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

Charles Fiske

 

Charles Fiske (or Fisk) was born in Vermont in 1813, and operated a store in Old Town, Maine for many years.  He and his wife, Mary Ann (Eaton) had 13 children.  Charles’ older brother Royal was a merchant in California, and although Charles wrote that he wished to see “fancy places,” he felt he couldn’t uproot his family.

But the lure of California finally became too strong.  About 1863 Charles followed in the his older brother to California. Drawn by the lure of Silver Mountain City, then a booming mining camp, Charles settled in Silver Mountain and erected the Fisk Hotel: three stories tall, and one of the town’s earliest and finest hotels.

Silver Mountain City, ca. 1867. The Fiske Hotel is the tall building at lower right.
Silver Mountain City, ca. 1867. The Fiske Hotel is the tall building at lower right.

When Alpine County was formed the following year, Charles Fisk became one of its earliest officials, serving as Public Administrator and county coroner. Not surprisingly he also invested in the local silver mines, purchasing stock in the Mammoth and other claims.  Royal Fisk, the more practical brother, chided him about “dabbling” in the mines, noting that those who did so “have in almost every instance come out second-best.”

Charles’ wife Mary Ann was said to be “ill a good deal of the time,” and daughter Mary Jane Fiske was described as the “presiding genius” of the hotel in 1864. Both Mary Jane and her brother Fred also worked setting type in the local newspaper office, the Alpine Chronicle. Fred would go on to run his own newspaper, the Eureka Daily Leader, in Eureka, Nevada.

Silver Mountain’s winters were long and bitterly cold. The Fiske family would close up their hotel to spend the winter months at the lower elevation of Murphys, and by 1873 it appears that Charles and Mary Ann had moved to Murphys for good.  Charles opened a store there and his youngest son, Frank, became local postmaster and would serve on the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors for 14 years, beginning in 1886.

Charles Fisk is likely the older man, third from left, in front of his store in Murphys.
Charles Fisk is likely the older man, fourth from left, in front of his store in Murphys.

Mary Ann passed away in 1893, and Charles in 1896.  They are buried

Gravestone of Charles Fisk at Murphys.
Gravestone of Charles Fisk at Murphys.

in the old Murphys graveyard, along with many of their children and grandchildren.

Charles' wife, Mary Ann Eaton Fisk, died in 1893.
Charles’ wife, Mary Ann Eaton Fisk, died in 1893.

As for for the Fisk Hotel in Silver Mountain, it was disassembled in 1885 and moved to Markleeville to serve guests at the local hot springs.  This wonderful old building still graces the corner of Main Street and Montgomery, as a restaurant/bar.  So if you happen to visit the historic town of Markleeville, you can still step inside Charles Fisk’s amazing Fisk Hotel!

Black Bean Succotash

It’s summer . . . and time for picnic-on-the-back-porch fare!  This quick and easy recipe takes just minutes to prepare, and uses all the good things of the season: fresh corn, cilantro, avocado, and of course, tomatoes!

If you have a sous-chef in the household, put them to work crisping the corn tortillas while you do the chopping.

Fresh cilantro makes this meatless meal sing!
Fresh cilantro makes this easy meatless meal sing!

Recipe (serves two):

  • 1 ear fresh corn, boiled and sliced off the cob
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • red onion and fresh cilantro, chopped (to taste)
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • sour cream (optional)

Fry 4 corn tortillas one at a time in olive oil, until crispy.  Place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Top tortillas with black beans, corn, avocado, and tomato; garnish with cilantro and sour cream.  Add a spritz of black pepper if desired.

 

Food Fun

Saute onions and beets together
Gotta love pink onions!

I’ve always loved vegetables.  But spiralizing them adds a new dimension to cooking.  I haven’t had so much fun with food since my sisters and I engaged in a cookie dough-throwing contest!  (Mom did not approve).  Spiralizing makes vegetables just plain fun.

Good food is beautiful — and doesn’t this just look good enough to eat!

The finished product!
Lunch is on!

For the recipe, click Here.

 

 

 

The Unsung Founder of Markleeville

Jacob Markley
Jacob Markley

Poor Jacob Markley. A century and a half after his death, the man who bestowed his name on the town of Markleeville remains mostly a mystery.

