Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lotta Crabtree

Lotta Crabtree
By Claudia East

            Around 1950, along Miner Street in Yreka, a sign was placed approximately near the curb where one today finds the plaque dedicating our National Historic District. The sign partially read:  “Arcade Billiard Saloon, here in the fifties Lotta Crabtree sang for the miners…”  the sign disappeared sometime more than 20 years ago but is fondly remembered by many Yreka residents.
During the early Gold Rush in California there was a talented and beautiful little girl with curly red hair that used to sing, dance, and play the banjo for the miners. The miners would cheerfully throw gold at her feet!  Lotta traveled with her mother to various mining areas throughout California and Nevada to entertain.  She became the equivalent of today’s “rock star” at an early age, and by 20 years old she was touring the nation with her own theatrical company.

            During the 1870s and 1880s she was the highest paid actress in America earning sums of up to $5,000 per week.  Her mother managed her affairs and invested Lotta’s earnings in real estate, race horses and bonds.  She also used some of the earnings to support local charities and build fountains.  The most famous of these fountains, “Lotta’s Fountain” still stands at the intersection of Kearny and Market Streets in San Francisco.  The fountain was an important meeting place following the 1906 earthquake for folks to find family and friends who survived the ordeal.  In fact, today, the fountain is the site of meetings on April 18 of each year that mark the anniversary of the earthquake.

           In 1945, local historian Bernice Meamber met and carefully noted a conversation she had with Charles Herzog, a long time Yrekan, about Lotta Crabtree and her time in Yreka.  It has been speculated through various accounts that Lotta arrived in Yreka sometime between 1853 and 1857, so she would have been between six and ten years old at the time.  The length of her stay here has also been disputed from three months to three years, but no matter how long she was here, she won the hearts and gold from the miners. 

            In the conversation with Charles Herzog he recalled to Bernice Meamber that it was in November of 1854 that Lotta and her mother came to Yreka.  When they arrived they were “destitute” and they stayed with his family.  Lotta sang and danced at the W. S. R. Taylor Saloon [aka Arcade Billiard Saloon] and entertained the miners.  He recounted that one night at Taylor’s Saloon she took in $10,000 in gold dust alone!   When all of this happened Charles Herzog was just a mere toddler, being born in Yreka in 1856.  However, Charles goes on to verify his story by recounting a chance meeting with Lotta years later in 1876.  Charles had just finished driving a band of cattle to San Francisco and was actually at Lotta’s Fountain getting a drink of water when a woman stopped and spoke to him.  In the conversation she asked him where he was from, and when he mentioned Yreka, the conversation blossomed from there.  She told him she remembered when she stayed with his family and that she used to carry him around as a little one.  She recounted the night she took in $10,000 and that when she left Yreka she gave her piano to the Catholic Church (when it was still up on the hill by the cemetery).

            Lotta reigned as a top earning star in America for 25 years and traveled the entire nation.  At the age of 43 she retired following a fall; she “went out on top”.  She lived until 1924, at age 76 and after her retirement did not perform much according to research except for a special event, her last performance, during the 1915 Panama Exposition in San Francisco during “Lotta Crabtree Day”.  Lotta felt her wealth had come from the people and thought it should be returned to them.  After her death in her estate was valued at about Four Million dollars in a charitable trust, and it was left to funds for hospitals, education, needy actors, homeless animals, and spreading cheer at Christmas.  The largest sums went to disabled veterans of World War I, and to ex-convicts in starting life anew after release from prison.  These funds are still in operation. 
Copyright:  Claudia East, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Yreka Elementary circa 1863

Photo circa 1888

The following is from the:
Yreka Semi-Weekly Journal, July 22, 1863.

                NEW SCHOOL HOUSE. — The funds which the Trustees of Yreka School District are in hopes of being authorized to raise are to be applied to a thorough refitting and remodeling of the public school house of this city.  Every person is satisfied that the present building is not fit to have a school in, besides not being capable of containing more than one half of the scholars within the boundaries of the District.  The plan of the new building is so calculated as to remedy both of these defects.  They propose to turn the present house around so as to stand side to the street, and put an addition on to one end, equal in width and length to the old house, which will give a room — by removing the partition — sixty feet long, by twenty-four wide.  This will be divided into two compartments, by a sliding partition in the centre, which will give two rooms, each thirty feet long, by twenty-four wide.  These rooms will easily accommodate one hundred and twenty five scholars, who are to be seated, in each room, facing the centre partition.  On public occasions, both rooms can be thrown into one, by sliding the partition thus reliving the teachers and pupils of the trouble and expense of fitting up a hall, where the benefits are only felt for an evening or a day.
            The front is to be relieved of its barn appearance by an addition, projecting out ten feet by twenty-four long.  This will be divided into an open hall with a room on each side which are calculated for the accommodation of the scholars’ hats and over-garments.  From these rooms, scholars will enter their respective school rooms.  By this arrangement, the school can be graded and classified.  The advanced scholars will form a grammar department, while the small and less advanced, will form a primary department
The benefits arising from such a classification must be apparent to all.  Not only will the children be benefited by the advantages of a thoroughly classified school, but the parents by lessening the expense of schooling.
            Let everyone give it their careful consideration, and decide by their vote on the 1st of August next, that the youth of Yreka shall have a suitable school room.  The county has a first class Court House; shall it not have a good School House?

