More Traces of the Emigrant Trail:

Iron Mountain Road

Today’s Iron Mountain Road was the route the Mormons took as they headed east over the mountains in 1848. And it soon was followed by the great westward migration — becoming an important leg of the early Emigrant Trail as wagons rushed for Gold Country.

You may remember our earlier newsletter taking you as far as Leek Springs (here’s the short version: take Hwy 88 west and turn off at Mormon-Emigrant Trail, which is Iron Mountain Road. To read the complete earlier Leek Springs adventure, click here!).

Once you get to Leek Springs, stop and set your odometer. Continue past Leek Springs another 2.5 miles to find another historic T-post marking the Emigrant Trail. The T-post itself is not easily visible from the road, so watch carefully for the pullout on your right.

Look for this pull-off on your right.

This Trail marker bears a great quote from an early emigrant named Tiffany, describing how the old route followed the ridge along the “divide.” That means that in many places the early Emigrant Trail stayed higher than today’s road. But its general path was roughly the same.

Tiffany passed this way in the summer of 1849.
Note the classic rounded triangle marker, confirming you’re standing on the original Emigrant Trail. It always gives me goosebumps!

Keep an eye out as you travel the next few miles and you’ll see the old roadbed switching back and forth across the new one. At odometer reading 4.4 miles, for example, the Trail crosses from your right to left over the current paved roadway to follow the ridge. And at 4.6, it swings back again to the right.

At 9.9 miles you’ll begin to see oak trees make an appearance. Westward-bound gold-seekers were happy to welcome this lower-elevation vegetation species, as they now were able to feed oak leaves to their hungry cattle.

The oak trees were beautiful in the late summer and early fall — and so welcome as forage for emigrants’ cattle!

About 21.5 miles into your journey you’ll come to beautiful Jenkinson Lake. After crossing the second dam, watch for a beautiful green-patinaed historic plaque on your right, erected by the Pollock Pines Rotary.

Jenkinson Lake
Admire the great patina on this plaque honoring Walter E. Jenkinson, who championed the creation of the lake which today bears his name. As the plaque notes, this Lake provides an important source of water to the valley.

Here at the Lake, the Jenkinson Lake Sly Park Recreation Area offers a cool waterfall hike, and yes, dogs are allowed (for an extra fee!). For complete information about the park and great photos of the waterfall and the hiking trail, check out this description here. (Scroll down after the page opens.)

Before the lake was created by the dams, this area was a large stream-fed meadow. This made it a great spot for grazing, and the eastward-bound Mormon Battalion stopped here to camp for over a week in July, 1848, dubbing it “Sly Park” (after one of their members), for its “park-like” appearance. Here the anxious Mormons dispatched ten of their men to find the trail ahead and also to look for their three missing scouts (whose bodies they’d sadly find when they eventually reached Tragedy Spring). For a great summary of the history of Sly Park, including its prehistoric use by native Maidu and Miwok peoples and early local ranchers, read here.

As you continue the journey you’ll soon reach a stop sign where the road comes to a “T”. Re-set your odometer here and take left-hand road toward Pleasant Valley on Sly Park Road. In another 1.5 miles you’ll pass an Environmental Ed Center on your right; this is used to teach teachers about environmental issues. (For more information about the Center, see www.slyparkcenter.org).

If you have a bit of time, continue to enjoy this rural road as it winds its delightful way into Placerville! (A longer but much more scenic way to get there than the freeway!)

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Old Hans of Jacks Valley, Nevada

Al Livington got a nasty surprise when he stopped by a saloon in Jacks Valley the morning of August 9, 1880: he discovered the proprietor face down on the floor, with a gunshot wound through the chest.

Old Hans owned a saloon at his house in the south end of Jacks Valley. (Illustration copyright K.Dustman)

Popularly known as “Old Hans,” the saloon owner’s true name was Christopher Johannes Hull. Robbery seemed to be the motive; a search disclosed Hans’s large silver pocket watch and about $100 were both missing.

