Tag: Placerville

RECIPE FOR THE PERFECT SETTING BY JENNIFER UHLARIK

JEN HEADSHOTjuhlarik-HR-3

Hi everyone. Jennifer Uhlarik here.

Sometimes when story ideas come to me, they come already fleshed out with details that it would normally take several chapters of writing to discover. My newest novella, Mountain Echoes, included in The Courageous Brides Collection, was this way. When the idea came to me, I knew the story was about a school employee, Hannah Stockton, who is on her way to pick up a new student from a distant town. When the stagecoach crashes high in the mountains, she must lead the survivors to safety. So my setting had to included nearby mountains and known stagecoach routes that cut through those mountains. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? But wait…I forgot to mention something. Hannah doesn’t work for any old school—it’s a school for the deaf. Oops…that certainly complicated matters. Just how many schools for the deaf were there in the Old West anyway?

Sure, I could have made up a fictional place, but I love research, and if I can find real cities or towns for my settings, it makes the storytelling all the more fun for me. I set out looking at the Rocky Mountains, and particularly Colorado. I could find stage coach routes that went up into the Rockies, but no luck on the school. I checked Arizona and New Mexico, since there are many small mountain ranges there. Again, I could find the proper terrain, the stagecoach lines, but no school.

So…when all else fails, keep looking further west!

I finally found the right place in California. The Sierra Nevada on the eastern side of the state provided the mountain range I would need, and there were any number of stagecoach lines that traveled through those mountains to points beyond. The final piece of the puzzle—the school for the deaf—fell into place when I discovered that in the Spring of 1860, a group of twenty-three ladies met together to to address the growing needs of indigent deaf children in the San Francisco area, which led to the creation of the California School for the Deaf. (Even more exciting to me is that the school is still in operation today!)

JEN DEAF SCHOOL

 

 

 

 

 

With all these pieces in place, I finally settled on setting the story in 1862 since, by then, the school had opened their doors to deaf children not just in the state of California, but also in neighboring states and territories. It gave all the more reason for Hannah to travel across the Sierra Nevada to Virginia City, Nevada (or in that day, Utah Territory).

 

JEN Pioneer Stage Line Ad

But the research wasn’t over there. I didn’t want to make up details about a stage line. I wanted to use real details—real stage stops, real time frames for traveling, when passengers would’ve eaten meals, and the like. Again, the details weren’t particularly the easiest to find, but I was eventually able to dig up old newspaper advertisements that details the routes and durations of several old stagecoach lines. It was rather fascinating to discover that Pioneer Stagecoach Company had two ways to cross the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and Virginia City. They had the “Through Line” which would travel the roughly 150-mile route in 24-30 hours, leaving at 6:30 AM and arriving on the other end the following day around noon. Or they had the “Accommodation Line,” which traveled the same route across three days with overnight stays in Placerville and Strawberry. My characters chose the Accommodation Line, by the way.

 

JEN strawberry_1858

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a blast researching the details that went into Mountain Echoes, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it! Thanks for letting me share! To celebrate the recent release of The Courageous Brides Collection, I’ll be giving away a print copy of the book to one reader. Please leave me a comment!

JEN COVER The Courageous Bride Collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bio:

 

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

 

For the Amazon Buy Link Click HERE.

 

Pioneer Stage Ad: Credit California Digital Newspaper Collection (www.cdnc.cdr.edu)
Strawberry Lodge Photo: Credit The Strawberry Lodge (http://www.strawberrylodge.com)
Author Headshot: Credit EA Creative (http://www.eacreativephotography.com)

California: The Not-So-Wild West —– by Keli Gwyn

If you hear the words “California history,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many of us, that would be the Gold Rush.

As a native Californian, I first learned about James Marshall finding those famous gold nuggets when I studied our state’s history in fourth grade. Little did I know then that I’d end up living just seven miles from the site of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, where Marshall made the discovery that launched one of the world’s largest mass migrations.

In the early days of the Gold Rush, things in this untamed land were wild. My town of Placerville, first known as Dry Diggings, earned its most notorious moniker, Old Hangtown, when three men accused of robbery in January 1849 met their fate at the end of a rope following an impromptu trial.

