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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Ham’s and Cook’s Stations on the Amador-Nevada Wagon Road

Have you ever driven past Cook’s and Ham’s Stations on Highway 88, and wanted to know their stories?

Yup, these were original old “stations” along the early Amador and Nevada Wagon Road in the 1860s! Here’s the scoop:

Cook’s Station (150 years old and counting) is still a popular wayside eatery.

The “Volcano Cut-Off” had ferried travelers from the Old Emigrant Road in this direction since 1852. Then in 1862, Amador voters approved a $25,000 bond to finance a new and improved wagon road to the Amador county seat of Jackson — and it was to be a new toll road, mind you!

Happy travelers stopping at Cook’s Station about 1920, when Pete Barone was manager.

The merchants in Jackson were understandably in favor of this new enterprise, which would make it easier for traffic to reach the county seat. Yes, the new route was to be a toll road. But its advantages were substantial. For one thing it cut around the Carson Spur, allowing travelers to skip the arduous climb over West Pass. And as a new (and very expensive) roadbed, the going would be far better than the previous road. As Amador historian Larry Cenotto put it, “Roadside inns, like weeds, sprang up in anticipation” of the new wagon road’s opening!

By the summer of 1863, the new “Amador and Nevada Wagon Road” was open for business. With its start at Antelope Springs (Dewdrop), it continued east as far as Hope Valley (still part of Amador County until the following year).

The original establishment at the site now known as Cook’s Station was an inn owned by Charley Stedham (sometimes spelled Steadham), which opened as early as 1852 to serve travelers heading to Volcano. The way station went through several owners after Charley, becoming first Hipkin’s, then Wiley’s, and eventually Cook’s.

Sometime after 1905, the old way station was acquired by Louis H. Cook. A resident of Volcano, Cook served as an Amador County supervisor and also road superintendent for the section of state road west of Kirkwood’s. In addition to owning this famous wayside stop that now bears his name, Cook also was proprietor of the St. George Hotel in Volcano.

Louis H. Cook was a county supervisor and also owned the St. George Hotel in Volcano, California.

If you stop in for lunch at Cook’s Station today, be sure to check out their great old photos of this historic spot, including this one, below!

Cattle and what may be a hay wagon are waiting outside Cook’s Station circa 1900! Notice the churned-up dirt of the road.

And don’t miss the great framed letter and wedding photo on the wall near Cook’s counter! Della Reeves Gillick wrote about working at Cook’s Station circa 1891-95, when her father operated the Station. Teamsters hauling lumber with 12-mule teams from the sawmill up the road would often stop in for a bite to eat or to spend the night. She describes the dirt road out front as “shoe-top deep” in dust, churned up by passing traffic (just as you can see in the photo above!)

Letter from Della Reeves Gillick to her granddaughter, describing life at Cook’s Station when she lived there between about 1891-1895.

Gillick recalls pumping water by hand from the outside well and carrying it into the house to do cooking or laundry. “I sure done my share of pumpin’,” she recalls.

Ham’s Station, east of Cook’s on Highway 88, is another original stop along the old toll road.  Amador historian Larry Cenotto notes that this site was originally Smith’s Hotel, built in 1863, and subsequently was operated by “Tulloch, Horsley & Co.” in 1864.

This etching shows “Ham’s Station, Hotel and Ranch” as it looked in 1881 (from Thompson & West’s History of Amador County). Note the welcoming accommodations for travelers with animals.

By the 1880s, the station had been acquired by A.C. Ham and his brother, who gave it the name it bears today: “Ham’s Station.” Born in Kentucky in 1841, Ham came west in 1855 to join his father, J.C. Ham, a builder who had emigrated earlier. A.C. Ham mined for a time before taking up the hotel business. He later became “sole owner of the Modoc mine in the Pioneer district.” There, it was said, he “is familiar with all the resorts of the grizzlies . . . for persons wishing for a few days’ rural amusement.”

In later, years, Ham’s Station was owned by W.E. Proctor, who sold it in 1900 to Joseph Dufrene for the sum of $450. In the early 1900s it went through a quick succession of managers, including John Votaw, Joseph Mello, and L. Mooney.

Sadly, Ham’s Station was closed when we stopped by to snap this picture in late 2017.
From what we hear, Ham’s Station has now been sold. We look forward to its newest incarnation!

