Memoir Writers: How to Create a Get-Organized Tool Kit

Writing a memoir or oral history? You’ll find it helpful to put together a Memoir Writer’s Tool Kit ahead of time! What to include??

Here is a list of tools in my own kit: things I’ve found especially helpful for memoirs/oral histories. And the good news: they’re all small enough to keep in a handy tote-along bag!

Camera – Today’s small-but-sophisticated cameras make it easy to capture not only your subject but also places and things that will illustrate their story. Perhaps it’s a shot of the house where they grew up. Or maybe they make beautiful quilts, baby clothes, or baskets. These all make great illustrations for a life story. And small cameras tend to be less-intrusive than giant ones, and are often more usable in any light!

Hand-scanner – One of the greatest innovations in recent years for genealogists and memoir writers is the introduction of small, portable scanners. With these you can easily copy old newspapers clippings, handwritten manuscripts, and other documents. They even do a darn fine job of copying old photos! (I have a VuPoint Magic Wand and love it!) Here’s an example:

Digital microphone – If you want to be certain you get a subject’s words exactly right, ask if you can record your conversation. Small digital microphones are great if your subject is willing to be recorded. (The one I use is a Sony).

Spiral-bound notepads – I’m a huge fan of small pads of paper — and I leave the *everywhere* to capture notes and ideas! (purse; bedside table; car). A great, simple way to record notes about ideas, stories, formatting. They don’t have to be fancy; just something like this:

Business cards – yes, you need a business card. Even if you’re not selling your history-writing skills, it’s the simplest, easiest way to share your email address and phone number. (Have you ever struggled to make out someone’s handwriting or couldn’t tell if that was a “3” or an “8” in their number? ‘Nuff said!) Helpful tip: make sure the font size on your card is large enough to be read by most people without searching for their glasses!

Pens – everyone has a favorite ink pen. Keep plenty of yours on hand.

Calendar or planner – whether you’re jotting down your next appointment or penciling in a target deadline or completion date, a good calendar is a must!

Consent form for oral history – It’s always a good idea to be sure you and your subject are on the same page. (There’s a sample form in my LifeStory Workbook.)

Laptop or iPad – If you’re a fast-fingered typist, note-taking can be a breeze on these portable devices. I love my iPad and it’s easy to add a wireless keyboard.

Extra batteries for any devices. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for this “extra batteries” advice! I keep extras with me for my hand-scanner and microphone. And be sure your camera, phone and tablet/laptop are charged up before you head out the door!

Magnifying glass – You never know when you’re going to want to scrutinize a faded handwritten letter or study a hard-to-make-out postmark. Bring a magnifier that will sharpen the details — preferably one with a light.

Sticky notes – You can’t have too many sticky notes. Big, little, or in-between, just make sure you keep some with you! They’re great for marking things to follow up on, jotting questions, and just keeping your life stories organized.

List of interview questions – Another important “keep yourself organized” tip: jot down the question you want to be sure you don’t forget before you go! (Helpful samples are also in the LifeStory Workbook)

Tote bag – And to keep everything together and ready to go out the door, pick up a fun tote bag. Look for one with zippered compartments like this one, so things won’t fall out. And for plain canvas, try adding your choice of an iron-on transfer for some extra fun.

 

Bonus List for Cemeteries:  Checking out cemeteries as part of your family research? In addition to a good camera (of course), be sure to pack along:

  • Whisk broom with soft bristles and a long handle to gently removes leaves and debris from gravestones without bending over, for photographs;
  • Spray bottle filled with water – a quick spritz with water helps with contrast in hard-to-photograph stones;
  • Tripod to keep your camera steady; and
  • Pocket rain poncho – Voice of experience here: you never know when Mother Nature is going to have her own ideas about the weather! Keep a cheap plastic rain poncho handy (the kind that folds up and can fit in your glove box or pocket)!

Hope you find these suggestions helpful for creating your own memoir or life story kit. Please let me know if you have other great ideas to add!

Looking for even more in-depth tips to help with memoir-writing? Check out our helpful new book!

