Today, Silver Mountain City is a ghost of a ghost town. An army of pines has invaded the town’s cross streets, and only the traces of hand-dug cellars and rock foundations remain where noisy saloons and thriving businesses once stood. The old stone jail, once a proud centerpiece of town, is a jumble of broken blocks.
But from 1862 to about 1876, this rocky flat beside Silver Creek was home to literally thousands of citizens: miners and merchants, murderers and mothers. For those few, heady years, Silver Mountain was an incarnation of greed and muscle, silver and seduction – in short, a quintessential silver mining town.
No sooner was work commenced in the croppings [in the summer of 1861], than the richest description of Ruby Silver ore revealed itself, and as a matter of course, created one of those “excitements” once so common in this Country. Eager prospectors covered the mountain sides, swarmed in the immediate vicinity of the pioneer discovery, and almost before the year expired, nothing was left in the shape of a ledge or stain or outcrop to locate, the same ledge taken up two or three times over by a rude Notice on some of its spurs or angles, and all found a place in the Records of the then-formed “Silver Mining District.”
A general rush from Virginia [City] and other mining camps was made to the new El Dorado, buildings of all kinds were erected in anxious haste, saloons drove a rushing trade, corner lots ruled high.
—Lewis Chalmers, 1871
But in its own ghostly way, the town of Silver Mountain never really died. Its people and their stories remain etched in microfilm and photographs and hand-scrawled documents. With a bit of puzzling, visitors can still visit the spot where the Fiske Hotel once stood, pay a call to the site of Sauquet’s Store, or stop by Davidson’s Saloon. Close your eyes as you stand beside Main Street, and you can almost hear the clink of glasses in the saloons and feel the earth tremble as Giant Powder explodes deep inside the mines.
Silver Mountain City’s legacy also lives on in Alpine County itself. For without the energy of this amazing town, California’s 46th county might never have been formed.
We hope you’ll share our excitement about this amazing community and will help us preserve its history!
We usually do a Walking Tour of Silver Mountain in September each year. If you’d like to join us for the next Walking Tour, please contact the Alpine County Historical Society at (530) 694-2317 or email@example.com, to find out how to sign up.
— Rick & Karen Dustman
Need directions to Silver Mountain? Here you go!
Coming from Woodfords: From Highway 88, turn south onto Highway 89 towards Markleeville at the flashing light. Continue on Highway 89 approximately 6.3 miles to Markleeville. Then follow directions below.
Coming from Markleeville: Go south through Markleeville on Highway 89, and set your odometer as you cross over the little bridge at the south end of town. About 4.8 miles south of Markleeville, Highway 89 forks to the east (the Monitor Pass turn-off). Do not take this turn; continue straight on what is now Highway 4. At odometer reading 7.2, you will pass Wolf Creek Road, and at 8.7, you’ll see a tall brick chimney on your right (Chalmers’ Mansion).
At 10.3 miles south of Markleeville, you will cross the bridge over Silver Creek. Slow down and watch for a brown Forest Service sign on your left, marking the old jail site at Silver Mountain City (odometer reading 10.5). You’ll also see a tall, blocky concrete historical marker. You’ve arrived!
Coming from the West: The easiest route over the mountains is generally Hwy 88 (not Hwy 4, unless you are already close to Hwy 4 . . . then see below). Take Hwy 88 east to Woodfords, then follow the directions above.
Coming from Murphys: Take Hwy 4 east over the mountain. The road is twisty and eventually comes down the mountain on the other side of the crest. When the road widens again and has a painted centerline, slow down. That straightaway (about a mile long) is the town’s former Main Street, and nearly all that’s left of Old Silver Mountain! Watch on your right (about half-way down the straightaway) for a brown Forest Service sign and blocky, grey concrete marker. Pull in there, and you’ll see a chain link fence enclosing what’s left of the old jail. You’ve arrived! (If you see a tall brick chimney on your left, you’ve gone too far!)
Did you know tiny Markleeville, California has a sister city? Well, not an official one. In fact, the two towns probably have no idea they’re even related. But Newman, California and Markleeville share a common heritage.
The link that binds them? The man who gave the town of Newman its name. Here’s the tale!
Simon Newman (Neumann) was born in 1846 in Willmars, in the Bavarian region of Germany.
Simon was 16 years old when he first set foot in San Francisco in 1862, traveling by way of Panama. His arrival was courtesy of brother-in-law Solomon Wangenheim, who owned a store in Virginia City and put Simon to work for him in that bustling Comstock town.
Then in 1864, Solomon opened yet another store – in Markleeville. The store originally sat in the lower section of Main Street just south of Montgomery Street. But by 1866 “Wangenheim’s” had moved a few lots north to the northwestern corner of Main and Montgomery (today a vacant lot across from the well-known Cutthroat).
Goods sold included “fancy and staple” dry goods, as well as mining and farm implements. Need boots, bacon, or butter? Wangenheim’s was your store. Here you could find powder and fuse; revolvers; crockery; even stoves, doors and windows. And, of course, liquor!
Brother-in-law Simon Newman was not only employed at Wangenheim’s Markleeville store as a clerk; he also lived in the back.
One night in July, 1866, a fire broke out in the store – caused, it was said, by rats or mice “capering over the friction matches.” (Which gives you some idea of the pest problem!) Newman and a fellow clerk sleeping in the store managed to escape with their lives by jumping out a window. The St. Bernard dog who had alerted them to the flames was (sadly!) not so lucky.
The store had no insurance and the loss was estimated at an astonishing $20,000. But Wangenheim was determined to rebuild. He was back in business within weeks. As for Simon Newman, perhaps it’s no surprise that from 1866-67 he thereafter volunteered as Secretary for the Alpine Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1.
Biographers have described Simon Newman as “frugal and ambitious.” They should have added hard-working! In 1868, Newman purchased the store in Markleeville from his brother-in-law for $1,000. And in 1869, at just 23 years old, Newman opened another store at Hill’s Ferry, California, on the San Joaquin River. (According to family lore, he leased out the Markleeville store, providing a second source of income for his family until 1885, when another devastating fire swept through Markleeville and destroyed the building.)
After moving to Hill’s Ferry, Newman began lending money to local ranchers, securing his loans with an interest in the crops. By 1877 he not only owned his store but also a 4,000-ton grain warehouse.
Simon Newman married in 1877 and moved to San Francisco, commuting Hill’s Ferry by train every week. (Did I mention he was hard-working?!) He continued amassing ranch land, sheep and cattle interests. And when the Pacific Railroad decided to extend its line into the San Joaquin Valley, Newman donated 320 acres for the railroad – founding a townsite at the railroad’s terminus.
