings were kindly lent by local owners just for this special event.

For more information, contact the Alpine County Museum at (530) 694-2317.

 

 

Six Tips for Memoir Writers

We all have great stories to tell . . .

We all have wonderful stories to tell! But memoir-writing can open up parts of yourself that you’ve long kept sealed. No wonder it’s so easy to put off!

If you have a memoir inside that’s struggling to get written, here are six tips to help get your life story down on paper:

1.  Start with the easy stuff. What could be easier? Jot down the basics: birth date and birth place; names of parents, grandparents, siblings. You might find stories popping up as you do this — if so, great! Make a list of those stories, and keep writing!

2.  Think happy. Who was your best friend in grade school? What were your favorite foods as a kid, and who prepared them? What music did you love? Happy memories are usually a great way to get words flowing!

3.  Go big-picture.  Step back for a second and think about world events that affected your life. Have you lived through wars, recessions, gas shortages? Did you watch the first man touch the moon, or the Twin Towers fall? What big-picture events happened in your lifetime, and how were you swept up in them?

A book grows by chapters. But you don’t have to write them in order.

4.  Remember decision-points. Everyone reaches a fork in the road at some time in his or her life. What tough decisions did you have to make, and how did you make them? (These stories can be some of the most fascinating parts of a memoir!)

5.  Go ahead, jump around. One of the biggest traps for memoir writers is the (totally understandable) effort to write chronologically. But memory doesn’t work that way. Go ahead, let your imagination jump around! Write whatever memory comes into your head and says “write me.” You can always sort your stories into better order later. That’s what word-processing (or a three-ring binder) is for!

6.  Welcome writers’ block. Yes, I really said that. Writers’ block happens to us all, and it’s one of the biggest gifts in our toolbox. When something is really, truly important but you haven’t quite processed it yet, your subconscious won’t let it out onto paper. Realize when you’ve hit one of those “big ones.” Be gentle, but keep coming back to it. Often if you can figure out exactly what the hang-up is (fear of failure? not knowing how to do something?), that fresh insight alone will re-open the writing door.

Like more helpful tips on writing a memoir? Get the LifeStory Workbook here!

A workbook can help keep you going.

#amwriting

#memoir

Bootleg Liquor

The tax man had a ready pencil.

Back in the 1860s, young Alpine County slapped fees on just about every article and activity. Would-be voters ponied up $2 in poll tax for the privilege of casting their ballot. There was a broker’s license; a license to sell merchandise; a theater license; a peddler’s license; and a license for keeping billiard tables.

On top of it all were hefty property taxes, which were imposed on all sorts of assets. A lawyer’s law library? Taxed. County scrip (that IOU when the County couldn’t pay you in gold)?  Taxed.  Cows, chickens, horses, and wagons all were taxed too. Pretty much anything of value became prey for the tax man’s eager pencil, including — wait for it — dogs.

Saloons did a thriving business.

With the abundance of saloons hard at work fueling early Alpine County miners, liquor licenses became an especially lucrative revenue source for county government. In one quarter of 1867, for example, liquor license revenue was 50% higher than the license fees collected from merchandise sellers.

Distilleries, too, were supposed to pay a county license fee. Not surprisingly, bootleg operations quickly flourished.

In 1869, rumors began to swirl about an underground liquor operation in Fredericksburg. “All search for its whereabouts proved unavailing”  — until a suspicious fire broke out in 1870 in a vacant house owned by Mrs. Woodford. “The whole establishment was thus unearthed, but the guilty parties have not yet been detected by the revenue officers,” the Chronicle chuckled, “and probably never will be.”

Bootleg liquor was a way to make ends meet during Prohibition.

Secret stills reappeared in Alpine County during Prohibition years, artfully concealed in local barns. Once again, Fredericksburg seems to have been a center for this illicit activity.

For local ranchers, bootlegging likely meant economic survival. “Almost every one of these ranchers on Foothill Road had a still in their barn during Prohibition,” recalls one rancher’s grandson. “My grandfather refused to do it, and we’re the only ones that went broke!”

Want to read more tales from early Alpine history? You can order our books, Silver Mountain City: Ghost of the Sierra and Driving Tour of Woodfords, Diamond Valley & Fredericksburg here!

 

What Killed Miami’s First Doctor?

At first he thought it was the ice collars.

When Dr. James Jackson developed breathing trouble in 1923, he didn’t think much about it. He had long been in the practice of wearing an ice collar in the operating room to stay cool in the Miami heat. He brushed his symptoms off as pneumonia.

Dr. James Jackson

Dr. Jackson had been practicing in Miami since 1896, when the fledgling settlement was only a few streets wide. Luckily for Miami, he stayed on — becoming the town’s first physician and jack-of-all medical specialties. He delivered babies; set broken bones; treated ulcers, boils and heart troubles. It was Jackson who ran the “sanitary watch” over Miami in 1899 when the town was quarantined for yellow fever, conducting house-to-house inspections for the disease. He also became the official physician for the luxurious Royal Palm Hotel, treating its guests when needed.