It was a “murder most foul,” the Genoa Weekly Courier pronounced. Old Hans was a “pleasant, harmless old man,” as the Reno newspaper reported. About sixty years old and nearly crippled from years of hard labor, he was “inoffensive, generous, good-natured, and the friend of everyone,” as the Courier added.

Hans had been a miner in the early 1870s and, more recently, had worked at several stables in California and Nevada. Saving his earnings, he had purchased a saloon at the north end of Jacks Valley and, just three months before his death, sold that and moved to the little house where he was killed.

The remains of the Pony Saloon in Jacks Valley in 1937, showing the beautiful and remote general location. (Photo courtesy of Billie Rightmire).

In addition to the gunshot wound to his chest, Old Hans had been hit by a hard object at the base of his skull. Powder burns on his shirt showed the bullet had been fired at close range. The coroner’s jury ruled it a “death by gun shot and other wounds,” committed by person or persons unknown.

Hans’ house stood in a “lonesome part of the valley,” and no one had seen anything — or anyone — suspicious in previous days. But the community was incensed. Ormsby County posted a $500 reward to try to flush out the murderer.

Suspicions focused first on a local miscreant with the colorful nickname of “Buckskin Bob.” According to rumor, Buckskin Bob even confessed his involvement in Hans’s murder to a pal. Bob proved to have a solid alibi, however, and the “pal” was unable to be found.

Suspicion initially focused on a local thief named “Buckskin Bob.” (Illus. copyright KDustman)

By mid-October, however, Sheriff Williams and his tenacious investigators managed to track down Old Hans’s silver watch. The watch had been sold near Sacramento by another local ne’er-do-well named Harry Fowles (sometimes spelled Fowler).

Fowles, just 26 years old, had already spent a two-year stint in prison at Carson for burglary. And unlike Buckskin Bob, Fowles’ account of his whereabouts of August 8 did not “hang together,” as the Genoa paper smugly put it. Fowles was arrested at Rocklin, east of Sacramento, and hauled back to Genoa to face the music.

Harry Fowles had no good explanation for his whereabouts. (Illustration copyright KDustman)

After cooling his heels in the Genoa jail for several weeks awaiting trial, Fowles outsmarted his captors: on the afternoon of November 9, 1880, he escaped. The Genoa Weekly Courier described how Fowles managed to pull off his escape from a brick jail cell: “He made a hole in the wall between the Jailroom and a small bedroom adjoining the Sheriff’s office, crawled through and made his way out an unbarred window on the South side of the Court House.”

Just what the jailer was doing that same afternoon went unreported.

Curious Genoa citizens turned out in force to inspect Fowles’ route of escape. “Everybody who could get away from business immediately went to the jail,” the newspaper noted. “They looked in through the hole in the wall, and then they went in the jail and looked out through the hole, and went up town and knew all about it.”

 

Everyone in Genoa came out to inspect Fowles’ escape route. (Illustration copyright Kdustman)

Sightings of the escaped prisoner soon trickled in from far and wide. Four days after the daring afternoon escape, the Genoa paper reported: “So far, he has been seen at Walley’s Springs, Cradlebaugh’s Bridge, Jacks Valley, Silver Lake, Twelve Mile House, Holbrook’s, Desert Station, Woodford’s, Glenbrook, Small’s, Silver Mountain, Carson, Virginia, and in Roop County . . .”

Despite all these “sightings,” the paper had to admit that “no definite trace” of Fowles had yet been found.  It nevertheless confidently predicted that the escapee’s recapture was “only a matter of time.”

Recapture, however, was not meant to be. Harry Fowles had slipped out of sight for good, and his crime (if indeed he shot Old Hans) was properly punished only when he went to meet his Maker.

As for Old Hans, his body was “properly prepared” by kindly local citizens for burial in Genoa, where he was laid to rest on Tuesday, August 10, 1880. No headstone currently exists for this well-loved local gentleman. It’s likely Old Hans was given a pauper’s burial, with perhaps just a simple wooden cross to mark the location of his now-forgotten grave.

We hope this story will at least help keep his memory alive.