And how did Newman market his new town? Ever the entrepreneur, he arranged for a special train to ferry potential land purchasers and investors from Oakland to the townsite on April 28, 1888. A free picnic was provided, and lots were auctioned off. Originally called Sanger (not to be confused with the other Sanger near Fresno), the town today is known as Newman.
Simon Newman passed away of apoplexy (stroke) at just 66 years of age in 1912, and was buried in Home of Peace Cemetery in San Mateo County. But the town he founded still honors his name.
Just where is Newman? It’s located on State Route 33 between Gustine and Crows Landing. If you don’t know where those are (I didn’t!), it’s 35 miles southwest of Modesto, and just east of I-5.
Today, Newman dubs itself the “Jewel of the West Side” of the Central Valley. And it’s well worth a visit. With a population of about 11,000 citizens, it prides itself on retaining its small-town charm. There’s an annual Fall Festival; a vibrant historic downtown; a restored 1940s theater; and a district filled with beautiful Victorian homes.
There’s also a fabulous brick Museum (1209 Main Street, Newman) – open only Wed 12:30 – 4:30 or by appointment. Check out the wooden fire tank and farm equipment in the fenced yard behind.
Best of all, the historic Newman Store Building is still here (see pictures below), at the corner of Hwy 33 and Fresno Street. And if you stop by, be sure to look for Simon Newman’s name, written in tile in its entryway.
So, town of Markleeville? – meet Newman. And town of Newman? – meet Markleeville.
Whether you know it or not, you’re sister cities. And you both have hard-working emigrant Simon Newman to thank for it.
Ah, that’s a story in itself! (And if you missed Part 1 of Winchester’s wild and crazy story, here’s where to read it!)
The eighth of 13 children, Jonas Winchester entered the world on November 19, 1810 in Marcellus, New York. At roughly age 16 he was apprenticed to Adolphus Fletcher, printer of the Jamestown Journal, a local weekly paper.
But by the time he was 18, Winchester determined to set off for adventure. He made his way to New York City, where he arrived (as he later put it) “a stranger, without friends, acquaintances, or recommendation of any kind.” He was sure a better life awaited him. “Destiny calls and I must follow,” he wrote to his mother in September, 1829.
Despite his lack of connections in the City and with only 2-1/2 years of apprenticeship under his belt, Winchester managed to land a job as a compositor for two New York City newspapers. But the pay proved meager. Wages for compositors were so low, in fact, that in September, 1830 Winchester moved back home to Western New York, where he took a job with the Fredonia Censor.
But the lure of the big city hadn’t left him. He returned to New York City again in the Spring of 1832. And in 1833, Winchester eventually landed a publishing job with Horace Greeley, likely due to his friendship with Frank Story, Greeley’s partner. Winchester had a certain “larger than life” aura about him, and perhaps a certain amount of moxie helped win him the position. Somewhere in his youth Jonas gained the nickname “General” Winchester, a military honorific with “no foundation in fact,” as his descendants would later admit. (It may have been a bit of a family joke; brother Herman went by “Colonel.” And the oldest brother in the family dubbed himself “Patriarch.”)
Horace Greeley himself was a relative newcomer to New York City, too, having arrived in late 1831. By the time Winchester became an associate, Greeley had already launched and lost the short-lived Morning Post – a publication which cratered within three short weeks of its January 1, 1833 debut. A few months later another tragedy struck Greeley — his original business partner (and Winchester’s friend), Francis V. Story, drowned suddenly in July 1833.
Story’s death presented a fortuitous opening for Winchester, who stepped in to become Greeley’s partner. In March, 1834, Greeley and Winchester launched a new publication called the New Yorker — a “large, fair, and cheap weekly folio” based on Ann Street, New York, dedicated to literature with a sprinkling of news. Greeley handled the newspaper’s editing, while Winchester did what he did best — promotion — taking charge of the profitable “jobbing business” (contract printing). Before long Winchester would solidify his fortunes by marrying Story’s sister, Susan — the wedding taking place on Winchester’s own 25th birthday, November 19, 1835.
Although launched with only a dozen subscribers, the New Yorker’s circulation eventually reached 9,000. But it never became a rip-roaring financial success. Instead, it took “a terrible struggle on the part of its proprietors to keep it alive.” Greeley and Winchester eventually dissolved their partnership in September, 1836. Winchester carried on “job printing” on his own, then tried to make a profit by reprint literature from abroad. But he got himself deep into debt (thanks to what one observer called his “careless and venturesome way”), and about 1844 was forced to declare bankruptcy. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a new family man; Winchester and his wife, Susan, now had two children: Frank S. Winchester, born in 1840, and Julia, born 1844.
Eager for a new start, Winchester was bitten by the “gold bug” when glittering tales of California gold began circulating in late 1848. It was a chance to redeem his fortunes!
News of the California gold strike at Sutter’s Mill was all over the newspapers in New York. Reports circulated that some $2 million in gold dust was already sitting in San Francisco, just waiting for transportation to the East. Despite stories of earlier “disturbances” in the mining districts, the New York Tribune assured its readers that “excellent order [now] prevails.” As for tales about “thousands starving,” those rumors were simply “greatly exaggerated,” the press reassuringly reported.
Winchester learned of a three-masted “half-clipper” ship leaving New York and headed for California. She was called the Tarolinta, Indian for “floating rose,” owned by the Griswold Brothers of New York and captained by William P. Cave. With a capacity of 549 tons and a crew of 27 (some 20 of them African-American), the Tarolinta expected to carry both a lucrative load of cargo and roughly a hundred passengers to the gold fields. Winchester was determined to be among them, and quickly booked passage.
The Tarolinta was initially scheduled to depart from New York harbor on December 28, 1848. But not enough passengers signed up at first, so the date was postponed until January 9, 1849 in hopes of recruiting additional passengers. Then arrangements for additional freight to be delivered to South America caused the date to be pushed off yet again, to January 13. You can only imagine Jonas Winchester tapping his toes in frustration.
The morning of the 13th of January, 1849, dawned clear and cold. A huge snowstorm had dumped as much as three feet of snow on the streets of New York. Passengers were instructed to board promptly at the pier at the foot of Wall Street. And finally the Tarolinta pushed off.
Champagne was passed around as the ship was guided out of the harbor by pilot boats. She was heavily laden indeed. Freight was lashed into tall piles on deck, and included barrels of provisions, small boats, and “house frames.” Total passengers came to 125 – more than originally planned.
