What Killed Miami’s First Doctor?

At first he thought it was the ice collars.

When Dr. James Jackson developed breathing trouble in 1923, he didn’t think much about it. He had long been in the practice of wearing an ice collar in the operating room to stay cool in the Miami heat. He brushed his symptoms off as pneumonia.

Dr. James Jackson

Dr. Jackson had been practicing in Miami since 1896, when the fledgling settlement was only a few streets wide. Luckily for Miami, he stayed on — becoming the town’s first physician and jack-of-all medical specialties. He delivered babies; set broken bones; treated ulcers, boils and heart troubles. It was Jackson who ran the “sanitary watch” over Miami in 1899 when the town was quarantined for yellow fever, conducting house-to-house inspections for the disease. He also became the official physician for the luxurious Royal Palm Hotel, treating its guests when needed.

The lavish Royal Palm Hotel, circa 1901.
Hippodrome on right; Halcyon Hotel on the left.

By 1923, Dr. Jackson was still seeing patients at his office on Twelfth Street, although now in the newly-built Hippodrome building. He also was actively engaged in helping plan for a new City Hospital. But Jackson wouldn’t live long enough to see the new facility open.

That winter he began losing weight. A trip to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore diagnosed him with a fungal infection of the lung, and he was treated with intravenous infusions of mercurochrome. This heavy-duty “cure,” Jackson found, left him feeling worse than the disease, and he soon discontinued treatment.

On April 2, 1924, he died at home in Miami. In a gesture of universal mourning, the city’s mayor ordered all Miami businesses closed two days later, so that citizens could attend Dr. Jackson’s funeral. None other than William Jennings Bryan delivered his eulogy.

Less than a week after Jackson died, the city commissioners voted to rename the future hospital the “James M. Jackson Memorial Hospital.” The resolution passed unanimously.

Book from Clairitage Press about Dr. Jackson, Miami’s first physician.

Like to read more about Dr. Jackson and Miami’s early days? Check out the new book about him here!







Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.


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.)







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.

Markleeville: Ghost in the Admin Building?

There’ve been a few ghostly rumors about the county Administration building in Markleeville. Today’s parking lot once was the site of an old house, built by Alvin Grover around 1899. Even back then Grover’s house wasn’t exactly new; it was constructed from lumber from an old schoolhouse that used to sit in the abandoned mining town of Monitor.

Although Grover’s house is long gone, according to several folks who’ve worked in the new Admin building, something never quite left. Some employees claim a mysterious “cold chill” occasionally swept through their offices. Others say they’ve heard footsteps late in the evening when the building should be empty, or saw doors close all by themselves. Most eyebrow-raising of all:  after one long weekend, workers returned to find the date on the postage machine had somehow managed to reset itself — back to 1929.

If there is a ghost, it apparently resided in the old Grover home long before demolition made way for today’s modern structure in the 1970s. One Markleeville native who remembers visiting the old Grover house as a child recalled seeing the ghostly image of a woman sitting on an upstairs bed, hair tied up in a bun, and wearing an old-fashioned high-collared blouse and long skirt.

Some speculate that the County’s ghostly resident was a lady known as Mary Gray, a diligent public servant for many years. Born in 1874, Mary served as the county’s Clerk/Auditor/Recorder, and owned and lived in the old Grover home in the 1920s. Although she sold the house to another Markleeville family long before it was demolished, it still belonged to Gray in that magical year of 1929.


#Markleeville #ghoststory

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Fiddletown Ghost

If this eerie Victorian doesn’t have a ghost, it should. Now tantalizingly rundown, this hauntingly beautiful Gothic Revival home was built in the gold rush town of Fiddletown around 1861.

Gold miner with pick and shovel.

No one seems to know who originally owned the house, but in later years it belonged to miner Isaac Cooper — a man with a Midas touch. Cooper first came to California with other eager gold-seekers in 1849 and, unlike many of his fellow prospectors, actually did quite well. Also unlike his compatriots, Cooper took his profits and ran — right back to Iowa, where he invested in real estate and soon became a Polk County civic leader.

But mining was still in Cooper’s blood. In 1875 he returned to Gold Country and purchased this amazing Victorian home. He also invested money in a mine located just outside of town, which proved to be yet another smart move: this mine reportedly produced a quick $3,000 in the 1890s with just a few days’ work.

Eerily, the glorious old house caught fire in 1975, exactly a century after Cooper purchased it. Although the home was partially destroyed, it has since been rebuilt.

You can find this beautiful and ghostly old home in Fiddletown at the corner of Main Street and American Flat Road, still looking as if it has secrets to tell.