Still, a few details of his life remain: Markley was born March 6, 1821 in Dundas, Ontario, Canada and emigrated to Virginia in his youth. In the late 1840s the foot-loose Markley moved on to Taylors Falls, Minnesota, where he married Sarah Ambrosia DeAtley, daughter of a local carpenter.

Sometime about 1860 Markley left his wife and children behind while he ventured west to seek his fortune in California. There are tales that Markley and his brothers ran a slaughterhouse in Gold Country, supplying meat to the hungry settlers. Markley eventually made his way to the site of today’s Markleeville, just east of the Sierra crest. There, on September 12, 1861, he staked out his legacy:  a 160-acre claim embracing the future townsite of Markleeville.  And because the California state line was still murky, he recorded his land claim the following June on the wrong side of the line:  in Douglas County (now Nevada).

Markley settled in on his claim, building a fair-sized cabin on the site (16’ x 20’), and covered it entirely with shakes made from the local sugarpine. He also built a bridge over the river just below his cabin, charging toll to anyone wishing to cross.

Markley’s timing was spectacular. Within the year a tiny mining camp just up the trail at Silver Mountain began to boom. Suddenly Markley’s homestead was extremely valuable – as much for his toll road as for the land itself.  “Markleyville” soon became a “terminus of yee-haw navigation”:  the spot where the good wagon road ended and teams ferrying supplies to Silver Mountain City were forced to transfer their goods to pack trains.

Spotting yet another opportunity, Markley began selling homesites. He faced only one small problem: a man named Talcott Gould was claiming half-ownership of the land.

Markley had indeed sold Gould a half-interest in SOMETHING in November 1861. According to Markley, the scrap of paper he’d signed was a half-interest in the toll road. Gould however, noted that the handwritten deed was a half-interest in the “Merkly claim.” Profits from Markley’s land sales were half his, he claimed.

On May 14, 1863, Gould’s ally Henry Tuttle got into an altercation with Jacob Markley at his cabin. Tuttle strode off, only to return with Gould. And now the dispute became physical. Markley managed to throw Gould and Tuttle out of his cabin. But in a fateful split second of bad judgment, Markley then buckled on a pistol and followed, and the argument among the three men continued.  At some point in the quarrel Tuttle took a step back, drew his own revolver, and shot Markley dead.

A California Grand Jury indicted Tuttle for murder, and he was brought to trial in Amador County the following March. Witnesses testified, and the jury rendered its verdict:  NOT guilty.  That pesky gun Markley buckled on made it a clear case of self-defense.

Markley’s body was buried on what a news report called “on a little eminence” overlooking the nearby stream. Trail-blazer that he was, Markley probably became the first person buried in today’s Markleeville Cemetery.

Markleeville cemetery

The “Jacob Markley Players” re-enact the shooting of Jacob Markley every year in Markleeville. Hear “Jacob” himself describe the town of early Markleeville, and see his killer brought to justice (or not!  We won’t give away the ending.)  Contact the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce for details.

And for more about the history of Markleeville itself, see our book, “Historic Alpine: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Markleeville.”

Walking Tour of Markleeville
Walking Tour of Markleeville

Click here for more

 

 

Eliza Withington

Her real name was Elizabeth, but everyone still calls her “Eliza.”

She was born Eliza Kirby in New York in 1825.  By the age of 20 she was residing in Michigan, marrying George Withington there in 1845.

When the gold rush began, George — like so many others — joined a company of men and set off for California in 1849. He took up residence in what would later become the town of Shingle Springs, El Dorado County, working at a shingle mill. In 1851 he moved on to Ione Valley, working on various mining ventures and peddling land from the Rancho Arroyo Seco land grant.

CHAPTER I
George Withington

After nearly three years of separation from her husband, Eliza left Michigan in 1852 to join him in California, bringing their two young daughters Sarah and Eleanor along on the wagon train.

It was not entirely a pleasant journey for the adventuresome young woman. A fellow traveler’s diary recounts that as the group reached Carson Canyon, “Mrs. Withington is very sick with dysentery. It hurts her very much to ride.” Two days later, however, Mrs. W’s condition had improved, and she enjoyed a happy reunion with her husband near Volcano. The couple settled on a homestead in Dry Creek, only to lose their claim in 1855 due to a title dispute.