Winchester was among the passengers happy to turn his face toward California. He still owed thousands of dollars to his creditors. But he left behind his wife and two children.
Ads for passage on the Tarolinta had promised travelers “superior accommodations.” In fact, however, space was minimal and the food less than ideal. One passenger reported a dozen men were sharing a 22-1/2 x 7-1/2 foot “stateroom” that was “nearly filled up with our trunks, chests, and other baggage,” leaving meager sleeping spots just three feet apart.
Passengers, of course, eagerly discussed their possible prospects in the California goldfields. At least 15 separate mining “companies” were organized aboard the ship, each with a name and its own distinctive pennant. Jonas Winchester was no doubt one of the founding members of the ten-person “Leyon Winchester & Co.”
Fellow printers James B. Devoe and Daniel Norcross of Philadelphia (later manager of the San Francisco New Age) were also included among the passengers. Others included an “accomplished Oriental scholar” named Caleb Lyon, and Dr. J.C. Tucker, whose diary of the journey would eventually be published.
A physician named Dr. Nelson whiled away the hours at sea by conducting “experiments on the porosity of glass” — a misguided effort to see if submerging a hermetically-sealed glass tube to 89 fathoms would cause water to penetrate the glass itself. (Not surprisingly, the answer was no. But Dr. Nelson nevertheless shared his “experiment” with the world in an issue of Scientific American.)
The Tarolinta reached Rio in February, 1849, a happy milestone for the passengers as the stop offered fruit and “lots of mint juleps, and porter-house beef steaks.” These were quite a treat indeed after the shipboard fare. One passenger filed a report from Rio describing typical shipboard fare as a “curious concoction of mouldy bread and frozen potatoes, boiled down in salt water” and “apple fritters, about two inches thick, eighteen inches around, and weighing four pounds and a half each.”
As they continued on around the Horn, passengers aboard the Tarolinta endured stormy weather, extreme cold, poor fare, and personality clashes. Perhaps predictably, disputes arose over food rations, hammock space, bathing water, petty thievery, and other matters. Some led to fisticuffs.
By and large, Captain Cave tried not to intervene. When two passengers got involved in a brawl on the poop deck, the Captain merely told them to move their dispute down to the quarterdeck so neither would fall overboard. But when eager passengers began trying to chop up barrel staves to make tent stakes in preparation for their anticipated mining adventures, the captain finally asserted his authority and stopped them. Barrel staves were a precious cargo.
Some would later say Cave was a “cold, ruthless and stubborn man, whose odious character would become clear to all as the voyage unfolded.” Others called him “big and blustering.” More likely he was just overwhelmed by trying to corral such a large group of eager, unruly passengers.
After 174 days, the Tarolinta finally sailed into San Francisco harbor on June 29, 1849 (July 6, 1849, according to other sources), much to the relief of all aboard, the captain no doubt included. But there they found the dock space completely occupied. They were forced to drop anchor in the harbor and hire rowboats to get their parties and goods ashore. And goods there were, a-plenty! Operators of the “Russian Store” at San Francisco soon advertised the arrival of assorted silk shawls, handkerchiefs, ladies’ fancy cravats, ribbons, plaid silk, buck gloves, silk scarves, plus a “superior assortment of cigars,” all courtesy of the Tarolinta.
Stepping on shore that summer of 1849 put Jonas Winchester among the very first eager members of the California Gold Rush. He and his associates briefly tried their hand at mining on the North Fork of the American River. They purchased steam-powered equipment, and built dams and even roads. But the fall rains washed all of their hard work away.
By the winter of 1849 Winchester turned back to what he knew best, securing a post as editor and part-owner of the Pacific News – one of the first San Francisco newspapers. In May, 1850, Winchester also took over the appointment of H.H. Robinson, California’s first State Printer. The government printing contract offered plenty of steady work, but payment by the State was issued in semi-worthless warrants, making it difficult for Winchester to meet his obligations. He resigned the post in March, 1851.
The Pacific News folded in 1851, the victim of several fires. But Winchester was still intrigued by mining, and convinced that “greater things were in store for him.” He moved to Grass Valley, where it’s said he built the first sawmill and quartz mill in the vicinity, and acquired interests in mining companies.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Winchester’s wife, Susan,was suffering from consumption (tuberculosis). Winchester’s California mines had failed to produce the great returns he’d hoped for. So Winchester decided to return to New York.
Susan died in Brooklyn in February, 1855, at just 43 years of age. Sometime after 1855 Jonas wed widow Margaret Bartholomew Brown in New York. Margaret was a supporter of women’s suffrage and an associate of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. But apparently that marriage did not last. In April, 1869, Winchester married a third time, wedding Laura Karner. Their first child, Ernest, was born in 1870 but died in infancy.
Winchester had launched a patent medicine business, “Winchester’s Hypophosphites” — proudly putting his own signature on the label. The endeavor helped him make ends meet, bringing in an estimated $3,000 per year. But he was still eager to try his hand at mining.
In the 1860s he acquired the Globe Gold & Silver Mining Co. and other mining interests in Monitor Canyon, in Alpine County. As early as 1867, Alpine locals were receiving letters saying Winchester intended to come out “next season.” And come out he finally did, moving to Monitor with wife Laura in 1871. They would have two children who were born there at Monitor.
So that’s how Jonas Winchester wound up in Alpine County. And that’s where our story picked up last time! (Here’s the link again, if you missed Part 1 of Jonas Winchester’s amazing story.)
Call it serendipity. But as luck would have it, Winchester’s 209th birthday was November 19th — just about the time this story came out in our 2019 newsletter. We hope you’ll light a candle to celebrate the birthday of the wild, wonderful, adventurous life of Jonas Winchester! What a life he had.
The year was 1871. Hope was in the air, in the tiny mining town of Monitor, California. “General” Jonas Winchester and his wife had recently arrived from back East. And word was that the Globe Gold & Silver Mine was finally going to be pushed in earnest.
The title of “General” appears to have been self-applied. Jonas had no military experience (at least none that we’ve been able to find). In addition to that confident title he also adopted an equally confident motto: “Push things.” And promote he did! Advertising flyers screamed about the Globe Mine’s prospects — its ores, they said, were “believed to be incalculable in quantity.” And best of all, they could supposedly be worked cheaply. Winchester assured investors he had “invested all his own fortune in the business,” and intended “to reside permanently at Monitor.”