Our journey into vineyard-dom began just a week ago. A dozen baby grapevines finally made it out of the greenhouse and into the soil. And boy, were they ready!

Just planted.

So were the bunny rabbits, unfortunately. Most of the lower leaves disappeared that very first night as bunny salad. A quick trip to the hardware store for rabbit fence put an end to the Chez Cottontail Deli. But losing so many tender sprouts was depressing nonetheless.

Tendrils already hanging on.

Fast-forward just one week to more encouraging news: several of the newly-planted twigs have already grown an amazing six inches and managed to wrap their tendrils neatly around the horizontal wire! One week. Go figure!

Pretty soon we’ll have grapes in earnest, as we already do in the mature arbor. Bunnies, eat your heart out.

Mature Himrod vine

High Mountain Gardening

When gardening is an addiction, no expanse of perfectly-manicured green lawn is ever large enough. Yet another reason for expanding the greenbelt:  fresh edges for new flower beds.

The organized gardener’s dream.

As you can see, projects like this call for certain must-have gardening equipment. A mini-tiller to make short work of digging trenches. A handy roll-around metal tool tray to keep those sprinkler parts organized and at waist height (no bending over). A quad, of course (doesn’t every high mountain garden need one?) with its own dump-style trailer to haul away the rocks.

How many tools does it take to add a sprinkler run?

Soon we will have yet another beautiful swath of emerald-green lawn, edged in glorious flowers.

Thank heavens for the ride-on lawnmower.

Silver Lake Hotel

Chronicle, June 16, 1866

The ad announcing the opening of the Silver Lake Hotel in June, 1866 spared no adjectives. The air was “pure,” the scenery “delightful,” the lake itself “bottomless” and “abounding with delicious trout.” And if “sweltering mortals” from Sacramento and San Joaquin needed further inducement to travel the Amador Road for a visit, the proprietors urged them to escape in “these Cholera times!”

The Hotel’s proprietors, Hampton P. Wade and Samuel W. Evans, promised “strict attention to the wants and comfort of guests.” Nightly dancing parties were planned, with lessons given during the day for those desiring to brush up on the “latest styles of dancing.” Music would be provided by Messrs. Church, Jones and Busan, engaged for the entire season. Other amusements included hunting for petrified wood and shells (never mind that shells were probably not very abundant). And on the dinner table for every meal: fresh trout.

Visitors who planned to camp out were cautioned, however, to “bring tents with them,” as the earlier practice of cutting brush or perhaps felling a few trees to build a camping shelter would now be strictly prohibited.

Vacationing at Silver Lake was still going strong a decade later. In July, 1876 one party of happy fishermen made the news for reportedly pulling 1,400 fish from Silver Lake in less than 12 hours.

As for the hotel itself, photos show it survived into the early 1900s, although slightly the worse for wear.

Silver Lake Hotel, circa 1875. Courtesy of Amador Co. Archives.
Silver Lake Hotel in 1901. Courtesy of Amador Co. Archives.


Making a Hoop Skirt

Such a lovely drape to the skirt!

Those fabulous Civil War-era dresses came by their bell shape honestly — yards and yards of fabric, with some generous help from a hidden hoop underskirt. Sewing an overskirt is easy enough — so how hard could it be to make a proper hoop petticoat?

I started my adventure with an online pattern, found here. It was, well, a great start!

But after two days of trial and error (and a fair amount of hair-pulling), here is my own version of a Civil War hoop-skirt pattern, along with tips, suggestions, and a few mistakes to avoid!

Shopping List:

Fabric:  3 yards of strong cotton (avoid anything that would stretch easily), at least 32” in width

Bias Tape:  11 yards of 1-1/4” to 1-1/2”-wide bias tape (or use 1” tape and fold it open prior to stitching)

Boning:  11 yards of ¾” flat plastic boning (plumber’s tape was my solution! See photo below.)

Extra stiffening for bottom hoop:  ¼” flexible but firm plastic tubing (aka vinyl sprinkler line)

Lace Trim:  10 feet of 4” to 6”-wide lace (washable)

And (of course) Thread; Hooks-and-eyes; Buttons.

Cut out the three pieces as shown. (I used 16” for my A and B; next time I would probably make them 18” wide instead.)  For the waistband length, measure your waist and add four inches.

Cut out your pieces and run a basting stitch to gather the tops.

Run a double row of long gathering stitches at the tops of pieces A and B.

Pull threads to gather the top of piece B.  Then with right sides of A and B together, sew the top of B to the bottom of A, adjusting the gathers on B as necessary.  Press the seam up, and stitch again on top of the gathers to hold them in place. Then sew the lace trim along the bottom of Piece B.