Now available from Kindle!

True Crime 1895: the Sarman Murder

The murder of 57-year-old Anna Sarman rocked Carson Valley in 1895.

Anna and her husband, Fredrick, were living on the old Ferris Ranch about four miles south of Genoa, Nevada. Like so many local ranchers, the Sarmans originally hailed from Germany; they’d arrived in the Valley in 1882 and had lived peaceably there for a dozen years before that tragic spring day. Their extended family included two married daughters and a son: Mrs. Louisa M. Heitman; Mrs. Henry Frevert; and Fred Sarman.

But May 8, 1895 would prove to be Anna’s last day of life. Someone entered her home and struck Anna brutally in the head with a hatchet. Investigators later reviewing the crime scene concluded Anna had been murdered in the front room of the house; her body had been carried to a bed in an adjacent bedroom; and the bed was then set on fire. The hatchet that killed poor Anna was found in a nearby woodshed, “covered with blood.”

Nearby ranchers claimed to have spotted a transient named Jim Williams about 3 p.m. on the day of the murder, “hurrying through the valley  . . . and looking back at short intervals as if expecting pursuit.” Williams was promptly arrested and actually admitted taking a meal at Mrs. Sarman’s house earlier that morning — but adamantly denied killing her. Local sentiment initially ran high; there was even talk of lynching. But when the preliminary hearing was held, “nearly all the testimony went to show that Williams could not have committed the murder,” according to the paper, and he was released.

A second transient, Joseph Richie, was arrested at Bodie about two weeks later. He, too, candidly admitted passing through Carson Valley on the day before the murder. Suspiciously, he was said to wear a “narrow-toed shoe which corresponded well” to footprints found near the Sarman home. But charges against him, too, eventually were dropped.

The quiet grave of Anna at Genoa Cemetery (photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)

The local rumor mill kept churning, however, and community suspicion eventually began to turn toward Anna’s husband. Fritz Sarman claimed to have been out working in his fields at the time of the murder, returning home about 3 p.m. — “in the nick of time to save his property,” but not to save Anna or to catch any glimpse of the murderer. Fritz said there were witnesses to his whereabouts during those crucial afternoon hours, but none of the witnesses he named could be found. A few townsfolk reported that Fritz had “acted strangely” after discovering Anna’s body, going about his usual chores and even calmly milking his cows. Friends, however, expressed themselves “very confident” that Fritz was innocent.

Fritz Sarman was buried next to his wife, Anna. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)

Anna was laid to rest in the Genoa Cemetery, and sympathetic townsfolk turned out in huge numbers for her funeral: a reporter counted sixty wagons and buggies at the somber affair. Husband Fritz, however, did not attend; he was said to be “completely prostrated” by his wife’s tragic death.

Fritz Sarman passed away on May 12, 1900, almost exactly five years to the day after Anna died. He, too, was buried at Genoa, beside his wife. Whispers persist to this day, but the mystery of Anna’s murder was never officially solved.

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Enjoy real-life murder mysteries? I’m pleased to give a shout-out to my friend and fellow writer Sue Russell! Check out her fascinating book, The Illustrated Courtroom, for illustrations from some of the most colorful and historic criminal trials of the last half-century including Charles Manson, Jack Ruby, Patty Hearst, and “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz.

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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.

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Gardnerville’s Jensen Mansion

Tucked away at the tail end of Ezell Street is a gem of a house. Just looking at it, you know it has a story!

When Arendt Jensen first set foot in Gardnerville, Nevada in 1887, there were just two houses in town. Jensen was young — 28 — and full of energy. By the time he died in 1940 at age 81, Arendt had become one of Gardnerville’s most successful and respected businessmen.

Heard of Douglas County Farmer’s Bank? Jensen founded it, and stepped up to serve as president. How about the Midland Garage? He built it. And the classic brick Carson Valley Merc building? Yup, Jensen built it. (It housed his Arendt Co. store.)

Locals well remember the Carson Valley Merc which used to occupy the left-hand brick store and sold — well, EVERYTHING! Arendt built this brick building in the spring of 1896.

