This Charming Markleeville Cottage Has a Story

One glance, and you just know this Markleeville cottage has a story!  And quite a story it is.

In 1864, this was the site of the Empire Meat Market, owned by a butcher named M. Peltier. To help promote sales, Peltier hired Augustus T. “Gus” Lee to run a meat wagon peddling his meat to outlying communities like Monitor. It seemed like a good idea at the outset, but the mobile meat market idea proved a dud. One day after Lee returned from his rounds, Peltier informed Lee that he was now unemployed.

Lee had just lost a young daughter and was already grieving. Another calamity was too much. After fortifying himself with a drink or three at a bar close by, Lee stormed back to the meat market and confronted Lee with a raised fist. The startled Peltier did what all good butchers would do; he picked up a meat cleaver to defend himself. Lee quickly found a butcher knife to even the odds and proceeded to stab Peltier in the throat — all of which goes to prove that a meat market is a pretty inauspicious place to hold a fight.

Peltier was able to stagger down the street to the office of Dr. Waters (roughly behind today’s courthouse), but soon expired from his wounds. Lee himself was so badly wounded that court proceedings against him were delayed.

Meat hooks salvaged from the butcher shop’s early days, plus a horseshoe in the middle for good luck.

Needless to say, the butcher shop changed hands. The following year (1865) it reopened with new proprietors H.L. Marsden and C.H. Kilgore at the helm.

Yet another tragedy ensued here twenty years later when the Great Fire of 1885 engulfed most of Markleeville’s downtown. The butcher shop was smack in the middle of the conflagration and became one of the many casualties of the fire. Then-owner John Cronkite promptly rebuilt, however, erecting another butcher shop on the same site — today’s building — in 1886. According to local lore, the basement was specially constructed to stay cool, using sixteen-inch walls filled with dirt. Ice harvested from the creek in winter months likely also helped provide refrigeration.

Bill Eggleston’s grave is still visible at the Fredericksburg Cemetery — where kind souls pruned back a thriving lilac bush so the headstone can be read.

The property remained a meat market until about 1916 when it was purchased by William Barrett and his wife, Wilda (the local postmistress), and the Barretts converted it to a residence. It later became the home of woodworker William Eggleston, who added the section on the north as a workshop. War hero Hoke Barrett and his wife June lived here in later years, and Hoke is said to have added the quonset hut on the side.

Today, the former butcher shop is a private residence, and the quonset hut features an eye-catching tie-dye emporium in summer months.

Markleeville’s Oldest House?

This charming cottage may hold a giant secret:  it just could be Markleeville’s oldest surviving original structure from its Silver Rush heydays.

We know that the home is over a century old – photographs show it in 1905, when it served as the residence of George and Nellie Koenig. (George owned a bar known as Koenig’s Exchange, conveniently located right across the street.)

Daughter Lucille was born in this house in 1906 and eventually grew up to be Alpine’s Sheriff – the first woman sheriff in all of California! Locals still call this the “pink house,” thanks to the family’s whimsical choice in paint.

While a century alone is a respectable life-span, at least one tantalizing hint suggests this quaint house may be even older still:  square nails were reportedly found in the walls during remodeling.

If this is indeed the original building at this site, it has a fabulous history! The town’s early newspaper, the Alpine Chronicle, opened its doors here in 1864 as Markleeville was booming — and while the Civil War was still raging. Patriotic publisher R.M. Folger proudly flew a flag outside his office, and the town’s Armory was right across the street.

The Chronicle office was across the street from the “City Hall” (the town Armory).

Journalist Henry Eno would have strolled down Montgomery Street to cross the Chronicle‘s threshhold in 1865; a job here as an editor is what first brought Eno to town. He later would become an Alpine County judge. Snuggling beside the Chronicle office on the half-lot to the west was a “store” run by William Timson – featuring a billiard table and a full stock of “wines, liquors, cordials, and syrups.”

The Chronicle moved its operation to the county seat at Silver Mountain City in September, 1867, and thereafter the building was converted into a residence. Thanks to “hard work” by homeowner James Stuard in 1885, it managed to survive Markleeville’s Great Fire although much of Main Street was wiped out in the catastrophe.

Today the property remains a private residence (thankfully no longer painted pink). As for the home’s exact age – for now, it’s a subject of rumor, speculation and conjecture. But this just could be the oldest surviving structure from early Markleeville.

Silver Mountain City’s Stone Jail

The original heavy iron cell doors can still be seen at the Alpine Museum.

If you’ve ever traveled California’s lonely Highway 4, you may have seen these mysterious stone ruins. They’re one of the few tangible remains of Silver Mountain City, Alpine County’s original county seat.  This was the county’s jail, built in 1867 and built to last!  Eighteen-inch outer walls were hewn from the volcanic cliff east of town, and the jail’s two interior cells were fabricated of solid iron plate. The grated cell doors alone weighed an astonishing 500 pounds apiece!

The jail’s construction faced a few stumbling blocks along the way.  Malcontents in nearby Markleeville held meetings to protest the jail project, noting correctly that the county’s Building Fund did not contain funds enough to cover the edifice’s $4,000 contract price.

The 1867 advertisement requesting bids contained a typo in the date — off by a decade.

Advertisement for bids featured a typo in the date.  And when the structure was finally completed around December of 1867, months later than projected, the total price tag came to $7,000 – nearly twice the original bid.  Even when completed, the jail was a source of local grumbling.  It was “ill advised and uncalled for,” the local newspaper concluded:  “If the county comes out, the jail is too small; and if the county don’t come out, it’s too large.”  During its first five years of operation the jail would house a mere four criminals — at a cost to the county averaging a whopping $2,000 per prisoner.

One infamous inhabitant of the old stone jail was a fellow named Ernst Reusch, who took justice into his own hands on the cold, dark night of December 17, 1872.  Incensed that his wife had taken up with local saloon owner Erick Errickson, Reusch procured a shotgun, loaded it with buckshot, and proceeded to discharge both barrels into the unsuspecting Errickson through the window of his saloon.

Reusch was taken into custody and languished in the cold stone jail for the next year and a half.  Finally, on April 17, 1874, while supposedly being transported to Mono County for his “fair” trial, Reusch was ambushed by a group of masked men, attached to a rope, and pitched over the side of a bridge near Markleeville — a site still known today as Hangman’s Bridge.

Silver Mountain City, ca. 1867. The jail may be the small light-roofed building just below the twin trees in the center of the photo.

In 1875, Alpine County’s seat was officially moved from Silver Mountain City to Markleeville, and the old stone jail saw its last.  A wall was demolished in the summer of 1876 and the expensive iron jail cells were hauled by wagon to Markleeville, where they were incorporated into a new log jail building.

Visitors to Markleeville today can still walk inside this same log jail and stand inside one of its  early iron jail cells at the Alpine Museum — perhaps the very cell that once held ill-fated Ernst Reusch!  For information on visiting, call the Museum at (530) 694-2317.

To read more about Silver Mountain City, see  http://www.clairitage.com/books.html and http://www.karendustman.com/AboutSilverMountain.aspx

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Charles Fiske

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unsung Founder of Markleeville

Jacob Markley
Jacob Markley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markleeville cemetery

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

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

Walking Tour of Markleeville
Walking Tour of Markleeville

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