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Spring Is Around Here Somewhere

The official start to Spring is — oh, next week, according to my calendar. March 20, to be precise. For gardeners like my husband, planting hopes spring eternal and start to ramp up the day after Christmas.

But calendars lie.

Gardeners’ hopes spring eternal. These seeds are languishing in our garage already.

Right after that purported grand debut of Spring comes Easter, a warm-sounding holiday which falls appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day this year. No doubt to remind us here in the High Sierra that only fools start thinking “planting time” is truly here by then.

It’s followed a few weeks later by Earth Day, April 22, by which time we ought to be getting warm enough to throw a few seeds in the ground, shouldn’t we? Well, that’s followed by May 3, National Day of Prayer, a helpful occasion if you’re thinking of asking a bit of Divine Intervention on those planting plans, just in case.

But today, just three short days away from the Official Spring,  is — well . . . .

Our “view” of the Valley says it all.
A grand day for reading seed catalogs and dreaming.

So Many Mindens

This was the early commercial district of Minden about 1918, roughly a dozen years after its 1905 debut. Business was booming as you can see by the crush of cars, including that svelte roadster at right.

The upstart “Minden Creamery” (as it sometimes was casually called) was launched in 1908 at 1620 Water Street, and by mid-1914 had put its competitor, the older Carson Valley Creamery, out of business.

The Minden Butter Mfg. Co. Originally housed in a wooden structure, the Minden Butter Mfg. Co. erected this fine new brick building in 1916, designed by noted architect Frederick DeLongchamps. It included equipment for pasturizing. Another wing for eggs and cold-storage was added in 1927. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

The new butter facility actually had a longer and fancier formal name: officially, it was the “Minden Butter Manufacturing Company.” Principals in this new creamery business included H.F. Dangberg, Jr. — the same luminary behind the creation of Minden itself — William Dressler, Fritz Schacht, and Richard Fricke. With John Sattler as its first butter-maker, some said this new creamery produced the “finest butter in the West.”

This token is from “Minden Creamery” — but read on!

Privately-held when the organization first began, Minden Butter Mfg. eventually morphed into the Minden Co-Op Creamery in 1946. The creamery’s doors finally closed in 1961, however. Time stands still for no man, woman, or dairy!

But as for the “Minden Creamery” token shown above, helpful research by dedicated token collectors indicates that this came from a different creamery altogether — in Minden, Nebraska!

Historic marker for the Town of Minden.

What a fascinating coincidence: two creameries with similar names operating at roughly the same time, in two different widely-separated towns both called Minden!

All of which got us to pondering: just how many Mindens are there? The short answer: at least seven here in the United States alone!

There’s a southern Minden touting its location “in the piney woods of northwest Louisiana,” founded in 1836 by a lawyer who later ran off to California during the Gold Rush.

There’s rural Minden, Texas, named by a homesick former resident of the LouisianaMinden, who found himself in Texas about 1849 and affixed the name to a spot along an early stagecoach line.

A bit farther north, Minden, Iowa sprang up beside the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and the imagination-tickling “Keg Creek.” Settled by German immigrants, this Minden is said to have been named for the former hometown of many of its “industrious settlers.”

Minden, New York, formed in 1798, similarly took its name from its namesake in Germany. This New York town once was touted as a “gateway to the west,” thanks to its prime location adjoining both a railroad and the Erie Canal. Today the town covers nearly 33,000 acres and is divided into six smaller hamlets, one charmingly named “Mindenville.”

Not to be left out of the mix: Minden, West Virginia, named (once again) for old Minden Germany; it’s said that the name was picked by an early West Virginia coal-mining official. Sadly, the spot today is a Superfund clean-up site, with nearly a third of residents said to suffer from some type of cancer. It was annexed into the neighboring city of Oak Hill in 2015, but remains on the books as a “census-designated place.”

Minden, Nevada’s welcoming sign.

And then there’s our creamery-twin Minden, Nebraska — home to the token that prompted this virtual journey. Originally a plot of empty land “without a single inhabitant or building,” this town of Minden was voted into existence in 1876 by nearby homesteaders, stripping county seat-hood from railroad-dominated Lowell to the north by their vigorous exercise of democracy.