Born in Denmark in 1859, John Arendt Jensen came to the States in 1880. He married Lena (Paulina) Norgaard (a fellow Dane) in 1882 when she was just 16. Arendt made his way west and, with a keen eye for the future, spotted opportunity in the fledgling town of Gardnerville. He and Lena moved to the tiny settlement in 1887, opening a small store on Main Street “flanked by sagebrush and barbed wire fences.” Arendt went on to build a thriving mercantile business, eventually acquiring multiple business interests and extensive property.

Jensen’s ad in 1909 for the latest washing machine — he also sold everything from groceries to wagons!

But Arendt’s most outstanding architectural contribution to his new hometown was the Jensen Mansion, a gracious Colonial Revival home that still graces Ezell Street.

Touted as a “palatial residence” when construction began in 1910, the Jensen home was to be “modern in every respect.” Floors would be hardwood, and the house would be “steam heated throughout.” Arendt himself invented a special galvanized form that would make the home’s poured-concrete foundation resemble more-attractive cement brick construction.

Arendt died in 1940, and Lena passed away in 1948. Later decades saw the beautiful old Jensen mansion become a boarding house, a vacant eyesore, a bed-and-breakfast, and eventually a much-loved private home again. An architectural survey in 1981 by the Douglas County Planning Department dubbed it as one of Gardnerville’s “most outstanding buildings.” It received the recognition of a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Best of all, the Jensen Mansion is reputed have a resident ghost — as all great old houses should! Former owners reported the strong odor of lavender wafting through the great room from time to time.

How lovely to imagine it’s Lena Jensen, still keeping an eye on the goings-on in her magnificent home.

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Gardnerville’s Old Jail

 

If it isn’t the ugliest jail structure west of the Mississippi, it probably ranks among the top ten. Its walls are poured concrete; its lower door is metal; and its boxy shape is (as one writer politely put it) “devoid of architectural detail or ornamentation.” Inside, the jail saved space by giving prisoners the penitential equivalent of Murphy beds: fold-down bed frames made of steel.

Douglas County shelled out just $25 for Louis Springmeyer to draw up the plans in 1910 (and some might  argue that was too generous.) But believe it or not, the Gardnerville Branch Jail holds a coveted position on the National Register of Historic Places. And there’s a perfectly fabulous story filled with politics, positioning and power behind how this tiny small-town jail came to be built!

Segue back in time to the year 1910, when Genoa was the official county seat and boasted the only county jail. Roads were primitive and automobiles were few, but crime was an equal opportunity occupation. So although Gardnerville had its own share of criminals, it had no convenient hoosegow in which to house them.

East Fork Justice of the Peace L.S. Ezell (his middle name was “Socrates,” a great name for a judge!)

L.S. Ezell, East Fork Justice Court judge since 1884, had come up with a makeshift solution: he allowed constables to use his Gardnerville granary building to lock up offenders when needed. This may have been convenient but it wasn’t such a grand idea from the prisoners’ point of view; the local newspaper called the granary a “vile hole” and “no fit place for a human being.”

Opportunity for a better solution knocked when Judge Ezell finally retired in 1909 after some 25 years on the bench, and thoughtfully donated the granary property to the county. Local citizens petitioned the commissioners to build a new and improved branch jail in its stead. It seemed like a grand plan. But politics is a tricky thing.

Eager for the new town of Minden not to be left in the dust, H.F. Dangberg, Jr. launched a counter-petition to protest against building the jail in its competitor, Gardnerville. And when the County commissioners formally took up the issue in April, 1910, local heavyweights William Dressler and H. Park joined Dangberg in the protest.

As government officials so often do, the beleaguered commissioners listened politely — and went right ahead with their original plans. Approval was given to build a one-story jail. And as government officials also frequently do, they quickly expanded the project to make it two stories, adding a courtroom on the top floor.

Now that there was to be a new branch jail, an official branch jailer would also be required. Albert Daudel was hired for the post, at $2 per day — upped to $4 on more arduous days when he’d oversee a chain gang fixing county roads.