Fold the skirt with right sides together, and stitch the back seam closed, leaving the top 5 inches open (unstitched).  Finish the edges of the 5” opening by zig-zagging the cut edges, and then fold the edges to the inside of the garment and top-stitch along both sides of the opening.

Fold the waistband in half, wrong side out, and stitch the two short ends.  Turn right side out and press so you have a straight line along the top of the band.  Mark the correct dimension for your waist (where the waistband will overlap), which will leave a tab of about 3 or 4 extra inches.

Attach one edge of the waistband to Piece A, with right sides together, adjusting the gathers as necessary to fit.  Turn the waistband right side out (turning the loose side of the waistband inside the skirt), pin in place, and then top-stitch on the right side, running your stitches all the way to the end of the tab.  Finish by adding two hooks and eyes on the square edge, and a button and buttonhole to secure the tab.

Turn the skirt inside out.  Stitch four rows of bias tape equally-spaced down the skirt, starting with a row just above the lace trim (at the bottom of Piece B).  Add a second row of bias tape about half-way up Piece B; a third row on top of the gathered seam; and the fourth row mid-way up piece A.  At the end of each bias tape row, leave 2” to 3” of extra tape loose at the back seam so it’s easy to insert the boning.

Note:  Be sure when you stitch down your bias tape that it leaves you an open tube more than 1” wide in which to insert the boning, or you’ll be fighting with it for hours!  (Voice of experience here!)

Insert flat plastic boning in each of the four bias-tape tubes, leaving about 4” excess at both ends to play with. Caution:  do not use the thin mesh boning material commonly sold at fabric stores; that may work great for corsets and other lightweight stiffening uses, but it does not provide the necessary stiffness for a hoop petticoat! It’s also horribly expensive (voice of experience again).

Bias tape on left (wider is better); black and grey plastic “boning” material (aka sprinkler tubing and plumber’s tape, with the packaging they came in); and roll of electrician’s tape to join the cut ends. At far right is mesh “boning” (black) sold in fabric stores — terribly expensive and it doesn’t work well for this purpose.

The best plastic boning material I found was polypropylene hanger strap (aka plumber’s tape), available at most hardware stores. It’s cheap; it’s tough; it’s waterproof; and it holds its shape.  For the very bottom row, additional stiffening will be needed; I added flexible vinyl ¼” sprinkler line, taping it to the flat boning material prior to inserting it into the bias tape tube.

Now comes the fun (actually not-so-fun) part — trying to get that bell-shape look just right! There’s no easy way to do it; it just takes trial and error. Adjust the length and gather of each row of boning until you are happy with the look. And (voice of experience again), don’t cut it until you are sure you have it right!

A kick to make — even more fun to wear!

Once you are satisfied with the shape, cut the boning to size, overlapping the cut ends by 1” to 2” and tape the cut ends using electrician’s tape to hold them securely. Then cut away the excess bias tape and hand-stitch each row closed.

Voila! A simple hoop skirt you can make at home to properly show off your Civil War dress creations!

The finished hoop skirt





The hoop skirt in action, under a Civil War-style skirt — made from an old bed sheet.










Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.








Markleeville’s Mercury Hill

There’s a peculiar red streak in the cliff just south of Hangman’s bridge. Blink and you’ll miss it; today, most people drive by without a glance. But to Markleeville old-timers, this was where a valuable mineral resource was mined.

Look for the distinct red stain in the cliff. Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire

Back in the day, homes were roofed with simple wooden shingles. Jacob Marklee himself is said to have covered his entire cabin using shakes hewn from the local sugar pine. Wooden shingles were cheap, they were practical, and the material was readily available. But wooden shakes have an unfortunate tendency to shrink and to rot.

And that’s where this unusual deposit of red soil came in handy. The color at this site comes from cinnabar — a type of mineral earth laced with mercury. Old-time residents recall Markleeville homeowners mixing this red clay with linseed oil and painting the thick mixture on their roofs every year. It not only helped the shingles to shed water but also helped deter rot. The colorful result: all of the houses in Markleeville once had pink roofs.

Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire.

The Native Americans, too, knew about this lode of red pigment. The local Washo used it to make ceremonial paint to adorn their faces and bodies. Washo chief Captain Jim was said to have painted his face and body with red and black paint when he defended the sacred cave just up the old road from this site. It is quite likely he mined the red pigment right here.

Interested in exploring more Markleeville lore? Check out our Self-Guided Walking Tour of Markleeville, available at www.clairitage.com.