            A ground plan can be seen at the Post Office.

Note:  This building sat approximately where the Siskiyou County Library is located today near the corner of Fourth and Yreka Streets.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Robbers Rock

Robber’s Rock
and the Last Stage Robbery in California

By Claudia East

            It was a warm afternoon on July 5, 1908, the three gentlemen passengers and one lady passenger jostled along in the Fort Jones bound stage.  The team of horses and the passengers had nearly made it to the top of the pass from Yreka.  Just as they were coming up on a sharp turn an armed masked man stopped the stage.  The driver, Fred ‘Cougar’ Vetterline thought about continuing on their way until the gunman cocked his gun and he saw the head and shoulders of another from behind the big rock with a six shooter pointed at his head.  According to old news accounts the bandit demanded the Wells, Fargo & Company strong box be thrown down. 

            After trying for a time the robber couldn't get the strong box open, so he asked the driver, Vetterline, if he could borrow his axe.  Apparently his response was, “sure, I’m not using it.”  The robber chopped the metal bound box open and removed an undisclosed amount of money and returned the damaged safe to the stage with all other documents and mail intact.  The robber did also lessen the load for the passengers and driver by taking their money and watches.  The driver, Vetterline, had $1.50 and after the robber took his money he told the thief he would need money to buy a drink in Ft. Jones once they got there, so the robber gave him back fifty cents.

            In the account of the robbery by the Yreka Journal one of the passengers gave an interview and explained “The bandit was a jolly fellow.  He joshed and talked with the passengers.  When he broke the driver’s axe he told him he was sorry and he would buy him a new one.”  The Journal went on to report that the robber was “a slender man of medium height and had a handkerchief over his face. The other robber was so concealed that no description of him could be given.”

            No one was ever arrested for this last stage hold up and there were no clues as to the identity of the robbers.  Following the incident there were all sorts of theories and ideas, even Black Bart was named at one point, even though his last robbery was 30 years earlier!  In the 1965 edition of The Siskiyou Pioneer one can find stories about this robbery and the theories that were presented by local historian and attorney at law, Fred Burton.

            Robber’s Rock can be located a short distance before the summit on Highway 3 between Yreka and Ft. Jones, just down on the Yreka side and towards the southern side of the road.  It isn't easily identifiable until one pulls off the shoulder of the road and looks.  The Humbug Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus has placed a plaque on the rock with a brief account of the robberies that were recorded at this spot. 

            This last robbery was not the cause of the namesake of this particular rock, there were others before, at least four documented robberies, but local lore claim there were many unrecorded hold ups there.   Today it doesn't look like much of a hiding place, but if one looks at the old road that goes down the hill from the rock and imagine what it took for a team of horses to pull that grade, and understand that road builders have filled in a lot of the grade and built road material around the foot of the rock, in addition to blasting off the top of the large boulder.

            Taking a drive up to Robber’s Rock is a pleasant drive and a visit to the rock and surrounding area can almost take one back to 1908.

*This article appeared in Jefferson Backroads, December 2012.  Copyright, Claudia East.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Indian Peggy ~ Local Heroine

Indian Peggy

By Claudia East

            Indian Peggy was a very colorful heroine of Yreka.  Many stories and facts have been mixed over the years so that the actual authenticity of what actually happened has been clouded.  So with the possibility of errors this story is shared.  However, with that said we say with confidence Indian Peggy saved Yreka and the former miner’s town of Humbug City from a surprise Indian attack in the early 1850s.

            When the miners came looking for gold that was their feverish purpose, and natives were oftentimes looked upon as barriers to overcome in the quest for riches.  There were often bad feelings on both sides, the miners intruded on the Indian lands and had little respect for tribal hunting grounds, and the Indians were often ill treated.  As the result the local Indian tribes were often fearful and hostile towards the “white” miners who had little regard for the environment and took and used whatever they needed to find the precious gold.  As a result of these factors groups of natives decided to try and rid their homeland of the menace and their practices and formed a large war party.  The plan was a surprise attack on Humbug City and then on to Yreka.