Although Genoa wasn’t eager to relinquish its time-honored post as the County seat, Fate had other ideas. On June 28, 1910, much of that town was destroyed by fire — a loss that included the County’s main jail and courthouse. Luckily only one prisoner was being housed in Genoa’s jail at the time. It is said he was “chained to a post” until he could be moved to the still-under-construction branch jail in Gardnerville.

The Gardnerville Branch Jail is listed on both the National and Nevada State Registers of Historic Places.

Within just a few more years, Minden succeeded in wresting away the crown of County seat. And by 1916, a brand new County courthouse was erected there which included jail cells in the basement. Officially, all county prisoners were now supposed to be incarcerated at Minden and, officially, the Gardnerville branch jail was discontinued. But for reasons of economy, convenience, habit, or perhaps lingering tensions between the two towns, Gardnerville’s old branch jail continued to be used for prisoners well into the 1950s.

As the National Register listing description put it in 2003, the old Gardnerville jail remains “an excellent example of turn-of-the-century jail architecture,” with its steel cages, large hasps and padlocks, bull pen and woodstove still intact.

Those poured-concrete, steel-reinforced walls may be plenty ugly. But they certainly were practical; they successfully kept Gardnerville’s prisoners “from digging through the barriers as they had in Genoa’s brick jail.”

 It’s not a museum — yet. But you can check out the exterior of the Gardnerville Branch Jail at 1440 Courthouse Street, Gardnerville, Nevada.

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It Wasn’t Always Called Jubilee Ranch

The iconic old barn on Foothill Road has “Jubilee Ranch” emblazoned on the side. If you’re like me, you’ve driven by it hundreds of times. And if you’re also like me, every time you’ve gone by, you wished you knew its tale! So, who built this great old barn, and when? And what’s the backstory to the name “Jubilee”? We did a bit of digging — here’s the story!

Peter & Lillies Van Sickle

Yes, it turns out, it’s an old-old ranch — one of the very first ranch claims in Carson Valley. Some sources suggest this ranch was originally owned by settler John Cary in the early 1850s. Sometime after Cary, the property was acquired by soon-to-be Senator J.W. Haines and was known as the “Old Haines Ranch.” And around 1857 (even before the Comstock Lode boomed), Haines sold the ranch to Peter Van Sickle.

Peter’s older (and better-known) brother, Henry Van Sickle.

Born in New Jersey, Peter was the younger brother of Henry Van Sickle. And Henry, as you’ll recall, was the early pioneer who ran the famous “Van Sickle Station” hotel and stage stop just up the road.

Peter, like his brother, was considered a “thrifty Dutchman” and he, like Henry, was skilled as a blacksmith. In addition to this prosperous hay and dairy ranch (620 acres of it, by 1881!), Peter also operated a blacksmith shop in Genoa at the northwest corner of Main and Nixon Street. Peter and his wife, Lillies, lived in a small house near the church just up the street from his blacksmith shop.

By 1892, Peter had leased his Genoa blacksmith shop to W.J. Armstrong.

Peter eventually grew tired the blacksmith trade; in 1888 he placed an ad in the paper, trying to sell his shop and other holdings. It seems he wasn’t successful at finding a buyer, however; in 1892, his Genoa blacksmith shop had been leased out to W.J. Armstrong, another blacksmith.

This was Henry’s barn, which boasted windows.

As for the giant barn at his ranch south of town, Peter is said to have built the current structure about 1900. It’s a giant indeed: some 65 x 100 feet in size. Built using a  “peg-and-groove” technique, Peter’s barn resembles that of his brother Henry Van Sickle’s barn up the street. Unlike Henry’s barn, however, Peter’s lacks windows.

Henry’s red barn, slightly farther north, is tucked into the hillside.

The lower floor of the Jubilee barn was once used for dairy cows, and loose hay was stored in its 13,000-sq.ft. second-floor loft. Although today the Jubilee Ranch barn is all on a single level, some say it originally was built into the hillside (a style called “bank-a-hill”), so hay could be loaded into the hayloft without requiring a hoist. (To us it seems more likely that this actually describes Henry Van Sickle’s red barn slightly farther to the north, however, which clearly follows the descending contour of the hillside).

