Summit Lake Mysteries (in Alpine County, CA) . . .

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!

Scripture’s “Summit Lake” in 1874. . . and Mosquito Lake today.

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:

The Vischer sketch of another Summit Lake, also on the Big Tree Road, 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  somewhere along 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.

Kinney Reservoir (holding much more water than the early original natural lake, thanks to today’s dam).
Nearby Lower Kinney Lake is another possible match.

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.

Map of the Big Tree Road (yellow dotted line) and the eastward extension over Ebbett’s Pass to Silver Mountain (original map courtesy of Frank Tortorich. Colored annotations and locations of Mosquito Lake and Kinney Lake added).
Historical marker at Hermit Valley, where the roads forked. Border Ruffian Pass (leading from Murphy’s to Hope Valley) was opened to wagon traffic in 1856.

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!

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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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The Adventuresome Samuel Chapin

The sign on the tall, blue house in Virginia City caught our eye as we whizzed past one recent afternoon: “The Chapin House.” It’s an unusual last name — and one we recognized from old letters in Alpine County.

So, just who was Samuel A. Chapin? We tracked down a few pieces of his life story puzzle — and what a life he had!

Born in Northbridge, Massachusetts on September 2, 1811, Samuel Austin Chapin was the fifth (out of eight) children of Henry and Abigail Chapin. His family moved to Michigan Territory in the spring of 1830, and Samuel’s early adulthood was spent in White Pidgeon. He would later recount “startling and amusing” tales of “roughing it” there, and serving as sheriff of St. Joseph County, Michigan.

Samuel joined other Michigan volunteers during the Black Hawk War of 1832, quickly rising to the rank of Brigadier General with the Michigan State Militia. In 1840, he went on to serve as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives for one session.

Exciting as all that must have been, nothing could quite rival the excitement of finding gold! Chapin eagerly joined some of the earliest Gold Rush crowds to California, though exactly when he arrived there is unclear. He once claimed to plainly remember the day that “we of ’49” arrived at San Francisco Bay. Other accounts, however, peg the actual date of his arrival as May 20, 1850. Even so, that date still puts him among the earliest eager Argonauts.

Ads like this one lured passengers bound for the gold fields to a “first-rate clipper ship.” Vague promises included: “The voyage will probably be made in a few months.”

Chapin’s adventurous journey included a “rough passage” aboard the vessel Empire City; a “raging fever”  on the Chagres River; and an unexpected hiccup in Panama when the expected continuation vessel Sarah Sereds failed to arrive. Chapin and his companions managed to book substitute passage aboard the steamship Oregon for $500 a head — procuring a berth in steerage along with a thousand other eager travelers.

Once aboard ship again, Chapin was said to have “organized a mess” with fellow passengers William Smith, former governor of Virginia, and L.B. Benchley, of San Francisco — political connections that helped render the rest of his passage “comparatively comfortable.”

San Francisco, about the time Chapin arrived.

During his earliest days in California, Chapin operated a hardware business. He also managed to become a member of the San Francisco Board of Education, helping select property upon which to build future schools, and made friends with the influential editor of the Evening Bulletin.

By 1860 the Gold Rush had largely petered out — but the Silver Rush now was on! And once again, Chapin was in the forefront of adventurous pioneers.

Love silver mining history? Add this to your library!

Chapin acquired a mill site on the Carson River, four miles from Silver City, in July, 1860. That same month he had a survey done on land in Steamboat Valley — property that included not only a mill site but also valuable timber and water rights. And his political instincts evidently remained as sharp as ever; Chapin soon was tapped to serve as a member of the two Constitutional Conventions working to frame Nevada’s state constitution.

Naturally, Chapin had a finger in several early mining pies. He acquired interest in the quartz mines of Mariposa County. His name appears in May, 1863 among the list of incorporators of the Buckeye No. 2 Gold & Silver Mine in Scandinavian Canyon  (soon to become Alpine County). And he also acquired an interest in mines on the Comstock. In 1865, Chapin issued a “report” extolling the merits of his “Gold Hill Front Lodes” at Gold Hill, Nevada — two parallel claims happily situated between the Yellow Jacket and the Justice Mines. This “report” (actually a sales brochure) was, of course, heavily leavened with “affirmations and statements from various persons” about the value of these two mines.