The lavish Royal Palm Hotel, circa 1901.
Hippodrome on right; Halcyon Hotel on the left.

By 1923, Dr. Jackson was still seeing patients at his office on Twelfth Street, although now in the newly-built Hippodrome building. He also was actively engaged in helping plan for a new City Hospital. But Jackson wouldn’t live long enough to see the new facility open.

That winter he began losing weight. A trip to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore diagnosed him with a fungal infection of the lung, and he was treated with intravenous infusions of mercurochrome. This heavy-duty “cure,” Jackson found, left him feeling worse than the disease, and he soon discontinued treatment.

On April 2, 1924, he died at home in Miami. In a gesture of universal mourning, the city’s mayor ordered all Miami businesses closed two days later, so that citizens could attend Dr. Jackson’s funeral. None other than William Jennings Bryan delivered his eulogy.

Less than a week after Jackson died, the city commissioners voted to rename the future hospital the “James M. Jackson Memorial Hospital.” The resolution passed unanimously.

Book from Clairitage Press about Dr. Jackson, Miami’s first physician.

Like to read more about Dr. Jackson and Miami’s early days? Check out the new book about him here!

#Miami

#Florida

#History

#DadeHeritageTrust

 

 

Carson Valley Civil War Vet

Chambers Lane, a rural road at the southern end of Carson Valley, is just a place name these days. But it once was an early Alpine County homestead, owned by Civil War veteran Thomas Armstrong Chambers.

Thomas Chambers

Born in St. Lawrence, New York in 1837, Chambers (like so many young men) became swept up in the turmoil of the Civil War. He joined the 6th New York Heavy Artillery as a private, probably in response to President Lincoln’s urgent call in August, 1862 for “300 more” patriots to help defend the Union. According to a fellow member of that unit, “there were no bounties offered as an inducement to enlist, and it is safe to say that patriotism is the only motive that brought this body together in defense of our country’s cornerstone, the Constitution.”

6th Heavy Artillery camped at Maryland Heights, 1863.

Chambers’ heavy artillery unit was trained to fire large canon, and for much of the war was stationed as a defensive force near Washington D.C. But in the spring of 1864, the group was reorganized as an infantry force assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Thereafter the unit fought in such notable battles as Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and won military acclaim for their “gallant conduct” at the Battle of Harris Farm in May, 1864. Chambers himself was promoted during the war from private to Second Sergeant.

When the war was over in 1865, Chambers returned home to New York, where he married Margaret Morgan about 1866. They eventually had a total of nine offspring, including a pair of identical twins, Myron and Byron.

The family came west about 1873, settling first in the early mining town of Monitor, where the Chambers children attended school. Chambers worked as a carpenter. In 1892, he homesteaded a 160-acre ranch along the country road that soon took his name, Chambers Lane. A devoted member of the local community, Chambers became one of the founders of the Fredericksburg Cemetery Society, helping the Society to acquire its cemetery land in 1891 from Frederick Bruns and serving as the organization’s first president.

Chambers suffered from “consumption” (tuberculosis) acquired during his military service. “They said you could hear the entire company coughing,” a descendant noted. For this combat-related infirmity, he was granted a Civil War pension of $12 per month in 1882.

Beautiful wrought iron gate and fencing surround the Chambers plot.

When he passed away in 1912, Chambers was buried inside a beautiful wrought iron fence at his family plot in the Fredericksburg Cemetery. His wife, Maggie, was later laid to rest beside him, along with three of their children: Myron, Byron, and Ella.

Thomas and Margaret Chambers are buried here. Someone has thoughtfully marked his grave with a flag for the Fourth of July!
Thomas Chambers’ headstone

Today when you hear the place name “Chambers Lane,” we hope you’ll remember this proud veteran and Alpine County pioneer. And if you happen to visit, his Civil War headstone is the earliest military marker in the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Like to read more stories about the early settlers who are buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery? Check out our Walking Tour book here! (it’s the fifth book on that page.)

#CivilWar

#Cemeteries

#AlpineCounty

#Markleeville

 

 

Key in the Tree

You gotta love it when you stumble across a mystery. Especially two mysteries in one day.

Key in the tree.

On a recent drive up Highway 4 we found an old key, firmly embedded in the trunk of a tree. Just a guess, but it’s probably been there at least 50 years — long enough for the tree to almost completely envelop the body of the key. Who could have left it? What did that key once unlock? And why leave it stuck in a tree in the forest?

As luck would have it, another nearby tree trunk also caught our attention. This one bore blaze marks, possibly flagging the original old trail prior to modern Highway 4. What pathfinder left this mark? And how long ago?

Such great mysteries for future explorers to puzzle over!

 

Tree at top of the pass on Hwy 4, about two miles west of Kinney Reservoir.