This Charming Markleeville Cottage Has a Story

One glance, and you just know this Markleeville cottage has a story!  And quite a story it is.

In 1864, this was the site of the Empire Meat Market, owned by a butcher named M. Peltier. To help promote sales, Peltier hired Augustus T. “Gus” Lee to run a meat wagon peddling his meat to outlying communities like Monitor. It seemed like a good idea at the outset, but the mobile meat market idea proved a dud. One day after Lee returned from his rounds, Peltier informed Lee that he was now unemployed.

Lee had just lost a young daughter and was already grieving. Another calamity was too much. After fortifying himself with a drink or three at a bar close by, Lee stormed back to the meat market and confronted Lee with a raised fist. The startled Peltier did what all good butchers would do; he picked up a meat cleaver to defend himself. Lee quickly found a butcher knife to even the odds and proceeded to stab Peltier in the throat — all of which goes to prove that a meat market is a pretty inauspicious place to hold a fight.

Peltier was able to stagger down the street to the office of Dr. Waters (roughly behind today’s courthouse), but soon expired from his wounds. Lee himself was so badly wounded that court proceedings against him were delayed.

Meat hooks salvaged from the butcher shop’s early days, plus a horseshoe in the middle for good luck.

Needless to say, the butcher shop changed hands. The following year (1865) it reopened with new proprietors H.L. Marsden and C.H. Kilgore at the helm.

Yet another tragedy ensued here twenty years later when the Great Fire of 1885 engulfed most of Markleeville’s downtown. The butcher shop was smack in the middle of the conflagration and became one of the many casualties of the fire. Then-owner John Cronkite promptly rebuilt, however, erecting another butcher shop on the same site — today’s building — in 1886. According to local lore, the basement was specially constructed to stay cool, using sixteen-inch walls filled with dirt. Ice harvested from the creek in winter months likely also helped provide refrigeration.

Bill Eggleston’s grave is still visible at the Fredericksburg Cemetery — where kind souls pruned back a thriving lilac bush so the headstone can be read.

The property remained a meat market until about 1916 when it was purchased by William Barrett and his wife, Wilda (the local postmistress), and the Barretts converted it to a residence. It later became the home of woodworker William Eggleston, who added the section on the north as a workshop. War hero Hoke Barrett and his wife June lived here in later years, and Hoke is said to have added the quonset hut on the side.

Today, the former butcher shop is a private residence, and the quonset hut features an eye-catching tie-dye emporium in summer months.

Markleeville’s Oldest House?

This charming cottage may hold a giant secret:  it just could be Markleeville’s oldest surviving original structure from its Silver Rush heydays.

We know that the home is over a century old – photographs show it in 1905, when it served as the residence of George and Nellie Koenig. (George owned a bar known as Koenig’s Exchange, conveniently located right across the street.)

Daughter Lucille was born in this house in 1906 and eventually grew up to be Alpine’s Sheriff – the first woman sheriff in all of California! Locals still call this the “pink house,” thanks to the family’s whimsical choice in paint.

While a century alone is a respectable life-span, at least one tantalizing hint suggests this quaint house may be even older still:  square nails were reportedly found in the walls during remodeling.

If this is indeed the original building at this site, it has a fabulous history! The town’s early newspaper, the Alpine Chronicle, opened its doors here in 1864 as Markleeville was booming — and while the Civil War was still raging. Patriotic publisher R.M. Folger proudly flew a flag outside his office, and the town’s Armory was right across the street.

The Chronicle office was across the street from the “City Hall” (the town Armory).

Journalist Henry Eno would have strolled down Montgomery Street to cross the Chronicle‘s threshhold in 1865; a job here as an editor is what first brought Eno to town. He later would become an Alpine County judge. Snuggling beside the Chronicle office on the half-lot to the west was a “store” run by William Timson – featuring a billiard table and a full stock of “wines, liquors, cordials, and syrups.”

The Chronicle moved its operation to the county seat at Silver Mountain City in September, 1867, and thereafter the building was converted into a residence. Thanks to “hard work” by homeowner James Stuard in 1885, it managed to survive Markleeville’s Great Fire although much of Main Street was wiped out in the catastrophe.

Today the property remains a private residence (thankfully no longer painted pink). As for the home’s exact age – for now, it’s a subject of rumor, speculation and conjecture. But this just could be the oldest surviving structure from early Markleeville.

Silver Mountain City’s Stone Jail

The original heavy iron cell doors can still be seen at the Alpine Museum.

If you’ve ever traveled California’s lonely Highway 4, you may have seen these mysterious stone ruins. They’re one of the few tangible remains of Silver Mountain City, Alpine County’s original county seat.  This was the county’s jail, built in 1867 and built to last!  Eighteen-inch outer walls were hewn from the volcanic cliff east of town, and the jail’s two interior cells were fabricated of solid iron plate. The grated cell doors alone weighed an astonishing 500 pounds apiece!

The jail’s construction faced a few stumbling blocks along the way.  Malcontents in nearby Markleeville held meetings to protest the jail project, noting correctly that the county’s Building Fund did not contain funds enough to cover the edifice’s $4,000 contract price.

The 1867 advertisement requesting bids contained a typo in the date — off by a decade.

Advertisement for bids featured a typo in the date.  And when the structure was finally completed around December of 1867, months later than projected, the total price tag came to $7,000 – nearly twice the original bid.  Even when completed, the jail was a source of local grumbling.  It was “ill advised and uncalled for,” the local newspaper concluded:  “If the county comes out, the jail is too small; and if the county don’t come out, it’s too large.”  During its first five years of operation the jail would house a mere four criminals — at a cost to the county averaging a whopping $2,000 per prisoner.