Letters show that not all was sweetness and light in Chapin’s mining business, however. In 1869, Ahnarin B. Paul wrote Alpine County mine promoter O.F. Thornton: “I saw Chapin to-day — he can’t get the [ore-processing] settler to produce the electricity which must be had for precipitating the mercury.” And by 1872 Chapin was back in San Francisco, still trying to sell his mining claims. He wrote to Thornton offering a mining claim near Devil’s Gate for a hefty $100,000 (likely the same two Gold Hill Front lodes), touting his “great expectations” for the property. But his “Hope Mining Co.” at Silver City, he acknowledged, had recently become “embarrassed” and (as he put it) “went to the wall.”

Chapin House (1862) still boasts great architectural details like this arched window at the peak.
The front of Chapin House, with the Savage Mansion in the background.

Chapin’s stately 15-room house at 311 South “C” Street was constructed in 1862, during Virginia City’s mining heyday, and may originally have been built for him as a private residence. But by 1880, Chapin House had been converted into a boarding house, with a Mrs. Cavanaugh acting as the proprietor.

Chapin’s tall, stately house on “C” Street, on a recent rainy afternoon.

Meanwhile, back east, one of Chapin’s sisters had married a Wheaton, and was living in Norton, Massachusetts. Samuel was apparently her favorite brother. In 1884, Samuel and his wife retired and moved back to Massachusetts to live with the sister. There, he would serve as a Trustee of Wheaton College from 1889-1890.

By now 78 years old, Chapin conceived the notion of revisiting “scenes of his early life,” and eagerly joined a group of fellow pioneers for a trip back to California. It would be his last big adventure.

Chapin died suddenly of a heart attack while in San Bernardino, California on April 17, 1890. Stopping there with his fellow pioneers on their way to San Francisco, Chapin had just finished delivering a rousing address to the crowd at a reception. The last words to fall from his lips were: “God bless the noble State and the dear people of California!”

Chapin’s body was placed in an “elegant coffin,” said to be identical to the one in which General Grant had been buried. It lay in state briefly in San Bernardino, with solemnities conducted by the Native Sons of the Golden West and the San Bernardino Pioneers, before being loaded on a train for return to Boston. Both Chapin Hall at Wheaton College and Chapin Street in Alameda, California would later be named in his honor.

As for Chapin House, it continues to keep its silent vigil, looking down over the town of Virginia City from its lofty perch on “C” Street.

As you make your way down Gold Canyon, keep an eye out for this historic marker for “Johntown” below Silver City. Johntown was Nevada’s very first mining town, established in 1853, and the spot where Eilley Orrum (the “Seeress of Washoe” and the future Mrs. Sandy Bowers) had her boarding house. Other early residents included the Groch brothers and the iconic H.T.P. Comstock himself. We thought it was so appropriate that when we visited, someone had left an old shovel here!

And here’s the last, fun snippet to this story: boardinghouse-keeper Mrs. Cavanaugh — or perhaps even Samuel himself — may not entirely have vacated the premises. Visitors have been said to “complain of an uneasy feeling,” as if there’s a ghost in the house!

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Like to read more silver mining history from the Comstock Era in nearby Alpine County? 

Add this to your library!

 

Hidden Treasure Near Double Springs? (Part 3)

It was 1863 when a lone highwayman stepped out to stop the stage near Double Springs, Nevada. Whether it was sheer luck or courtesy of an inside scoop, the robber hit payday: the heavily-laden coach was carrying some $17,000 in gold coin on its route between Aurora and Carson.

Naturally, the robber couldn’t get too far hauling all that gold! But like all good criminals, he’d thought ahead:  he brought along a shovel.
And somewhere in the flats not far from Double Spring, the robber dug a hole and buried his loot.

The authorities, of course, were hard on the robber’s heels. Before long, he found himself cooling those heels in Nevada’s state prison. There the bandit finally died. And although he kept his secret almost to the end, on his death-bed he finally described the spot where he’d buried all that loot he couldn’t take with him into the next life.

Mountain House was a way station just north of today’s Holbrook Junction. A rest stop with tables and a group of tall trees still mark the spot where this way station once stood, on the west side of Highway 395 .

According to the robber, the spot where his loot was buried was near a small cabin south of Double Spring, roughly a mile and a half north of another old way station called Mountain House. Many looked for the treasure through the years, but none have yet found it — and not for lack of trying! “The ground in the vicinity looks like an artichoke patch deserted by a drove of swine,” the Genoa Weekly Courier observed in 1891.