We hear that Ham’s Station has now been sold — kudo’s to whoever purchased this amazing bit of history!

A special thank-you to historian Frank Tortorich for his kind assistance with this article. We also were pleased to find great information in Larry Cenotto’s wonderful “Logan’s Alley,” Vol. V (2006, Word Dancer Press), which contains much more about the history of the Amador-Nevada Wagon Road and the pioneering Amador families!

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The Jackson Bordellos

Today’s Bank of America in Jackson.

Keep an eye peeled for a patch in the sidewalk outside Jackson’s Bank of America next time you visit.

If it looks like something once sat here and has since been removed, well, it did and it was. All that’s left now is a slightly darker square of concrete. But there’s a great tale that goes with it!

It was March, 1956 when four separate houses in Jackson were raided by agents from the State Department of Justice. Arrested were three madams and 15 “ladies of questionable virtue.” Establishments known as “Dixie’s” and “Jeanette’s” were located behind today’s B of A, where the parking lot now sits; the “Brookside” was at the end of Vogan Alley, just past the hotel; and “Ace’s Rooms” (aka the Drive-In) was near where Mel’s Diner is today.

The alley next to the hotel is still there — the brothel isn’t.

The raid came as an unhappy surprise to local law enforcement; nobody told them the State agents were coming. Gambling and prostitution had been long considered no big deal in town. Even local kids knew where the cat houses were located. Police chief Guido Tofanelli (who had side jobs as a barber and bartender) was said to confide to one undercover investigator that “the girls made this town” — a statement he later testified that he “just didn’t remember.”  His deputies, Gildo Dondero and James Fregulia, testified they were completely unaware of the existence of the three establishments and “wouldn’t walk through dark alleys at night for anyone.” Part-time mayor, part-time plumber Robert Smallfield had fixed faucets for the houses in the past.

Judge John C. Begovich was the brother of “Sharkey” Begovich (of Sharkey’s Casino fame), and a Justice Court judge in Jackson in 1956. He later would become a Superior Court Judge.

When one of the fifteen “working girls” was hauled before Justice Court Judge John Begovich on prostitution charges, she reportedly greeted the judge with grin and a cheerful: “Hi Johnny.” “Babs, is that you?” the judge is said to have responded.

A dozen years later, a local group calling themselves the “Filthy Five” decided the now-removed outposts deserved belated recognition. The site they chose for a plaque — today’s B of A sidewalk — had previously been home to the Bridge Cabin, and a cluster of “old frame dens” once stood just behind it near the creek. The group created a heart-shaped bronze plaque declaring:

The World’s Oldest Profession flourished 50 yards east of this plaque
for many years until this most perfect example of
free enterprise was padlocked by unsympathetic politicians
.”

Trouble was, they signed it with an acronym derived for their artfully-selected name: “Environmental Resources Enabling Committee To Investigate Our Necessary Services.”

Jackson Mayor Pete Cassinelli gave permission for the group to plant the plaque in the sidewalk, and a dedication ceremony was arranged, complete with band, program, and speakers. The plaque was cemented in the sidewalk awaiting its unveiling on February 14, 1968 — appropriately, Valentine’s Day — and temporarily shielded from view with a wooden cover.

Somewhere between 50 and 100 attendees showed up for the ceremony. The Filthy Five participated in festive frock coats and derby hats. Stockbroker Duff Chapman donned an eyepatch just for the occasion, and gave a speech nostalgically celebrating the “full and enlightened economy” of the old days. The President of the local PTA was said to have mused that the plaque might have something of an uncertain effect on local children, “but it sure will help tourism!”

The plaque enjoyed the bright light of day for all of about one week. Outrage quickly followed. The wording itself was tame enough, but the acronym from the group’s carefully-chosen title didn’t fly with the townsfolk in 1968. Local clergymen predictably led the charge, and a local judge termed it “vulgar.” The Sacramento Bee and other papers happily covered the controversy.

The City Council meeting five days after the unveiling was swamped with outraged citizens, expressing their unhappy opinions. Surprisingly, the council voted to let the plaque stay. But pushback continued. Red paint was splashed on the offending heart-shaped memorial by some unhappy citizen and the word politicians detest the most, “recall,” began to be bandied about.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the Filthy Five quietly exhumed the plaque under cover of night on February 20 — hence explaining the current patched square in the sidewalk. A brief attempt was made to reinstall it later with the offending acronym scraped off and a new attribution substituted: “Western Historical Organization” (WHO). The City considered okaying the plaque with this change, but eventually declined following rumors that two further letters (“RE”) were initially planned. And so the heart-shaped plaque remained quietly under wraps in the protective custody of its promoters for the next two decades.

