Some folks in town had already taken up a collection to erect a marker on the site. Of course, the Growers Association wanted to call it “The Capay Valley Stand Off.” But, locals who traded at Black’s Station called it a massacre.
Skirmishes over land and water rights in the Sacramento Valley had taken place during the winter of 1868. It was big cattle versus the homesteaders. And, there would be no winners.
Marshal Frank Kegan rode in on that terrible day with seven men to the Dollarhide place, a small farm amid the rolling hills spotted with grand oaks and Manzanitas trees. The marshal was delivering eviction notices petitioned by the Ramage Stock, Land & Water Company. Kegan did not realize that a funeral would be taking place in Hungry Hollow that morning. Mourners from the town of Munchville attended the burial services for ten-year-old Lilly Dollarhide, the daughter of Carl and Molly Rose. Read more
Western painter and storyteller Charles M. Russell tells a story about a couple of prospectors he knew. Bedrock Jim was working a claim in the Big Horn high country with his partner, Pick Axe Jack. And, it dawned on them that they were out of meat for suppertime. So, they went hunting. Not far from camp, Bedrock caught sight of a fine elk with large, pitchforked antlers. He got off a shot with his Henry and dropped the bull. The two men strode over to admire the prize, leaning their rifles up against a fallen log.
Standing over the 800-pound animal—rolled over on its side—Bedrock Jim could see a spot of blood on its neck. Thinking that the neck was broken, Bedrock grabbed a horn to straighten it out so that he could make a proper cut to the throat with his knife. But the elk got to its feet, still very much alive, and went after Jim. The bull was fighting mad and the two men were at once embroiled in a mighty struggle. To their misfortune, their guns rested on the wrong side of the angry elk.
Exhausted and unable to subdue the beast, Bedrock Jim scampered up a scrub of pine growing near a rocky ledge. The small tree was not tall enough to accommodate both men, so Pick Axe found sanctuary in a paltry hole beneath the ledge. Read more
Alarm reached a fever pitch in the mining towns and camps along the Sierra Nevada in early 1853, A marauding gang of horsemen led by an enigmatic leader known as “Joaquín” terrorized the Mother Lode communities—Hornitos, Murphys, Sonora, Mariposa—plundering gold, stealing horses, and killing anyone who dared resist.
Newspaperman Andrew Joshua Bell followed the events concerning the dreaded Joaquín, writing notices for The Republican concerning the murders committed in the lonely gulches and solitary outposts of Calaveras County.
Then on August 19, 1853, the reign of terror appeared to come to an end. Willing spectators lined up around the Stockton House, paying a dollar a piece to view the severed head of Joaquín Murrieta Carrillo displayed inside a jar of whiskey. Seventeen people, including a Catholic priest, identified the pickled head as belonging to the notorious bandido with signed affidavits. Read more
As a scout for emigrant trains crossing the Great Plains to California, he had seen it all. Discarded furniture, burned out wagons, and the skeletons of settlers and livestock who met with misfortune out on the lonely trail.
But, on a fall day in 1860 near Honney Lake, William Drannan and a fellow scout came across something that neither had ever witnessed before.
They heard a woeful howl out in the distance. Intrigued, Drannan’s partner Jim offered to check it out while the chief scout set up camp. When Jim did not return right away, Drannan became concerned. Read more
Sheriff Harry Morse crouched outside the adobe. He had a critical decision to make: he could wait for the fugitive to emerge and take him by surprise or boldly march in and make the arrest. Juan Soto was inside and the sheriff was not about to let him get away.
Morse had relentlessly tracked Soto over several months from Alameda County, where Soto killed a man. The outlaw had also raided a Sunol grocery store and shot the clerk to death. The store belonged to Assemblyman Thomas Scott, who demanded justice. Newspapers were calling Juan Soto “The Human Wildcat,” because of his erratic behavior.
And now, fifty miles southeast of Gilroy in the dry and rocky Panoche Mountains, Morse had him cornered. But, how does one subdue a wildcat? Whichever course of action the sheriff chose, he knew he would have a bloody fight on his hands. Harry Morse continued to ponder his options as a blue mist of fog rolled in to make the decision for him. Read more
According to some Jim Gillis was the “Thoreau of the Sierras.” Others knew him as the “Father of Pocket Mining.” But, Jim Gillis’ most enduring quality was his cock-and-bull story telling.
By his own account, Gillis was solely responsible for giving a certain unemployed junior reporter his first big break.
After losing his job at the Morning Call, Sam Clemens hung around San Francisco with Gillis’ younger brother Steve. One night Sam had to sign a $500 promissory note to bail Steve out of jail after the younger Gillis slugged it out with a saloon owner. Near broke and barely able to pay the rent, Sam had not the means for paying the bond. So, he and Steve beat it out of town for the Sierra foothills, fugitives from the law.
Steve invited Sam to lay low at his brother Jim’s cabin on Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County. It was a hovel really: leaning badly to one side with plenty of loose planks and a saggy roof that leaked when it rained. But to Sam Clemens, it was a cool place to drink during the day and sturdy enough to keep the wind off the card table at night. Many a good yarn was spun in that tumble-down, ramshackle of a cabin, and Sam being an upstart writer wrote them all down. Jim’s favorite story was the time young Clemens tussled with a pig, and it went something like this…. Read more
It was a complicated relationship—father and son, filled with so many expectations and disappointments.
Louren Upson, prominent editor of the Sacramento Daily Union, did not approve of the rudderless direction his son’s life had taken, nor the company he kept. Nineteen-year-old Warren Fremont Upson had taken up with Mexican Vaqueros, riding through the countryside and shooting off guns at all hours of the night, annoying the neighbors.
The boy didn’t seem interested in following in his father’s footsteps: studying law, writing for a newspaper, a career in politics, or becoming a prominent member of society. He had a head full of adventure and was more interested in horsemanship than a career. Read more
The desk clerk at the exclusive Santa Barbara hotel was terribly abrupt with the dusty stranger inquiring about a room. Sure, the man’s clothes were covered with alkali dust from the Carrisa Plains. And due to the hot day, he must have smelled pretty bad too. But, to judge this man solely based upon his appearance was a mistake. The traveler looking for lodging that day was Henry Miller—thee Henry Miller.
Miller and his partner Charles Lux had amassed more land, wealth, and power than most kings. Through opportune purchases of old Spanish land grants, Miller & Lux owned over 1,200 square miles or 800,000 acres of prime grazing land in California. He was then and remains today the largest landholder ever in the history of the United States and perhaps the world over. It was possible for Miller to drive his 80,000 head of beef from Mexico to San Francisco on land owned entirely by his brand. He was the Cattle King with a legion of hired hands awaited his every command. Read more
Tom Bell must have known he would pay for his crimes. He managed to elude capture for months. But on October 4, 1856, a posse led by Judge George Belt finally caught up with him along the Merced River.
Mrs. Tilghman, the wife of a popular barber, had been shot during a holdup and was not expected to live. It was the first stagecoach robbery in United States history. The townspeople of Marysville were outraged and demanded justice. Already in custody were his two associates, John Fernandez and Bill Gristy. The captured men credited Bell as the mastermind.
After Judge Belt informed Tom Bell that he was to be hung from the nearest tree, he was granted permission to write two letters of farewell—one to his mother and the other to his mistress. Read more