But despite such bravado, things actually weren’t going terribly well for the Globe. It did have a mill, but the ore was yielding just $10 a ton. Its workmen being unpaid, both mill and mine were soon shut down. In April, 1871, Winchester candidly acknowledged to a fellow miner that there had been “too much coyoteing” going on. A family feud may have been part of the problem; Winchester complained bitterly about the “treachery” of a brother. The Globe’s mill had also barely escaped a devastating fire, he said, and there was a “need for re-organization of its finances.” Prospects were looking gloomy indeed.
By July, however, the mood had switched from gloomy to gleeful. A rich copper vein had just been struck in the Globe, and there was “every indication of a mammoth copper ledge” just ahead. Early assays produced up to $75 in copper and $20 in silver, and ore as rich as 36% copper was said to have been found in the deeper levels. That summer, Winchester also had one more cause for celebration: his third wife, Laura, presented him with a son on August 10, 1871, born there in Monitor.
Continuing the work on the mine, of course, required a continued influx of capital. Winchester put his best literary skills to work in an 1872 prospectus, teasing investors with fabulous statistics. Capitalization of the company was now a rich $650,000. Progress thus far included a 5.5 x 6.5-foot double-tracked tunnel, “nearly” 1,500 feet long (a shameless exaggeration, as later facts showed). Rail had been extended conveniently from the mine to an adjacent 45’ x 60’ mill, which was almost ready to work the ore. “When finished,” the mill should be able to crush 40 tons of ore a day. A 30-horsepower engine and boiler had already been purchased, and 500 cords of wood were on hand. Hoisting works had been erected, and the company’s claims crossed “some half dozen or more veins.” The promised return to those willing to invest? “25% per annum in gold.” How could you go wrong?!
By fall, the Globe again found itself unable to pay its bills. But Winchester’s glowing advertising evidently did the trick. Frank Winchester (a son by Jonas’s first marriage) arrived in Monitor in October with enough cash in hand to pay off the debts of the Globe. And, as an added sign of confidence, Frank signed a contract to extend the tunnel another 100 feet. Frank quickly departed for the East again, but his father, “General” Winchester, remained behind at Monitor as mine superintendent.
Winchester may have been a terrific mine promoter, but he’d apparently had little experience running a silver mine before. What he lacked in practical know-how, however, he made up for with sheer bravado. And on top of his naturally boisterous personality, Winchester was a firm believer in Spiritualism. He firmly believed that he had been personally chosen by the “Ancients” to run the Globe, and that the spirits would guide him to make the mine a success.
Spiritualism was a quasi-religious movement that depended on mediums to communicate messages from the spirit world to convey wisdom to the living. Seances and “table-rapping” sessions were in great vogue in the 1860s and ’70s. Even newspapers in such remote outposts as Silver Mountain and Monitor carried advertisements like those of “Madame Remington” and “Madame E.F. Thornton,” promising to send readers a picture of the “very features of the person you are to marry” — for a mere 50 cents, remitted to the medium by mail.
Winchester, a firm believer in Spiritualism, was convinced that a band of “Ancients” could speak to him through mediums. The leader of this spiritual band was supposedly an Atlantean named Yermah, while Yermah’s wife was the towering six-foot “Queen” Azelia. Winchester went so far as to name his newborn son Yermah, and a subsequent daughter, born in September, 1873, after the spirit Queen.
Winchester wasn’t alone as a devotee of Spiritualism in early Monitor. Fellow resident O.F. Thornton (no relation to the clairvoyant) corresponded regularly with both psychics and fellow Spiritualists, including one William H. Sterling. “The Spirit World is on our side, and they will take care to bring us success at the right time,” Sterling assured Thornton in one letter in September 1871. Meanwhile, Spiritualism may also have had a practical application. Sterling confided to Thornton that he was using “Spiritual topics” to persuade an investor to sink money into Thornton’s Good Hope mine.
The opportunity for profit from this connection with the “Ancients” was not lost on Winchester, either. In early 1871, he reached out to acquire rights to a set of “spirit pictures” drawn by a pair of San Francisco mediums while in a trance. There was profit potential in selling the images, he was convinced.
Despite the helpful advice of the “Ancients,” Winchester’s stewardship of the Globe was roundly criticized. One aggrieved investor concluded that Winchester’s “reckless and incompetent manner of doing business would prevent forever any success, no matter how rich or extensive the mine should prove.” Winchester was simply a “reckless spendthrift,” he added, notwithstanding supposed selection “by the Ancients as the only man in the world” for the job.
Winchester did manage to push the Globe’s tunnel some 1,000 feet into the mountain, with several side-drifts. A steam furnace and boiler were installed in a separate building at the mouth of the tunnel, and the steam conducted in insulated pipes to an engine and pump located in an underground chamber. Marketing genius that he was, Winchester also had a series of beautifully-detailed photographs taken of the mine and surrounding settlement to help induce investors to continue to float the operation.
Despite the massive work done on the mine, the Globe’s stout 4” Cornish pump eventually proved unable to keep up with water flowing in. The boiler’s steam capacity also proved insufficient to work the pump and the hoist. By the end of 1873, work at the Globe was abandoned. As one mining report concluded, the mine’s sad history had been one of “difficulties, delays, expenses, and disappointments.”
Winchester and his family finally shook the dust of Monitor from their feet in November, 1873, and moved west to San Francisco. He brought along his “well-magnetized desk” to their new abode (perhaps magnetism helped the spirits to focus). Soon he was hawking those “spirit pictures” he’d acquired in a new “Spirit Art Gallery.” Winchester managed to bring in about $6 a day from his gallery, at least for a time — enough to cover costs, though not enough to afford him a salary. Ever upbeat, he claimed to a friend he was simply happy to “re-enter upon civilized life.”
Winchester’s Spirit Gallery featured reproductions of pencil portraits of 28 of the “prehistoric and ancient spirits.” These included “Yermah” and other natives of Atlantis from 16,000 years ago, plus the “progenitors of the Mississippi mound builders, and the architects of the lost cities of Central America. In case you’d never heard of Atlaneans, there was also Confucius, Gautama, Jesus, and Mother Mary. Included in the mix was a “Hindoo Necromancer and Alchemist” from 8,000 years ago who, by the way, had discovered the Elixer of Life. Not to be overlooked: a Magician priest from Ancient Ninevah, and another learned Egyptian from the time of Moses. Visitors to the Spirit Gallery could acquire a photographic reproduction of these sketches: just 50 cents for a card-size picture or $1 for a larger cabinet card. Such a deal.
