The Secret Life of Eugene May (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Old Carson Valley Creamery

This mysterious building on Waterloo Lane used to be something. Carson Valley folks have probably driven by it dozens of times, wondering: what’s its story?

Back in the day — 1891, to be precise — this used to be the Carson Valley Creamery. And not just any creamery, mind you; this was a gold-medal-winning local creamery!

What got the whole creamery notion rolling was a series of letters to Carson Valley’s E. Cohn from a man in L.A. And these letters weren’t any ordinary letters; the writer happened to run a creamery in Los Angeles for Lucky Baldwin. (Don’t know who Lucky Baldwin was? I didn’t either. His real name was Elias Jackson Baldwin (born 1828); the “lucky” moniker came from his extraordinarily good luck at wheeling and dealing. Wikipedia calls Baldwin “one of the greatest pioneers” in California business; he built San Francisco’s posh Baldwin Hotel & Theatre, and bought up so much Southern California land that his name still lives on there. Here’s the Wikipedia article on Baldwin, well worth a glance!).

It was something like receiving a letter from Bill Gates. If Bill Gates tells you creameries are a grand business, you have to at least consider it!

A meeting of local farmers was speedily convened at Valhalla Hall in March, 1891, to discuss the idea. C.C. Henningsen explained the relatively simple concept to the group: each dairy farmer would put his own marked milk cans out by the road; a creamery wagon would pick them up and haul them to the creamery; skim milk could be returned to the farmers in their own cans, for a small price. By selling and shipping their butter and cheese collectively, the farmers hoped to reach larger markets and get a better price. H. Springmeyer immediately came out as an advocate for the plan.

Milk wagons looked something like this miniature model. Note that cushy “spring” seat for the driver!

The newspaper was jammed with “Creamery Talk” that whole spring and summer. Before long, a 36 x 86-foot two-story building was being erected on a 10-acre parcel at the southeast corner of William Dangberg’s ranch. Plans for the new building called for a cold storage area, a butter room, and a separator room on the ground floor; and an “ice room” that spanned both floors. Upstairs would be the cheese room, kitchen, dining room and three “chambers.”

In July, 1891, the creamery group signed a five-year contract with Julius Kaupisch and his brother, both trained at a dairy school in Saxony, Germany. One Kaupisch brother promptly set off for Chicago to procure machinery. A steam engine was purchased and hauled in from a former steam laundry in Carson City, and a 90-foot well was drilled by George Hawkins to supply the new creamery with fresh water.

Corporate officers for the new enterprise included John Frantzen as president and C.M. Henningsen as Secretary. Banker (and man-of-many-talents) Fritz Heise not only served as the company’s treasurer but also helpfully hauled rock for the new creamery’s foundation. C.E. Merrick hired on as the manager.

Such a “quintessential Carson Valley” scene!

“The farmers are enthusiastic over the subject and are preparing to milk as many cows as possible,” the newspaper boasted, adding that local dairymen were scouting for good stock to add to their herds. “In a few years this Valley will be stocked with the finest lot of milk cows to be found anywhere.”

To expand local herds supplying the creamery, the Kaupisch brothers brokered the purchase of another 360 cows from dairies near the California coast that were shutting down — a whole train-load. In the process, though, the Kaupisch pair managed to royally irritate some local feelings; the new cows were mostly Jerseys, Durhams, and Short Horns, because (the Kaupisch brothers claimed) Holsteins “do not prove to be good milkers.”

This last comment received an agitated response in the local Appeal:  “The Kaupisch Brothers, if they made such a statement, evidently know little about milch cows,” the writer sniffed. “Let the proprietors of the Carson Valley Creamery investigate the records of thoroughbreds and not take the products of halfbreeds as a standard.”

The new creamery was touted as a win-win-win for local farmers: “Instead of hunting a market for their butter, they can remain at home and give their full attention to the farm and dairy work,” the local newspaper cheered. “There is no longer need for importing cheese from other States, for a choice article in this line will be manufactured” right there at the new creamery. And the more Carson Valley hay that local dairymen purchased to feed their growing herds, “the more you are patronizing home industry and assisting in making your own community self-supporting.” It was downright patriotic to patronize the creamery!