In addition to his dairy ranch, Peter Van Sickle also engaged in the meat business, and by 1883 was running two meat wagons to supply local demand. Not all Peter Van Sickle’s customers were happy ones, however. Alpine mining mogul Lewis Chalmers wrote him a snippy letter in 1879, complaining: “The beef you are now sending me is not of the same quality as you sent me at first, and not such as I intend to pay for.”

Leander Hawkins, too, had unhappy memories of working for Van Sickle as his first job at the tender age of 10. When Leander finally requested the heifer that had been promised to him after a full year’s work, Van Sickle reportedly refused to pay him.

Still, Van Sickle evidently had a generous side as well. In 1895, Peter and his wife adopted a little two-year-old boy whose mother had died. They renamed him Oscar Van Sickle and Oscar became part of the family, along with the other four Van Sickle children.

Peter Van Sickle and his family are buried in the Mottsville Cemetery

Peter Van Sickle died in 1908, at the age of 77. He and Lillies had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the previous year. Adopted son Oscar continued to run the Peter Van Sickle Ranch until 1927, when it was sold to Thomas Summers, becoming known as the “Summers Ranch.”

In 1951,  young entrepreneur named Ted Bacon bought the ranch. At the time, Summers was using the ranch to raise pigs. Rather than rename it after himself as the “Bacon Ranch” (a humorous name for a hog farm), Ted decided to name it after a memory from a recent trip he had taken to England, when a “jubilee” had been held to celebrate the crowning of the queen. Bacon decided to rename his property the “Jubilee Ranch.” It was, he said, a “happy name.”

And there you have it — the fascinating story of this historic ranch, and the way it got its “Jubilee” name!

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Murder — Or Was It?

One lonely tombstone at Gardnerville’s Garden Cemetery begs silently for justice. “Murdered” it proclaims, as if visitors might help solve the terrible mystery.

Moore’s headstone proclaims the belief he was murdered around Christmas, 1900.

The victim, William Moore, met his awful fate sometime between the 9th and 14th of December, 1900. But the story behind Moore’s demise is a tangled one indeed. Did he even really die?

Moore, 67, was evidently something of a hermit. A poor man and in poor health, he’d lived alone for twenty years in a small cabin on his ranch near the east fork of the Carson River above Horseshoe Bend. Here he raised horses, ran a few head of cattle, and perhaps panned for flour gold in the nearby river.

A few days before Christmas, 1900, local Indians alerted authorities that Moore’s tiny cabin had burned to the ground. Sheriff Brockliss and Judge Dake promptly rode out to investigate. Not finding Moore, they searched the remnants of the charred cabin, but didn’t locate any trace of a body. A day or so later other local citizens, too, showed up to paw through the debris, and they, too, came up empty-handed. Possibly complicating matters was the fact that a rainstorm had gone through sometime after the fire.

Horseshoe Bend is on the east side of Carson Valley, not far from Mud Lake.

Christmas came and went, and a few determined searchers decided to try again. On December 26 they returned, “sifted the ashes” — and came up with a few small pieces of charred something that might have been bone. These were carted off to Dr. Gerdes of Gardnerville, who pronounced them shards of a human skull. And when he examined one fragment more closely, “three small shot” were found embedded in the bone.

The local newspaper promptly dubbed this as “almost positive evidence that William Moore was murdered, and his cabin burned over his body.” Dr. Gerdes opined that the position of the bone might explain why the fragment was charred but the shot hadn’t melted. A Coroner’s Jury was convened, which agreeably confirmed the general belief that Moore had beens murdered. Community suspicion instantly focused on “a certain Indian” named Mike Holbrook, a “half-breed Washoe” said to have threatened Moore in the past.