A solicitation for subscribers penned by Winchester in 1874 promised that the “locked-up knowledge of prehistoric ages” would soon be opened, thanks to the “lost arts and occult powers” of the ancients communicated through “highly-developed” mediums. “Let a cordial welcome be given to these ancient spirits,” he wrote, who come “offering the priceless boon of knowledge.” The spirits were prepared to share “an outpouring of ancient lore which will bless mortals and point the way to an era of brotherhood which shall no longer be a dream of Utopia but a living reality.”
“Priceless” that ancient wisdom may have been. But the spirit pictures proved a commercial dud. In May, 1874, the local press in Monitor noted Winchester’s current “financial impecuniosity, resulting from his late adventure in the ‘spirit picture’ business.”
Perhaps aware of the benefit of diversifying, Winchester had his finger in more than one entrepreneurial pie about this time. In addition to the spirit picture business, he also was engaged in selling a patent medicine, under the catchy title ofWinchester’s Hypophosphite. His own signature was prominently featured on the label.
Winchester’s patent medicine was hardly a novel idea, but it made use of all the recognized ingredients for snake-oil-style success. As one tongue-in-cheek article advised readers in 1872, the “Recipe for Getting Rich” from a patent medicine was:
“Get any simple stimulating compound or tonic, or take cheap whiskey and color it, adding any cheap stuff to give it a medicinal taste. Adopt any name you choose, the more nonsensical or mysterious the better. Get up fanciful bottles or boxes or labels. Look out that the package, contents included, don’t cost over 5 to 8 cents. Invent 50 to 100 or 1,000 wonderful cures wrought by your medicine, giving names in full, with residences, date etc., but be careful not to blunder into giving any real name of any person living in the same place. If you connect with your medicine a touching story about some old mythical person, or Indian, or South American, all the better.”
Eventually, Jonas Winchester took up “fruit-growing” near Columbia, California. And on February 3, 1887, the wild and crazy life of Jonas Winchester finally came to an end. He was 76 years old. His obituary described him — accurately — as energetic, warm-hearted, and a man of high intelligence. He was laid to rest in the Odd Fellows graveyard at Columbia, Tuolumne County, California.
As for Winchester’s family, his obituary reported that in keeping with Winchester’s own Spiritualist views, the family “rejoice in the assurance that the dear patriarch still watches over the loved of home, and will see that no evil attends their footsteps.”
So, just how did Jonas Winchester manage to get to Monitor in the first place? Ah, that’s a wild and crazy story in itself! Tune in next time for the rest of Jonas Winchester’s amazing story!
Ever visited the Odd Fellows Rocks? Most folks don’t even know they’re here. But they’re a fascinating and easily-accessible site along the old Emigrant Trail, near the top of Carson Pass!
Several jubilant emigrants paused here between August 25 and 27, 1849, after successfully ascending the infamous “Devil’s Ladder” — one of the most difficult stretches that overland emigrants faced in the entire overland journey. These pioneers honored the occasion by painting their names and the dates of their visit on the large clusters of rocks they found at the top.
And yes, you can still see the pioneer’s names! Well, some of them, anyway. The original white-lead inscriptions have been painted over multiple times now, in an effort to preserve them. Some may have been corrupted a bit by this well-intentioned “preservation” effort. And unfortunately, time and erosion have erased some of the signatures entirely from the rock. But many full and partial names still remain. And oh, don’t we wish we knew what happened to each of those early visitors!
They’re called the “Odd Fellows” inscriptions because many of the writers also left the tell-tale three-ring symbol associated with the Odd Fellows’ motto: friendship, love, and truth. As for the passing emigrants themselves, we haven’t yet been able to trace the history of many of the rock-signers. But among the still-legible names is at least one emigrant whose later exploits we have been able to find.
R.E. Wilhoit was just 20 years old when he stopped at this spot in 1850 to add his lettering to the already-graffitied rocks. (Yes, Wilhoit was here a year after the original Odd Fellows group passed by.) At the time, of course, this young man had no way of knowing what his future in California would hold. But it turned out to be golden indeed!
Like so many eager emigrants, Wilhoit mined for a time at Mokelumne Hill and other Gold Rush towns before eventually moving on to Stockton in 1852. There he became a noted citizen, holding a variety of important public posts including stints as County Recorder, County Supervisor, and City Councilman. In later life Wilhoit evidently decided to “follow the money”: he became a banker. Eleven years after his difficult journey up Devil’s Ladder, Wilhoit married Delia Dwelley and together they would have six children. It was a future the 20-year-old probably never envisioned on that hot summer day when he paused to scrawl his name on the rocks in 1850!
A second emigrant whose name is still visible is F.P. Belcher, who also left us the date of his visit: “Aug 24, ‘49”. Although we don’t know this Belcher’s identity for sure, it’s possible this was the same F.P. Belcher who was born in 1830 and arrived in California with his two younger brothers by covered wagon from Woodstock, Illinois. That F.P. Belcher found employment as a freight hauler in the “truck and van business;” lived on Russian Hill in San Francisco before moving to Oakland; married a woman named Louise Hamilton; and had five children. If indeed it is the same person, he would have been about 18 years old when he left his moniker on this pile of rocks.
There’s yet another tantalizing inscription tucked among the names: “McHenry County, Illinois” is written in at least two places. Perhaps this was the home county that some emigrants had just left; or it might have been the name given to their wagon train. We haven’t had any luck (so far!) in tracing any of the names with certainty back to that particular location. But that F.P. Belcher we mentioned, from Woodstock, Illlinois? Well, Woodstock just happensto be the county seat of McHenry County. Hmm.
Several early Carson Valley-ites also appear to have ties with that same McHenry County, Illinois, too. Pioneer settler Emanuel Penrod was said to have hailed from there. And Joseph Raycraft, Sr. married his wife Ellen back in McHenry County, where he owned a farm, before leading a wagon train west.
Two more potential but harder-to-prove connections: newspaper records listing the members of passing of emigrant trains tell us Ira Luther and J.A. Rhodes were among a Michigan wagon group planning to cross the Missouri River on May 16, 1849. That same day, the “Spartan Band” train — from none other than McHenry County, Illinois — was also assembled beside Missouri River. Included among the Spartan Band’s members was a man named James H. Van Sickle — certainly a familiar last name for Carson Valley folks!
Did early Valley settler Ira Luther join up with the folks from McHenry County on his journey west? And was “James” Van Sickle any relation of our well-known local Van Sickle family? That’s probably a “no” for Ira Luther, at least as far as joining an 1849 McHenry County wagon train for any length of time. Luther did own property in Ogle and Stephenson Counties, Illinois, roughly 70-75 miles from McHenry. But an unverified account by Ira’s son claims Ira contracted cholera in Missouri in 1849, finally making made the journey West in 1850 by schooner and rounding the Horn to land in San Francisco. So for now these are just tantalizing possible further connections to McHenry County, Illinois.