This is how the new Creamery building would have looked to approaching wagons.
(Photo courtesy Douglas County Historical Society).

When the new creamery building was up and running in the fall of 1891, it had machinery able to handle milk from up to 3,000 cows, and promised production of up to 1.5 tons of butter and 3 tons of cheese each and every day. Milk was to be delivered to the creamery twice a day in summer, and once a day in winter months, and farmers were promised $1 per hundred pounds of milk to start (provided it tested at four pounds of butter to the hundred-weight).

A visiting reporter from the Genoa Weekly Courier gave a fascinating overview of the operation in July, 1891. Farmers would deliver ten-gallon cans of milk, each weighing roughly 80 pounds. Cream content was tested once every month for each farm, and every batch of incoming milk was tested, too, to be sure it hadn’t been watered or skimmed.

A fascinating glimpse of the machinery inside the creamery.

The incoming milk was dumped into an immense bucket for weighing; then the bucket was hoisted to the upper story and drained into a large vat, where pipes took the milk to a centrifugal separator. And not just any separator, mind you; this separator was a special gem, imported from Germany and known as the “Alexandra.”

Once the Alexandra had done its work, the skimmed milk was returned to cans for farmers wishing to buy it (at ten cents for hundred pounds), or drained into the cheese tank for reuse. Watching one such operation, the newspaper reported that farmers “had the skimmed milk in the cans and were ready to return home” just twenty minutes after the milk was delivered.

The butter and cheese operations were additional marvels. Cream was conveyed from the giant Alexandra separator to a cream vat for cooling, where it was allowed to rest or “ripen” for 24 hours before being sent off one of  two steam-driven churns, holding 400-gallons each. A six-foot circular “butter worker” table came next, where salt was added and the butter got worked over by rollers. Off to the cold storage room it went, where it was molded into two-pound square blocks and then packed into cases of 120 pounds apiece. Shipments of butter went to Carson three times a week.

This beautiful mural inside Katie’s Restaurant at Carson Valley Inn shows rancher Herman Scheele, on his way from Fredericksburg to the Creamery with — how many cans of milk? We counted over 30, and this double-wagon probably carried more than that!

A separate cheese-making operation produced small and large rings of cheese, weighing 9 and 28 pounds respectively; as many as 200 of these were turned out a day. (The secret to turning skimmed milk into fatty cheese, shared later by a worker: the addition of just the right proportion of lard!) From the curing room, cheese wheels would slide down a convenient chute into a waiting wagon and were whisked off to market. As for the butter, that was packed into wooden crates, shipped by wagon to Carson City, then loaded onto trains for Virginia City and San Francisco.

And a lucky thing all that hauling that proved to be for teamster Fritz Dangberg. Dangberg arrived from Germany in 1895, and quickly got hired on by the Creamery to drive teams to Carson City. While in Carson, Dangberg used to stable his horses with Zirn Andersen, at Andersen’s Hay Yard. And there, as luck had it, Dangberg got to know Zirn’s sister-in-law, Metta Winkelman, who was staying with the Andersens. One thing led to another, and Fritz and Metta were married in 1897.

 * * * * * *
Okay, that’s not the end of the story! But it was too long for one post. So stay tuned next week, when we’ll continue with the rest in Part 2!
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Bootleg Liquor

The tax man had a ready pencil.

Back in the 1860s, young Alpine County slapped fees on just about every article and activity. Would-be voters ponied up $2 in poll tax for the privilege of casting their ballot. There was a broker’s license; a license to sell merchandise; a theater license; a peddler’s license; and a license for keeping billiard tables.

On top of it all were hefty property taxes, which were imposed on all sorts of assets. A lawyer’s law library? Taxed. County scrip (that IOU when the County couldn’t pay you in gold)?  Taxed.  Cows, chickens, horses, and wagons all were taxed too. Pretty much anything of value became prey for the tax man’s eager pencil, including — wait for it — dogs.

Saloons did a thriving business.