            Indian Peggy was an unusual and exceptional woman; she had friends on both her native side, and with the whites.  She could see that this potential raid on the miners could turn into a bloody war and both sides would lose dearly.  She would lose family and friends she had known for her whole life, as well as her white friends she had recently come to know.  It was 1852 and only a year after gold was discovered.  Indian Peggy took it upon herself to save everyone from this potential massacre.  She lived nearby on a Rancheria and walked several miles to Humbug City and warned the people there and convinced them to retreat to Yreka.  As the miners got to Yreka the news of the impending raid spread very quickly.  When the Indians came upon Humbug City and found it deserted they knew they had lost the element of surprise, they pulled back and withdrew from their plans of attack knowing they would be the targets instead.

            Indian Peggy had renewed status with the miners and the settlers because of her warning of the impending attack.  There are stories told for years that after her warning Indian Peggy would come to town and help herself to things she needed, or would knock on a door and ask for things like blankets, warm clothing or food ~ apparently she was seldom refused.  Indian Peggy lived to be at least 100 and died in 1902.  Following her death, it is said that the high school at Yreka even closed so students could attend her funeral.  It has been reported that Tyee Jim, Chief of the Shasta Nation, gave the eulogy all in his native language.  It is said that there were a good number of people, both Indian and white in attendance on that day.

            In 1951 the Siskiyou County Historical Society placed a marker at her grave.  It reads:  “Indian Peggy born about 1800.  Died October 26, 1902.  Beloved member of the Shasta Tribe.  A friend of Indians and Whites.  Saved Yreka by warning them of an Indian Attack.”  Her marker sits near the current Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds.

*Note:  There are several stories and accounts of Indian Peggy in local publications. These are but a few:  The Siskiyou Pioneer publications from the Siskiyou County Historical Society have information about Indian Peggy in the 1971, 1951, and 2001 issues.  There is also a story about Indian Peggy at the California State Parks website.  The Siskiyou Daily News ran a story on Indian Peggy between 1998 – 2000 by Nancy Drennon.

Monday, November 19, 2012

J. P. Churchill Building

Gone, but not forgotten!

Located on the northwest corner of Main and Miner Streets, Yreka, CA

Photo:  Courtesy of Yreka Preservation

In 1851 while Yreka was in its early infancy, Jerome Churchill arrived at the “flats” and erected a general merchandise store in a tent on what is now the Northwest corner of Miner and Main.  Almost everything constructed during that time was temporary -- merchants stayed in business as long as the miners came and money was to be made.  Unfortunately Churchill’s tent, according to research, burned twice during the first few years, so in 1855 he built a permanent structure from brick for his store on the corner of Main and Miner.  In 1871 the “great conflagration” happened and the building was burned out.  One third of Yreka burned that fateful day in July.  The building was repaired from the walls and continued to be home to a general merchandise store for a number of years.

It is not known when the general merchandise store was moved elsewhere, but for several years the building was home to at least two or three different saloons.  It housed the Last Chance Saloon, (not to be confused with the long established Last Chance Saloon previously in neighboring Hornbrook) and later the Branch Saloon (later renamed the Bella Union Saloon).  It is roughly estimated that the building was home to the saloons between 1890 and 1915.

In 1919 a newspaper article said that the Electric Supply Company was busy moving into the building and that the back half of the building would become home to the California-Oregon Power Company (COPCO) for a repair shop.   It was only two years later that the California-Oregon Power Company purchased the building from Churchill and occupied the entire structure.  [If you have a copy of the book, Yreka, Images of America you can view a portion of this building as it appeared when owned by the power company on page 20.]

In 1933 the power company was getting prepared to replace the building with a newer more modern one that would be two stories high and sport a full basement.  For several reasons this never materialized and the offices were moved.  For a number of years COPCO was at home in the DeWitt & Peters Building (the current Elks Building) at the corner of Miner and North Oregon Streets.

In 1934 major changes were happening in Yreka.  The State of California decided there was a definite need to widen Main Street a full twenty feet from city limit to city limit.  Main Street at the time served as the State Highway 99 and the traffic had increased considerably from former days.  To accommodate the new requirements twenty feet was slashed from property fronting Main Street.  In some blocks the entire twenty feet was taken from one side only, at other places it was half on one side and half on the other.  The State wanted a straight shot through town.

Once the construction was finished, the Lot 1, Block 28 at the northwest corner of Main and Miner was an empty lot.  The building had been razed and the J. P. Churchill Building was gone forever.  The current building located at this spot was completed in 1937.  Today this corner is home to the Miner Street Sports Bar.
Copyright, Claudia East