We hope you’ll pay a visit to the Odd Fellows Rocks to see the pioneer names on the rocks for yourself, and check out their homage to McHenry County. (Directions to get there are given below.) Be sure to gaze down at the Devil’s Ladder itself while you’re there, and imagine emigrants hauling their wagons and animals up this incredibly steep climb. It rises an amazing 700 feet in elevation over a distance of less than a mile. For the true flavor of what that meant, here’s how the emigrants themselves described the experience:
“After two hours’ hard work lifting at the wheels, whipping our tired teams, and using language not becoming church members, we gained a resting place and well did we need one. After a short rest we are again on the move; the way is now more smooth but very steep and crooked; a man to every wheel, and one to every horse and mule; a few steps and then a rest.” John Hawkins Clark, 1852.
“The most astonishing thing respecting the road is that any man of common sense should have first thought of taking a wagon over it.” William Tell Parker, 1850.
Once successfully at the top, some emigrants tossed their hats in the air in celebration, making the “echoes of the Sierra Nevada acquainted with the mode of cheering in good society!” as one wrote in his diary.
Others simply left their names here on the rocks — a happy sign to commemorate their passing. They probably never imagined that visitors would stop by to read their names 170 years later.
Like to visit the Odd Fellows Rocks for yourself?Here are directions!
Take Hwy 88 headed west toward Carson Pass. Just before you reach the summit, watch carefully for a paved road on your left and turn left (carefully!) onto this paved road. A day-use parking fee applies in this area, so look for the pay drop just after you make the turn. Once you pay the parking fee, follow the paved road the short distance downhill to a cul-de-sac parking area at the end. Be sure to pause here to read the interpretive sign (it includes great illustrations!) and admire the stunning overlook!
At the low end of the cul-de-sac, a dirt trail on your right will lead you into the forest where you can gaze down on a trail (on your left) — and see the near-vertical trail they called the Devil’s Ladder. It’s a great section of the Emigrant Trail to actually hike later, if you’re adventuresome enough!
To find the Odd Fellows Rocks, follow the trail on your right that leads upwards and away from the Devil’s Ladder. A short distance uphill, you’ll reach a rocky bench — and will spot the large pile of rocks with white lettering. (They’re above the cul-de-sac and overlook the spot where you parked.) This is the spot where thousands of weary emigrants and animals rested and regrouped after the climb.
Before returning to your car, take time to search out the Unknown Pioneer’s Grave, which is hidden in the trees between the Odd Fellows rocks and the paved road that you drove in on. This monument was erected to honor an anonymous pioneer who died here in the wilderness after months of arduous travel, never reaching the fabled gold fields.
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Put July 26th on your calendar. Three-quarters of a century ago on that same date, our community lost a local son.
The year was 1944. The place: somewhere near San Romano, Italy. Europe was convulsing in the final, ugly months of World War II.
Kermit Neddenriep had been cooped up in a foxhole for several days with his unit, the 88th Division of the 351st Infantry. And while there, he’d been thinking of the folks back home. “You seem to get used to the big guns going off and all the excitement,” he wrote his parents on July 20th from his uncomfortable quarters in the trench. He tried to add a reassuring touch: “There are planes zooming back and forth over our heads all the time, but mostly all ours.”
Kermit had just celebrated his 34th birthday three months earlier. Born April 5, 1910 in Diamond Valley, (Alpine County), he was the second son of Henry Dolf Neddenriep, Jr. and Eugenia (“Gene”) Harvey. His siblings included an older brother, Virgil (Ripp), and two younger sisters, Louise and Gloria. Louise, too, had enlisted when the War broke out, joining the WACs.
The Neddenriep family’s roots ran deep in Carson Valley. Kermit’s father, Henry (Jr.), was one of the ten children of Henry Neddenriep (Sr.). His father, the senior Henry, had made his way here in 1869 with a cousin, by stowing away aboard ship. And Henry Sr.’s parents, Claus and Anna Neddenriep, soon followed their son across the ocean, arriving in 1872. The land that Claus and Anna purchased would eventually form the nucleus of the 900-acre Neddenriep Home Ranch in Carson Valley.
Although officially an Alpiner by birth, Kermit moved with his family to Carson Valley when he was three years old. About 1929 the family moved again, this time to Smith Valley, and Kermit graduated from Smith Valley High. After graduation he joined his father in working the family ranch and also was employed by L.L. Wedertz of Wellington.
And then World War II broke out. For a time, ranchers were exempted from military service, their work considered critical to the home front. But as the war ground on, that changed. In November, 1942, Kermit Neddenriep received his draft notice greeting from Uncle Sam. He enlisted in the Army on November 30, 1942, and was assigned to the Fifth Army, 351st Infantry, 88th Division, under the command of General Clark. And a year and a half later, he found himself in that foxhole in Italy.
On July 26, 1944, Kermit’s unit staged an attack on the town of San Romano. “Fighting in the streets was exceedingly fierce,” the Army chaplain would later write to Kermit’s parents. “During the advance he was struck by enemy sniper fire.” Kermit died there on the streets of a town more than 5,800 miles from home. The letter he’d written his parents from a trench just six days earlier, assuring them “I am O.K.,” arrived the same day as the telegram announcing his death.
Kermit’s grave at Fredericksburg Cemetery has always had a special place in my heart, even before I learned his story. Tucked into a quiet, shady corner beneath an overhanging tree, it just has a sense of peacefulness about it. But how this grave came to be here is a story in itself — a tale of a family’s abiding love and a community’s deep respect.
You see, Kermit wasn’t buried here initially. Like so many servicemen killed overseas, his body was laid to rest close to the place where he died. After a family friend located Kermit’s grave in Italy, the Neddenriep family began the process of seeking to return his remains. And eventually they were successful.
On November 17, 1949, over five years after he passed away, Kermit’s body was finally laid to rest here in Alpine County, where he’d been born. In the intervening years a VFW post had been established in Smith Valley in Kermit’s honor: the “Kermit H. Neddenriep VFW Post 8084.” Members of this new post served as pallbearers at his funeral, and ensured he was given full military honors for the observance, including the playing of taps and a 3-rifle salute. And this Post (later re-established in Yerington, NV) now maintains his gravesite.
This year, July 26, 2019, will mark exactly 75 years from the day Kermit Neddenriep was killed in action, so far away from home. I hope you will join me in remembering him.