One infamous inhabitant of the old stone jail was a fellow named Ernst Reusch, who took justice into his own hands on the cold, dark night of December 17, 1872.  Incensed that his wife had taken up with local saloon owner Erick Errickson, Reusch procured a shotgun, loaded it with buckshot, and proceeded to discharge both barrels into the unsuspecting Errickson through the window of his saloon.

Reusch was taken into custody and languished in the cold stone jail for the next year and a half.  Finally, on April 17, 1874, while supposedly being transported to Mono County for his “fair” trial, Reusch was ambushed by a group of masked men, attached to a rope, and pitched over the side of a bridge near Markleeville — a site still known today as Hangman’s Bridge.

Silver Mountain City, ca. 1867. The jail may be the small light-roofed building just below the twin trees in the center of the photo.

In 1875, Alpine County’s seat was officially moved from Silver Mountain City to Markleeville, and the old stone jail saw its last.  A wall was demolished in the summer of 1876 and the expensive iron jail cells were hauled by wagon to Markleeville, where they were incorporated into a new log jail building.

Visitors to Markleeville today can still walk inside this same log jail and stand inside one of its  early iron jail cells at the Alpine Museum — perhaps the very cell that once held ill-fated Ernst Reusch!  For information on visiting, call the Museum at (530) 694-2317.

To read more about Silver Mountain City, see  http://www.clairitage.com/books.html and http://www.karendustman.com/AboutSilverMountain.aspx

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#SilverMountainCity #Markleeville #AlpineCounty #EbbettsPass #CaliforniaHistory

 

Fredericksburg Cemetery Tale

Fredericksburg Cemetery

It’s a tiny gem of a cemetery, nestled on the eastern shoulder of the great Sierra Nevada. It’s also the last remaining vestige of the once-thriving ghost town of Fredericksburg, one of Alpine County’s earliest settlements.

Since its first burial in 1895, Fredericksburg Cemetery has become the final resting place for many Alpine pioneers — and remains home to a nearly-forgotten tale or three.

One fascinating story is that of Margaret Jones, a young Welshwoman. Margaret married Alpine rancher John Ellis in 1893 when he went home to Wales to find a bride. The newlyweds returned to Ellis’s Diamond Valley home, and Margaret soon settled in.

She was said to have the “gift of second sight,” and began to tell fortunes for local folks — so accurately, in fact, that her husband finally ordered her to stop. Her predictions were coming true so often that their Alpine neighbors found it disconcerting.

One day, John came home to find Margaret ironing his shirt. “What’s that for?” he asked. “You’re going to wear it to a man’s funeral in two days,” she predicted confidently, although the neighbor in question wasn’t sick. “And when you get home, be sure and hang it up carefully because you’ll wear that same shirt to my funeral two days after that.”

Sadly, Margaret’s prediction came true; she died in childbirth exactly four days later.

Graves of Margaret and John Ellis. Margaret was born in 1865 and died in 1901, just before her 36th birthday.

Margaret Ellis is buried here at Fredericksburg, with her newborn child. John bought this cemetery plot on March 2, 1901, the day that Margaret died. And although he lived another 23 years, John now rests here beside her too.

To visit the Fredericksburg Cemetery:

The Fredericksburg Cemetery is just south of the California/Nevada State line, off Highway 88, in Alpine County. (Map copyright K.Dustman).

#Cemeteries #AlpineCounty #FredericksburgCA

 

 

Lute Olds’ Nine Lives

Think you have problems? Carson Valley pioneer Luther Olds most likely has you beat.

Lute Olds, circa 1869.

Among the disasters in his disaster-prone life:

  • A “row” took place at his residence in 1858 in which women were said to be hanging out the windows in horror and several men were stabbed in the arm, back, and hand.
  • Olds was arrested in 1858 for “harboring horse thieves” and threatened with the same fate as not-so-lucky Lucky Bill. (Olds escaped hanging and was fined $875 and banished from the valley “on penalty of being shot.”)
  • He was indicted in Judge Cradlebaugh’s court in 1860 for larceny.
  • A fire in 1861 not only burned Olds’ hotel to the ground but also killed his first-born daughter, leading his wife to later divorce him.
  • Olds was aboard the ill-fated steamer “Active” in 1870 when it hit a rock in heavy fog on its trip from San Francisco to Victoria B.C., shipwrecking him off the coast of Mendocino.
  • A windstorm in 1873 carried his barn off “so clean that no one would suppose he ever had a barn.”
  • Lute’s oldest daughter died of diphtheria in 1879 and he lost a second child that same year, a son who died shortly after birth. As if that weren’t enough, Olds lost his ranch that same year to a Sheriff’s Sale to satisfy a money judgment in favor of his arch-enemy, Anthony McGwin.
  • Trying to get even with McGwin in 1880, Lute sued McGwin for making off with some property. Lute not only lost that lawsuit but was ordered to pay McGwin’s court costs.
  • Resorting to drink, Lute wrecked his buggy in an alcohol-fueled accident in 1881. Pieces of the buggy were reportedly strewn “from Genoa to Walley’s.”

His nine lives over, Lute’s luck finally ran out for good in 1882. He drowned in yet another drunken buggy crash after visiting his brother, David, near Bishop.

Lute’s younger brother, David Olds.

Lute Olds was born about 1828, and came west with his brother David about 1850 from Michigan, settling in Sacramento. Lute, David and friend Lucky Bill came to Carson Valley in the Fall of 1853. Lute filed one of the earliest land claims, taking up a ranch on the Emigrant Trail near Fay Canyon and building a hotel there. He was reputed to be a member of the Border Ruffian gang who stole horses from passing wagon trains in Woodfords Canyon and ferried them back through Horsethief Canyon to its outlet near Olds’ ranch, reselling them to oncoming wagon trains.

#CarsonValleyHistory #EmigrantTrail