Our very own Minden, Nevada got its name from H.F. Dangberg, Jr., who envisioned a well-ordered community surrounding a town square (today’s grassy Minden Park), and named it (of course) after the old German town near his father’s birthplace.

If these widely-scattered Mindens begin to sound like a road trip in the making, one couple has already blazed the way! Check out this great story from the Record-Courierabout Terri and Chuck Luettgerodt of Minden, Nevada, who set out in a Volkswagen van in 2017 to visit “every Minden they could.”

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Many thanks to noted Nevada historian and long-time token collector Michael Fischer and token experts Jack Haddock and Leroy Felch for their kind research and help in identifying the Nebraska “Minden Creamery” token, and their great suggestions and additions for this article!

#SierraHistory #CarsonValleyNV #whyCV

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The Secret Life of Eugene May (Part 2)

We left off last week with the secret Eugene A. May had kept for over 50 years: his real name was Henry Head! He’d left his family back in Illinois after an emotional dispute with his step-mother. His own family in Empire may not even have known the truth.

This was pretty Eldorado, possibly about the time of her first marriage. (Courtesy of Alpine County Historical Society)

After Hank’s death in 1900, his widow, Eldorado, found herself alone again. She now had buried her second husband.  Eldorado would eventually marry a third time: a judge in Washoe Valley named Lamb.

Hank May’s step-daughter, Jennie, was now a schoolteacher. She had attended the University of Nevada Normal School and her first teaching assignments were at the elementary schools at Galena, Pine Grove, and Mina Nevada.

About 1898, Jennie May took a job just over the California border, and began teaching at the little white schoolhouse in Markleeville. In her oral history, Jennie would recall arriving for this job aboard the local stage: a spring wagon with two horses. The following year, 1899 Jennie accepted a teaching position at Fredericksburg School. And, as other Fredericksburg teachers had done, she roomed with the Bruns family in their beautiful ranch house adjacent to the school.

Eldorado’s daughter, Jennie May, about the time of her marriage to Fred Bruns, Jr. (Courtesy of Alpine Co. Historical Society)

Schoolteachers were considered great marriage material. And sure enough, on December 28, 1904, Fred Bruns, Jr. wed young Jennie May in Carson City. Although she was no longer allowed to teach after her marriage, Jennie went on to become Alpine County’s longest-serving superintendent of schools (from 1916-1939). Jennie and Fred had four children together including Hubert, later a well-known Alpine rancher and supervisor.

Eldorado Lamb, Jennie’s mother, about the time she came to live with Jennie and Fred. (Courtesy Alpine Co. Historical Society)

Around 1923 Jennie’s mother, Eldorado, now a widow for the third time, came to live with Jennie and Fred. Eldorado died in 1924 of pneumonia at the age of 70, and is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Fred Bruns, Jr. passed away in 1959. His wife Jennie — step-daughter of Eugene “Hank” May (aka Henry Head) and the little girl who grew up in Empire watching the old millworks turn — died in 1970. She was 92.

Eldorado Murphy Dunigan May Lamb — three times a widow — is buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery, California, near her daughter, Jennie May Bruns.
The grave of Jennie (Eugenia) and Fred Bruns at Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Jennie, Fred and Eldorado Lamb are all buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery.

So that’s the story of Hank May, who wasn’t really Hank May at all; his wife Eldorado, who lost three husbands; and little Jennie, who used to watch the millworks turn at Empire and grew up to become an important member of one of Alpine County’s most prominent ranching families!

Hank May’s grave at Empire still looks out over the site where the Mexican Mill once stood.

The grave of Eugene “Hank” May, aka Henry Head.

       Here are directions if you decide to pay him a visit: From Carson City, take Highway 50 East. Turn south (right) at Deer Run and in a short distance, turn right again on Sheep Drive. The road will curve around to Waste Management. Follow the cemetery signs and a rather unusual access road will take you up the hill (you will think you’re driving through private business property, but just follow the cemetery signs!)

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