In January, the Board of Commissioners for Douglas County put out a $250 reward “for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered William Moore.” That was more than enough encouragement for three enthusiastic Genoa citizens. Having heard further rumors, young William Gray, accompanied by his brother-in-law Frank Walker and their friend Edgar Seamon drove a wagon out to Mountain House in March, where they made a citizens’ arrest of “Indian Mike.” The local paper assured readers that this private party arrest was a “perfectly proper and legitimate proceeding,” adding uncharitably that if the prisoner should later establish his innocence “he will have no one to blame but himself.”

Advertisement for candles from the same paper that carried news of Moore’s “murder.” Could the fire have been purely accidental?

By now a new sheriff had been sworn into office and was eager to show the public his chops. The local paper expressed confidence that now-Sheriff McCormack would not only do his best to suppress crime, but “criminals have good cause to fear him.”

The murder case against Indian Mike was now the talk of the town. The Genoa courthouse was “packed” during the two-day preliminary hearing, and “nothing was talked of on the streets but the Moore tragedy.”

Several other Indians now came forward, claiming that Mike Holbrook had an alibi: he had been with them on a rabbit drive when the killing occurred. The evidence against Mike Holbrook appeared decidedly thin — except for one thing. Charlie George, also an Indian, swore he had personally witnessed Holbrook shooting Moore.

Charlie’s credibility as a witness left something to be desired, however. Among other things, Charlie had been arrested the same evening as Mike on an outstanding warrant for larceny. Charlie and Mike also were said to be enemies; as the newspaper put it, “it is stated that Mike is very friendly with George’s mahala.”

Nevertheless, Mike was bound over for trial. The case languished for another month until April, when a new Grand Jury could be convened to issue the indictment. Friends urged Mike to take a plea bargain and admit to manslaughter in order to “save his neck.” He refused.

Moore’s lonely headstone in the Garden Cemetery, Gardnerville, NV. Buried here presumably are the few bits of charred “bone” found at his cabin. But were they really Moore’s, or perhaps not even bone at all?

On April 24, 1901, a jury pool of 40 local citizens was pulled, and by 3 p.m. the jury was in place. Trial began the following day, and the evidence was over by 5 p.m.. Charlie George “proved a strong witness,” the paper pronounced. Other “sensational” details of the case now came to light, including a “wild story” that Moore had always kept a skull in his cabin, “the victim of his rifle in former years.” The newspaper hinted darkly that Brockliss, the former sheriff, had done a lousy job of investigation, sniffing that “no steps officially were taken to investigate the matter until McCormack, the present Sheriff, took office.”

About dinnertime the jurors retired to deliberate, and by midnight they had their verdict: Not guilty. “And so another chapter is added to the criminal records of this county, which is not without blemish now,” the newspaper concluded.

As for the County Commissioners, they rescinded their earlier offer of a $250 reward for Mike’s capture. Opined the local paper: “they have learned that a mercenary incentive for the capture of criminals does not work satisfactorily in this county.”

 

There Really Was a “Claire” behind Clairitage

Claire Marie Christy Dale adored historic buildings. Well, one historic building in particular: the old brick railroad station in New London, Connecticut.

Our growing-up memories include ever-changing stacks of reports, letters, and newspapers spread out on the dining room table — all of which had to be moved before any meal could hope to be eaten. The railroad drama was a saga of local politics, and a roller-coaster between gloom-and-doom (“they’re tearing it down!”) and the occasional glimmer hope (“they might reconsider!”). Five or six years into this long-running melodrama, even a whisper of those dreaded words “railroad station” was guaranteed to elicit a collective groan from the rest of the family.

The classic brick railroad station in New London, Connecticut, built in 1887 and designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, a predecessor to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Hope, hard work and history prevailed in the end. New London’s magnificent brick railroad station was eventually saved from the wrecker’s ball by — well, by lots of folks. But Claire’s single-minded tenacity was definitely at the core.

Claire passed away in 2002, long before Clairitage Press was even a glimmer. But it would have made her happy, I think, just to know that so many folks treasure history, and get so excited about uncovering and preserving these wonderful stories.

Claire’s bright smile burst into the world exactly 90 years ago today. Just thought you might like to know  about the real “Claire” behind Clairitage!