Just released! Our new book, “Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley.” 33 great tales, including stagecoach robberies, murders, buried treasure, and even a romance or two! Read about the couple who eloped on horseback and the folks who searched for robbers’ loot with a dowsing rod.
Brand new — available in paperback and Kindle version here!
Today, few people know his name. But back in the 1870-1880s, everyone in Alpine County and most of nearby Carson Valley knew mining promoter Lewis Chalmers. And whether they loved him or hated him, everyone had an opinion.
Son of a wealthy Scottish family, Chalmers was raised among the movers and shakers of Fraserburgh. His father and grandfather had each served in turn as the local baillie (chief magistrate) for the town, and his family was highly influential in civic affairs. Trained as a lawyer, Lewis took over as baillie when his father died in 1850. By the early 1860s Chalmers had secured a cushy post for himself as “factor” for Lord Saltoun, managing the nobleman’s estate and finances.
But that good fortune soon evaporated — along with a good bit of Lewis’s inheritance. Chalmers, it seems, was feathering his own nest a bit too freely with his employer’s money. In 1864, Lord Saltoun sent him packing.
Chalmers was forced to leave Scotland in disgrace. Down on his fortunes and with seven children to feed, he moved to London and took a position with an investment firm, where he began studying assaying. News of the recent strikes in the Comstock Lode was dazzling British investors. Chalmers’ new employers acquired the rights to a mine called the Michigan Tunnel in Alpine County, and in 1867 sent Chalmers to oversee their highly speculative investment.
Now 42 years old, Chalmers must have had high hopes indeed as he set sail from Liverpool on September 11, 1867 for his new post. But when he finally arrived in the rough mining camp the foot of Monitor Canyon, it must have been a bit of a culture shock. Chalmers settled in as best he could to make himself comfortable in this wild, untamed country. He halted all work in the tunnel until his workmen could build him a comfortable house, complete with assay office. He hired a housekeeper. (Mining camp or no, Chalmers wasn’t about to do his own cleaning.) And he ordered a few basic supplies, including ivory-handled knives, wine glasses and decanters, and kegs of good Scotch whiskey.
Among Chalmers’ first acts as the new mining superintendent: re-branding the blandly-named Michigan Tunnel Co. as the “Imperial Gold & Silver Quarries.” He certainly had a marketer’s touch. Locals took to calling him “Lord” Chalmers, for his high-falutin’ ways. Meanwhile, in letters home, Chalmers complained bitterly about “rusticating in Alpine.”
Work on the Michigan Tunnel aka Imperial Silver Quarries continued for the next two years. Despite successfully pushing the hard-rock tunnel 1,406 feet into Mount America, Chalmers never stumbled across any worthwhile ore. Investors in London became harder and harder to come by and eventually, the Imperial’s finances cratered.
Undeterred, Chalmers slogged on. He acquired title to additional mines in Scandinavian Canyon, and doggedly pursued one mining venture after another — all financed through his influential contacts in London and their gullible friends. For nearly twenty years, hopeful overseas investors poured funds into one Alpine mining venture after another.
Chalmers married his latest housekeeper and had two more children born here in Alpine County. But happiness — and a return of fortune — were not to be his. He departed for London about 1885, ostensibly to raise fresh capital for the mines. He never returned. They say his wife walked down the road every day to the big tree where the stage used to stop, hoping each time that Chalmers was coming home. He never did.
Lewis Chalmers died in London in January, 1904 of “heart complaint.” But he left an amazing legacy behind in Alpine County. Thanks in large part to the steady influx of British capital he wangled to support the local mines (and local jobs), the newly-minted county was able to survive its formative years.
And Chalmers left behind his own rich legacy as well in the form of nearly 20 letter-books, packed with details about the day-to-day operation of his mines. It’s an incredible wealth of data for historians and researchers.
Lewis Chalmers has been gone, now, for more than a century. But now you know his story. We hope you’ll help keep his memory alive.
(If you’d like to read much more about the life of Lewis Chalmers and Alpine County’s early mining days, check out our Silver Mountain City book!)
Top image is thought to be a portrait of Lewis Chalmers, although we’re not 100% positive. It was found in a photo album donated by the Arnot family, directly opposite the image of Lord Poulett. Photo courtesy of Alpine County Historical Society.
There’s more than one “tale of the unexplained” floating around the old buildings in Markleeville!
Perhaps it just seems like there should be a ghost in places that have seen so much life pass through their rooms. But stories about ghosts at Markleeville’s Cutthroat Saloon (Wolf Creek Restaurant) have been swirling for years:
One waitress will swear to you she felt a distinct tap on her shoulder — and whirled around to find the dining room empty.
There are reports of a horse’s whinny heard in the stone-lined cellar — a greeting, some say, from the century-old steed whose photo hangs near the stairs.
Yet another great ghostly tale emerged during our recent tour of the 150-year-old building. Reaching the top of the steep, narrow stairs we found five wooden chairs, all neatly arranged in a circle in the middle of the attic — much to the exasperation of our guide.
“I move those chairs up against the wall every single time I’m up here,” he huffed. “And yet every time I come back, they’re right back in a circle in the middle of the floor again. And I’m positive nobody’s been up here.”
Enjoy ghost stories? Here are 13 true tales of the unexplained, all in and around Markleeville. Get your copy here!
Photographer John Calvin Scripture captured this haunting image of a mysterious lake about 1874. The hand-lettered caption calls it “Summit Lake,” and confirms the location as Alpine County, California. So where was this 140+ year-old picture taken?
There is, of course, a “Summit Lake” in Alpine County not far from today’s tiny airport, and another (on some maps, at least) in the wilds southeast of Blue Lakes. But neither lake a likely match for the one captured by Scripture in his old photo.
So where was the lake in this 1874 photo taken? Ah, and that turned into a hunt to solve not one but two mysteries!
We put our heads together with noted Sierra historian Frank Tortorich, who tendered Mosquito Lake as a possibility: a small lake near the crest of Pacific Grade, on today’s Highway 4. That would indeed make it a true “summit” lake! And its location along Highway 4 — once the old Big Tree Road — makes it a great fit for Scripture’s “Big Trees” series.
Check out these images — Mosquito Lake sure looks like a match to us!
So our first “Summit Lake” mystery — apparently solved! But, as we were researching, we found a second Summit Lake image that posed even more of a challenge!
This one’s an 1861 sketch by Edward Vischer, a Bavarian artist who traveled widely in early California and Nevada. It’s officially titled: “Lake near the summit of the East Range, on the Big Tree Road,” and was printed several years later in Vischer’s book, Pictorial of California Landscape, Trees and Forest Scenes.