In 1891, Genoa resident Henry Rice “saw” the spot where the treasure was hiding in a dream. Dragging along friend William Parsons and several young ladies for company, he eagerly rushed out to identify the spot. The prospectors’ hopes were soon dashed when they discovered that there were, sadly, “a hundred places that looked just like the one revealed in [Rice’s] dream.” By way of consolation they continued on to Walker River, where they settled for the ‘treasure’ of a grand picnic lunch.

Others, too, would try their hand at finding the robber’s loot through the years. One local named George Dale was said to have “dug up a good-sized ranch in the vain effort.” Charley Holbrook was so convinced his divining rod had pinpointed the loot that he dug a 28-foot deep shaft before finally concluding that he must be in the wrong spot.

All of which is, presumably, good news for modern-day treasure-seekers!  That is, if you believe the old legend, the lost stagecoach gold must still be there somewhere not far from Double Springs.

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Reminder: It’s not 1891 anymore! Please don’t trespass or go digging unless you get permission from the property owner first! 

(In case you happened to miss Part 1 and Part 2 of this story about Double Springs, just click these links to read them!)

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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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Ancient Survivor

We were driving home through the mountains recently when Rick suddenly swung the car around. “Look at that!!” he exclaimed, pointing.

“That” turned out to be the largest sugar pine either of us had ever seen, towering 150 to 200 feet in the air.

What a survivor! Rick estimates this ancient  tree at over 300 years old. That means it was already growing right here when the first shots of the Revolutionary War were being fired back east in 1776. It would have witnessed the early wagons heading for Jackson over the newly-graded Amador Wagon Road in the 1860s. And it greeted innumerable travelers over the various reincarnations of the road in the next 150 years.

Somehow this stately tree managed to avoid being converted into a campfire or a cabin during its early years. (Sugar pine wood makes marvelous shakes; Jacob Marklee, the founder of Markleeville, is said to have covered his entire cabin in 1861 with shingles made from sugar pine!)

Despite growing bigger and bigger with each passing decade, this giant tree also escaped the avaricious attention of loggers over the past century. (Modern lumberjacks are still eager to chop down huge trees like this. For woodsmen, a tree this size is an exciting challenge. But for those of us who love gigantic old trees, seeing them fall is infinitely sad. If you have a strong stomach, check out this YouTube video called “Jacking a Big Sugar Pine.”)

Whether from sheer good luck or perhaps respect for its obvious age, this gigantic sugar pine has now become a stately “Father of the Forest,” surrounded by a ring of its own strapping offspring.

A blaze mark, nearly grown over, shows evidence of ax marks and fire.

But the huge tree hasn’t been completely overlooked by man. Someone chopped a blaze mark in its trunk perhaps a century ago, a scar that’s now nearly grown over. Sometime after that, the tree must also have survived a brush with fire, as the inside of the scar is charred black.

The sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) is not only the tallest of the pine trees, it also has the longest cone. Perhaps because of the tree’s giant size and long life, the species plays a part in at least one Native American creation myth. As the tree’s name implies, the sugar pine’s resin is sweet. The Washo Indians called this pine sugar “nanomba” and used it to sweeten their food.

Huge as this particular tree is, it’s by no means a world’s record. The tallest sugar pine ever recorded was discovered in Yosemite National Park only a few years ago — in 2015. That tree reportedly towers nearly 274 feet in height, taller than a 20-story building! Little wonder that naturalist John Muir dubbed the sugar pine “king of the conifers.”

Surrounded by its own strapping offspring, this “King of the Forest” still towers above!

We discovered this amazing tree off Highway 88, in Amador County. But we hope you’ll pardon us if we don’t tell you exactly how to find it. This towering tree is a survivor; we hope it stays that way.

Tragedy Spring

One of our recent rambles was a visit to the historic site of Tragedy Spring. We began by heading west on Highway 88 heading west, then took the right-hand turnoff toward Tragedy Springs. (To follow the directions that follow, stop here and set your odometer.) Continue a bit farther along the Tragedy Spring loop road and when you reach odometer reading .3 mile watch for the plaque on your right, embedded in a rock wall at the bottom of a hill.