(Happy birthday, Mom!)

Genoa’s Hanging Tree

You may have heard the tale about Adam Uber’s famous curse — uttered just before an angry Genoa mob hung him. But did you know the hanging tree is still there?

It sits on the south side of Genoa Lane, just east of Genoa (and a convenient distance from the old-time jail!)

The hanging tree is still there, on Genoa Lane. Some say the actual limb where Uber met his end was later cut off by remorseful townsfolk. (Photo courtesy Judy Wickwire)

The year was 1897, and the crime began with Uber swilling Red Eye — and ended with a gunshot. Hans Anderson was dead. And Uber didn’t even remember what happened when he finally sobered up in the Genoa Jail.

Anderson had been well-liked; Uber was not. And a group of locals decided swift justice was the finest flavor. They rushed the jail, demanded the jailer’s key, and whisked Uber off for a hasty meeting with the hangman’s rope.

But Uber got off a few choice last words before dropping into the Great Hereafter: he cursed those who did the foul deed “unto seven generations.”

And, according to local legend, Uber’s curse ultimately came true. Some of mob died sudden, violent deaths; some committed suicide; but all of them met an unhappy end. Family members, too, reportedly suffered.

Adam Uber met his end here — some say his restless ghost is still around.

They’re all gone now, of course; 1897 was a long time ago. But locals say Uber’s ghost can still be seen “hanging around” from time to time — either here at the tree, or at the old brick Courthouse which once held his cell.

If you decide to pay a visit to the scene of this long-ago murder, consider making a stop at the old Genoa Cemetery as well. Uber is buried there somewhere, in an unmarked grave.

Just west of the Hanging Tree stands a cottonwood with an amazing burl. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)

Murder & Suicide 1888

“Murder and Suicide,” the 1888 headline blared! The Reno Gazette-Journal made no bones about its feelings toward a “long and rather unfavorably known” Carson Valley ranch hand named Zack Field.

Community distaste had begun several years earlier with Zack’s poorly-received romance with 17-year-old Mary Gray, pretty daughter of Genoa blacksmith W.D. Gray. Courting a teenager wasn’t all that unusual at the time, but Zack’s age certainly was: he was sixty years old when he induced Mary to run off with him to Carson to be married in 1882.

Note the skull-and-crossbones — strychnine was serious stuff!

Then came the awful rumors about strychnine. In February, 1888, Zack’s father-in-law had noticed an odd taste in his water cup. Suspicious crystals found in the bottom of his glass were tested by two local doctors, who both “pronounced it strychnine.”

Zack’s name, of course, immediately sprang to mind; he had “been acting strangely for some time,”  the newspaper hinted. (The fact that Mary’s parents recently had tried to induce her to leave her “wretched” husband also raised suspicions.)

It wasn’t the first time Zack had been suspected of foul play involving strychnine. Zack and Mary had moved in with the Hawkins family shortly after their marriage — and shortly after that, the entire household came down with strychnine poisoning. Fingers also had been pointed in Zack’s direction when rancher John Cronkite was found dead in with a “big wound in his head” — and “cattle money” missing from his pocket.

After the tainted water-glass episode, Zack and Mary high-tailed it out of Carson Valley, taking up a residence (aka hiding out) in Scott’s Valley, California. But only a few months later, things came to an unhappy head yet again.

Zack’s rifle might have looked something like one of these.

On August 13, 1888, in what the newspaper poetically called a “case of marital infelicity and pistol practice,” Zack shot poor Mary square in the chest with a Winchester rifle.

Thoughtfully saving the justice system the bother of a trial, Zack then used the remaining charge to “blow the top of his [own] head off.”

No words of sympathy were wasted by the newspaper on Zack. But despite the awful headline deeming it “murder,” readers making it to the last sentence of the column would discover that Mary actually had not actually died yet.

Although her life was “despaired of” initially, she did eventually recover. And in one of those weird twists of fate, Mary went on to marry another man named Field — thankfully no relation to the “long and unfavorably known” Zack.