Here’s the view Vischer captured in 1861:
And take a close look — those are camels in the foreground!
Camels, on the Big Tree Road?! Yup. As annotations to the book explain, Vischer accompanied a caravan of nine Bactrian camels over the Big Tree Route in 1861, headed for the Washoe silver mines. The camels, it was hoped, would be useful for carrying salt and other goods to the Virginia City mines from the Walker River District. (If you haven’t already read about this great camel experiment, there’s lots more information just a quick Google search away! That’s another fascinating tale!)
The caption to the Vischer sketch confirms that this “Summit Lake” also was somewherealong the Big Tree Road. But it’s clearly not the same lake as Scripture’s photo. Vischer’s rocky cliffs more nearly resemble the outcrops near today’s Kinney Reservoir. And that would certainly fit as a “summit” lake on the East Range; Kinney is near the top of Ebbett’s Pass, an easterly sister to Mosquito Lake on nearby Pacific Summit.
Perhaps the camels were taking an afternoon snooze beside the (smaller) original lake that morphed into Kinney Reservoir once the dam went in. On first glance at least, that looked like a good guess! Check out this photo of Kinney Reservoir today.
Only one big problem with the Kinney Lake theory: there was no actual road over Ebbett’s Pass (and Kinney Lakes) in 1861 — just a rough pack trail. The trail was improved into a wagon road three years later, an extension of the Big Tree Road to serve Silver Mountain City. But the good wagon road wasn’t finished until 1864.
So, would camels have been herded along a mere pack trail to reach the lake at Kinney? Wouldn’t the camel train instead have followed the more-established Border Ruffian wagon road north through Hope Valley, and continued east on the old Carson Emigrant Route?
After scratching our heads for a while, we realized that Vischer’s party might actually have preferred the unimproved trail over Ebbett’s to the better-traveled Border Ruffian wagon route. For two reasons:
First: The Border Ruffian Road connected with the old Carson Emigrant road, which would have required a steep and rocky descent through Woodfords Canyon — perhaps not such an appealing prospect with camel hooves.
And Second: Horses and mules had a tendency to panic at the sight of the unfamiliar camels. Perhaps the camel party preferred the quieter pack trail to the potential chaos of the busier Big Tree wagon road.
So, while we don’t know for sure, our bet is that Vischer’s camels were resting near the original small mountain lake that’s now become Kinney Reservoir. Take a look at the photos above, and let us know what you think!
Discover long-forgotten Alpine County sites for yourself: With this guided historic tour of Snowshoe Thompson’s Diamond Valley, early Woodfords, and Fredericksburg’s pioneer ranches!
Grab your copy here: http://www.Clairitage.com
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He died over half a century ago. But tales live on about Earl Lessley, the “flying cowboy”!
Earl Lessley was born in 1889 in Drytown, California. His parents, Mary and Samuel Lessley, had crossed the plains from Missouri by covered wagon. Even after they arrived in California, the family evidently moved around a bit; a second son, Ray, was born in 1892 in nearby Volcano.
Just how Lessley happened to mosey east to Carson Valley is unknown. But by 1918 he began working for Dangberg Land and Livestock. He would become a “veteran and respected employee” for the next 37 years. (Younger brother, Ray, may have had something to do with the move to Carson Valley; he, too, worked for Dangberg, beginning in 1919, moving on in 1937 to work for George “Bim” Koenig at the Swauger Ranch at Topaz.)
Earl’s prowess as a horseman was legendary. Astride a spirited horse named “Fighting,” Lessley took first prize for best rider in the finals at the American Legion rodeo in Carson Valley in June, 1928. As the years went by he would become a well-known “old vaquero” at Vaquero Cow Camp, the summer range for Dangberg cattle in Bagley Valley.
But what Lessley was mostfamous for was his passion for airplanes! Given the difficulty of accessing Bagley Valley, he decided to fly in with John Dangberg one winter, using a rented WWI biplane. Lessley had carefully cleared a primitive landing strip on a low ridge south of the camp. But when he attempted to maneuver in for a landing on his fresh dirt strip, the plane careened down nose-first. (Luckily, Lessley and his famous passenger both survived!)
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the landing strip at Vaquero Camp continued to be used — though not always successfully. When a second plane also crashed, the practical Lessley happily scavenged parts from the wreck to reuse on the ranch. A third pilot, too, is said to have crashed, escaping with only a broken arm.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, Earl continued to fly in, owning several airplanes of his own throughout the years. He evidently learned from his early mistakes as a pilot; his obituary noted that Lessley “frequently had accomplished the [difficult] feat of landing and taking off from Bagley Valley.”
Other near-apocryphal tales about Lessley paint a picture of a grizzled outdoorsman. Like many of his generation he disdained doctors; developing “foot trouble” (possibly frostbite or gangrene), Lessley simply lopped off part of his own toes with an axe.
He also enjoyed a frontiersman’s wicked sense of humor. Lessley once pranked local fishermen by stuffing the hind-quarters of a dead bear into a pair of old Levis then half-buried the carcass in a river bank where he knew they would find it!
In 1952, Lessley suffered a concussion in Carson Valley when a horse fell on him. He told his coworkers to leave him there, saying he was content to die in camp. His fellow cowboys didn’t listen, however, successfully carting him out on a stretcher for medical treatment.
Lessley’s end came three years later — and a rather ironic end it was for an old cowboy. It was April 17, 1955, and the spring winds through Carson Valley were strong and gusty. Lessley was working on his car at the Klauber Ranch, and had jacked up the vehicle and crawled underneath. The car slipped off the jack, possibly from the gusty wind. The rear axle landed on Lessley’s chest. His body was discovered the next day by Hans Dunwebber, a fellow employee. If there was any happy news in the tragedy, it was that Lessley was said to have died instantaneously. He was 66 years old.
Earl Lessley was laid to rest near his parents in his family’s plot at Shenandoah Valley Cemetery in Plymouth, California, in a grave shared with his younger brother, Ray. (Ray died in 1962; it is unclear where their sister, Edith Lessley Waters, is buried.)
Prominent locals Bill Hellwinkel and Otto Heise traveled all the way from Carson Valley to Jackson to pay their respects at Earl’s funeral — a touching indicator of the extremely high regard in which he was held by his community.
____________ For additional information about Earl Lessley and the vaqueros at Bagley Valley, check out Judy Wickwire’s wonderful book, “Land Use Patterns in Bagley and Silver King Valleys” (Clear Water Publishing, 2017) — available at the Alpine County Museum in Markleeville! Contact the Museum at: (530) 694-2317.