This plaque was placed by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1967 — 119 years after three Mormon scouts heading east in 1848 were killed. Just below USED to be a basin with a spigot where motorists could get water for their cars or to drink. Modern health worries intervened; the basin is filled with cement and the spigot is no longer there.

This picturesque plaque bears the names of the three scouts (Henderson Cox, Ezra Allen, Daniel Browett), murdered on June 27, 1848 as they camped nearby. Cox, Allen and Browett were part of the famous Mormon Battalion that blazed the original “Mormon Emigrant Trail” across the Sierra.

Although many folks think only about westward-bound gold-seekers, the Mormon band of wagons was actually traveling from west to east, heading back to Salt Lake. They brought with them some bits of gold they had found while in California (some of the men were working at Sutter’s mill when gold was first spotted). But despite the lure of gold, these folks were simply eager to return home. They almost certainly had no idea that the trail they were hacking through the wilderness would carry vast numbers of westward-bound wagons during the Gold Rush in the coming months and years.

These stairs are a picturesque start to your climb!

Look to the left of the plaque to find the stairs, and climb the trail. Here you’ll come to four different sites:

First is another plaque part-way up the trail, set into a rock. This memorial was erected by Sons of Utah Pioneers on September 2, 1967. Beside the stone monument stands a water fountain, where once you could quench your thirst from the mountain spring (but like the spigot at the bottom, unfortunately no longer operational).

 

 

This monument was erected by the Sons of Utah Pioneers. In the left foreground is the once-welcoming drinking fountain.
The spring house.

Slightly farther ahead is a spring house protecting the spring that once fed the fountain. This natural spring is what gave the site its name, “Tragedy Spring.” Imagine the thousands of emigrants and their animals who were grateful for its waters!

       Near the spring house is yet another plaque; this one replicates text carved into a large fir tree as a “gravestone” by the dead men’s companions:
To the Memory of Daniel Browett, Ezrah H. Allen and Henderson Cox who was supposed to have been murdered and burned by Indians on the night of the 27th of June 1848.

The artistic type style used on this 1931 plaque makes it especially beautiful.

The plaque was dedicated by Native Sons and Daughters of Amador County on August 30, 1931.

Finally, beneath a sheltering tree you’ll discover the actual rocked-covered grave of the three Mormon scouts who died here in 1849 while trying to blaze the trail for their companions, who were following with wagons.

Concrete has been added in later years to bind the stones together. But these may very well be the same rocks used by the saddened Mormons to erect a protective stone “cairn” over the communal grave.

A nearby wooden sign explains:  “When members of the Mormon Battalion camped here, they noticed arrows and a newly-made mound. Upon opening it they found the mutilated bodies of their three friends. They reburied them building a [rock] cairn to protect the grave. They also found Allen’s gold pouch, filled with gold dust, and carried it to his widow in Iowa.

As the sign mentions, a pouch of gold dust was found near one of the bodies. This plus a report of finding “arrows” fueled suspicion that it was Indians who had killed the three scouts. However, some modern historians question this conclusion since the Indians in this vicinity were generally peaceful and helpful to settlers. Could it be that white explorers or trappers committed the atrocity and deliberately left arrows behind as a ruse?

Beside the sign you’ll also spot an astonishing tree. Its curved and distorted trunk likely was the result of a heavy snowfall while the tree was young.

As you head back downhill, keep your eye peeled for a picnic table tucked into a shady grove on your right — a great spot to stop for a break or to eat lunch.

Great place for a picnic lunch!

To reach Highway 88 again, continue to follow the loop road (west). Turn right at the intersection to continue west — and we’ll pick up here in the next installment of this emigrant grave adventure!

Key in the Tree

You gotta love it when you stumble across a mystery. Especially two mysteries in one day.

Key in the tree.

On a recent drive up Highway 4 we found an old key, firmly embedded in the trunk of a tree. Just a guess, but it’s probably been there at least 50 years — long enough for the tree to almost completely envelop the body of the key. Who could have left it? What did that key once unlock? And why leave it stuck in a tree in the forest?

As luck would have it, another nearby tree trunk also caught our attention. This one bore blaze marks, possibly flagging the original old trail prior to modern Highway 4. What pathfinder left this mark? And how long ago?

Such great mysteries for future explorers to puzzle over!

 

Tree at top of the pass on Hwy 4, about two miles west of Kinney Reservoir.