By 1857, however, Eliza and George had relocated to the new town of Ione and were doing well enough they were able to build a two-story brick home on what is now Welch Lane. In July, 1857, Withington opened a portrait studio on Main Street, the “first door west of the bridge,” specializing in ambrotypes. Her rented studio even featured a skylight, which helped to make the most of available light. Women photographers were still extremely rare at the time. But the new field somehow caught Withington’s interest and she is said to have traveled as far as New York to learn the trade, visiting galleries including that of celebrated photographer Matthew Brady.

Withington House 1870
Withington House, 1870

In Ione George Withington abandoned his shingle-making tools for those of a farmer, and invested as well in the Ione Copper Mining Company. But in 1861, tragedy struck the family with the death of their only son Everett at the age of just five months. As if to compound their woes, the Withingtons’ wheat and barley crop withered in the drought of 1864. George was forced to file for bankruptcy in early 1865. Among other assets in peril was the couple’s brick home, which was burdened with an $800 debt against it.

In May, 1866, Eliza somehow managed to pay off the $800 obligation, becoming the sole owner of the couple’s 7-1/2-ace property. While some of these funds may have come from her portrait business, the lion’s share likely came from her management of the “commodious” Arcade Hotel in Ione, located on Main Street opposite Sacramento Street.

From about 1871 until shortly before her death in 1877, Eliza took lengthy trips into the mountains to capture landscape photographs and scenes of local mining communities. While she sometimes accompanied other travelers, at other times she continued on alone, traveling “by stage, private conveyance, or fruit-wagons.” Accompanying her was her large, heavy photographic equipment, including as many as 80 glass plates, bottles of negative, developer and other chemicals, a “pair of Morrison lenses, a Philadelphia box and tripod” and a “strong black-linen cane-handled parasol” for shade.

In August and September, 1876, Eliza spent several weeks in Silver Mountain City capturing views of local mines and taking portraits. The local newspaper reported that she was in town for both “health and recreation,” occupying a room at Ford’s Hotel. As luck would have it, her visit coincided with removal of the iron jail cells from the stone jail at Silver Mountain City, and she managed to capture a fateful image of those cells atop a wagon on their way to the new county seat at Markleeville.

Eliza was apparently experiencing health problems at the time of her visit; one article suggested she had “scarcely spoken above a whisper for four months,” but that after a trip to the mountains had returned home “speaking as well as ever.” In addition to enjoying the dry mountain air, she may possibly have sampled the healing waters of nearby Grover Hot Springs.

Within just a few months of her Silver Mountain trip, however, Eliza was dead. She passed away at the young age of 51 on March 4, 1877, and is buried in the Ione Public Cemetery. Daughter Eleanor and son Everett are buried nearby.

Eliza's grave
Eliza’s grave

Spielvogel Mystery

Grandma & Grandpa Spielvogel
Grandma & Grandpa Spielvogel circa 1931

The mystery of the Spielvogels has been bugging me for years now.

This picture, one of about 50 old black-and-whites, arrived in an envelope courtesy of an eBay find. From the cryptic legends it was clear the family was from Northern Michigan or perhaps Ontario.  They owned a farm.  The old homestead was in Prescott, and Arley and Lou were likely grandsons.

Spielvogel 2

But who were they?  Grandma appears careworn and a tad frail; Grandpa is evidently a sturdy German farmer, suspenders and all.  Dinner would have been filling and hearty at their table.  Days probably began before dawn and didn’t end until dishes were wiped and put away, cows milked, and chickens fed.

Names are scattered here and there like clues among the images: Uncle Harvey petting his Collie dog in 1923.  Lillian Tuckey in a flapper dress with her ukulele.  Here was Lou kissing Florence and Wayne kissing Elizabeth at Bob-Lo Park on a sunny Sunday, August 11, 1929.  Did they marry?  Did they have kids?  Did Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel make it to the wedding?

Lillian Tuckey
Lillian Tuckey and her ukelele

I tried several times to find Spielvogel descendants, who would cherish these wonderful images.  But emails went unanswered.  So if you’re a descendant of Lou and Florence, or happen to know where Grandma and Grandpa were buried, please drop a line and let us know!  It would be great to know more about the stories behind these amazing images.