With the abundance of saloons hard at work fueling early Alpine County miners, liquor licenses became an especially lucrative revenue source for county government. In one quarter of 1867, for example, liquor license revenue was 50% higher than the license fees collected from merchandise sellers.

Distilleries, too, were supposed to pay a county license fee. Not surprisingly, bootleg operations quickly flourished.

In 1869, rumors began to swirl about an underground liquor operation in Fredericksburg. “All search for its whereabouts proved unavailing”  — until a suspicious fire broke out in 1870 in a vacant house owned by Mrs. Woodford. “The whole establishment was thus unearthed, but the guilty parties have not yet been detected by the revenue officers,” the Chronicle chuckled, “and probably never will be.”

Bootleg liquor was a way to make ends meet during Prohibition.

Secret stills reappeared in Alpine County during Prohibition years, artfully concealed in local barns. Once again, Fredericksburg seems to have been a center for this illicit activity.

For local ranchers, bootlegging likely meant economic survival. “Almost every one of these ranchers on Foothill Road had a still in their barn during Prohibition,” recalls one rancher’s grandson. “My grandfather refused to do it, and we’re the only ones that went broke!”

Want to read more tales from early Alpine history? You can order our books, Silver Mountain City: Ghost of the Sierra and Driving Tour of Woodfords, Diamond Valley & Fredericksburg here!

 

Carson Valley Civil War Vet

Chambers Lane, a rural road at the southern end of Carson Valley, is just a place name these days. But it once was an early Alpine County homestead, owned by Civil War veteran Thomas Armstrong Chambers.

Thomas Chambers

Born in St. Lawrence, New York in 1837, Chambers (like so many young men) became swept up in the turmoil of the Civil War. He joined the 6th New York Heavy Artillery as a private, probably in response to President Lincoln’s urgent call in August, 1862 for “300 more” patriots to help defend the Union. According to a fellow member of that unit, “there were no bounties offered as an inducement to enlist, and it is safe to say that patriotism is the only motive that brought this body together in defense of our country’s cornerstone, the Constitution.”

6th Heavy Artillery camped at Maryland Heights, 1863.

Chambers’ heavy artillery unit was trained to fire large canon, and for much of the war was stationed as a defensive force near Washington D.C. But in the spring of 1864, the group was reorganized as an infantry force assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Thereafter the unit fought in such notable battles as Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and won military acclaim for their “gallant conduct” at the Battle of Harris Farm in May, 1864. Chambers himself was promoted during the war from private to Second Sergeant.

When the war was over in 1865, Chambers returned home to New York, where he married Margaret Morgan about 1866. They eventually had a total of nine offspring, including a pair of identical twins, Myron and Byron.

The family came west about 1873, settling first in the early mining town of Monitor, where the Chambers children attended school. Chambers worked as a carpenter. In 1892, he homesteaded a 160-acre ranch along the country road that soon took his name, Chambers Lane. A devoted member of the local community, Chambers became one of the founders of the Fredericksburg Cemetery Society, helping the Society to acquire its cemetery land in 1891 from Frederick Bruns and serving as the organization’s first president.

Chambers suffered from “consumption” (tuberculosis) acquired during his military service. “They said you could hear the entire company coughing,” a descendant noted. For this combat-related infirmity, he was granted a Civil War pension of $12 per month in 1882.

Beautiful wrought iron gate and fencing surround the Chambers plot.

When he passed away in 1912, Chambers was buried inside a beautiful wrought iron fence at his family plot in the Fredericksburg Cemetery. His wife, Maggie, was later laid to rest beside him, along with three of their children: Myron, Byron, and Ella.

Thomas and Margaret Chambers are buried here. Someone has thoughtfully marked his grave with a flag for the Fourth of July!
Thomas Chambers’ headstone

Today when you hear the place name “Chambers Lane,” we hope you’ll remember this proud veteran and Alpine County pioneer. And if you happen to visit, his Civil War headstone is the earliest military marker in the Fredericksburg Cemetery.

Like to read more stories about the early settlers who are buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery? Check out our Walking Tour book here! (it’s the fifth book on that page.)

#CivilWar

#Cemeteries

#AlpineCounty

#Markleeville

 

 

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