Time went by, and the surviving members of the “Filthy Five” began searching for a final resting place for the historic plaque. They finally found it on July 30, 1993, a quarter of a century after the heart’s unveiling in the sidewalk:  Amador County’s Museum accepted the plaque as a donation to its permanent collection.

The original heart-shaped plaque is said to be safely stored, out of sight, in the Museum’s vault. Plaster-cast replicas, however, can be seen in the window of the Amador County Visitor’s Center and above the bar in the Whiskey Flat Saloon at Volcano, California.

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Special thanks to Frank Tortorich, who kindly shared notes from a speech he prepared on the tale of the heart-shaped plaque. Also be sure to check out Larry Cenotto’s “Logan’s Alley,” Vol. V, which humorously recounts the plaque’s long and winding saga.

Enjoyed this post? Please leave us a comment!

 

Veterans’ Day

In honor of Veterans’ Day, here are the true stories of two nearly-forgotten veterans! Both are buried at the historic Fredericksburg Cemetery, just off Highway 88.

Tucked beneath a shady smoke tree (roughly in the center of the photo) is the grave of Kermit Neddenriep. When we first began researching, we knew nothing about Kermit beyond the brief military information on his headstone:

PFC, 351 Infantry, Nevada
World War II
April 5, 1910 – July 26, 1944

This is Kermit’s grave, tucked beneath a sheltering tree. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire.)

But with a little digging, we  were able to learn his tragic story.

Son of a prominent Nevada ranching family, Kermit enlisted in the Army on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the deadly Pearl Harbor attack that launched World War II. He  quickly was sent overseas to the European Theater as part of the Fifth Army, 351st Infantry, 88th Division, under General Clark, and for more than five months, was embroiled in active combat.

On July 26, 1944, Kermit’s company launched an attack on the town of San Romano, Italy. “Fighting in the streets was exceedingly fierce,” wrote the company chaplain afterwards, “and during the advance [Kermit] was struck by enemy sniper fire.”

Kermit died there in the streets of San Romano. His parents received a sad telegram notifying them of his death — and also received a letter in the mail that same day from Kermit himself, written six days before his fatal battle.

But Kermit’s story wouldn’t end there. Although he was killed in 1944, his body was finally returned and buried here at Fredericksburg five years later, in 1949. Services were held for him first in Smith Valley, where Kermit had attended high school. Then a full military service was conducted here at graveside, complete with color guard, a three-volley salute fired over the casket, and the mournful playing of “Taps.” In Kermit’s honor, new VFW Post #8084 was established in Smith Valley, and post members served as his pallbearers. Kermit was just 34 years old at the time of his death — his young life cut short in service to his country.

Sgt. Thomas Armstrong Chambers.

And there’s yet one more nearly-forgotten war veteran at Fredericksburg Cemetery we wanted to tell you about–

A native of New York, Chambers served in the Civil War. Although he survived that brutal conflict, he didn’t emerge unscathed. “They said you could hear the entire company coughing,” a descendant tells us. By the time he was discharged from the service, Chambers had contracted “consumption” — or in today’s language, tuberculosis. He eventually was granted a military pension of $12  a month as a result of his illness.


The headstone of Sgt. Thomas Chambers at Fredericksburg Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

Chambers went on to play a lasting role in Alpine history. In 1891, he became a founding member (and first president) of the Fredericksburg Cemetery Society, and helped with the purchase of its land. And in 1892, he homesteaded a 160-acre tract just east of Highway 88 (and east of the Cemetery). Among Chambers’ nine children were twins, Myron and Byron, who later became well-known ranchers in Smith Valley and Carson Valley. And the road near his homestead still bears his name: Chambers Lane.

We hope you will remember both these brave veterans in your thoughts this Veterans Day, and that you’ll seek them out the next time you visit the historic Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Interested in learning more about the lives of people buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery? Check out this self-guided walking tour.

It’s available here:
http://www.clairitage.com/books.html