 The heyday of the Gold Rush lasted from 1849 to 1852. After that, mining was done primarily by large operations making use ofhydraulic methods, since the easy-to-find gold had played out. The number of businessmen, farmers, and those in other occupations soon exceeded the number of miners, and refinement replaced roughness.

You might think culture was centered around San Francisco and Sacramento City—as it was called then—but that was not the case. While doing research for my stories set in the heart of the Gold Country in the 1870s, I unearthed many interesting facts, some of which I worked into my debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California.

At one point in the story, the hero, mercantile owner Miles Rutledge, tells newly arrived widow Elenora Watkins, “I think you’re in for some surprises. California is no longer the Wild West. Over in Placerville the hotels have running water, the streets are lit with gaslights, and they have a Philharmonic Society.”

Miles relayed only a few facts. Placerville also boasted a brass band, a roller skating rink, and a 1,500-seat theater. And it wasn’t the only town with quality entertainment. Many of those up and down the Mother Lode had theaters, musical groups, skating rinks, etc. as well.

 The presence of culture in itself doesn’t tell the whole story. The lack of crime was another factor that proved how quickly the state had been tamed. There were still outlaws and crimes, but as the stagecoach driver reassures Elenora following an unsettling encounter upon her arrival in California, “I hear tell the papers back East are full of stories about outlaws and Injuns attackin’ travelers, but them things are more likely to happen in open country. Not here where folks has settled.”

Many stories set in the West include a sheriff’s office in a town of any size. A Bride Opens Shop is no exception. However, the inclusion of Sheriff Hank Henderson is pure fiction. El Dorado didn’t have a sheriff. The nearest one would have been located in Placerville, which was nearly ten miles away. Law and order were well established within a few years of California’s statehood.

In the span of one generation, California had left behind her ignoble beginnings. While settled by an influx of people eager for instant wealth, a shift took place. The hardworking people who chose to stay put their energies into creating a forward-thinking state in the not-so-wild West, one that continues to make significant contributions to the U.S. and the world today.

Thanks so much for having me as your guest at Petticoats & Pistols. Spending time with you and your blog’s visitors is a pleasure.

I’d like to end with a question for all of you. When you think of California and the many things it’s known for today, which are the first to come to your mind?

One commenter who answers the question will win an autographed copy of my debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California.

The book is available for pre-order at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million!
Christianbook

BLURB for A BRIDE OPENS SHOP IN EL DORADO, CALIFORNIA

Widow Elenora Watkins looks forward to meeting her new business partner, Miles Rutledge, who owns a shop in 1870s El Dorado. But Miles is shocked to see a woman step off the stagecoach. His rude behavior forces Elenora to reconsider—so she becomes his competition across the street. Can Miles win her heart while destroying her business?

Hang ’em High

marryingminda-crop-to-use   

 I was thrilled recently to learn that my entry, Outlaw Bride, has finaled in the Romance Through the Ages Contest sponsored by RWA’s special interest chapter, Hearts Through History. This work-in-progress features a horse-hang-tree-barethievin’ heroine who manages to escape getting strung up on a tree outside an Arizona town. This second chance at life finds her mending her evil ways…and falling for a handsome Cavalry scout turned rancher.  All the while she’s outrunning her big bad outlaw brother and the bounty on her head. ..disguised as a nun.

Well, she’s itsy bitsy, so the hangin’ tree didn’t have to be very big…but most hanging trees, real or legendary, had to be sturdy with dramatic, stretched-out branches.  In California, oaks and sycamores were the trees of choice although juniper came in handy, too. Or should I say, necky? Many trees have been lost to age, disease, or development, but some remain, like the hanging tree in Holcomb Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains.  (shown below) 

The valley was the richest gold field in Southern California, a good dozen years after the Forty Niners up north. While miners and prospectors worked hard and honest to find their lucky strikes,  claim jumpers, gamblers, and outlaws such as Button’s Gang all the way from Salt Lake City, Utah, made harsh frontier justice necessary. In the first two years after gold was discovered in 1861, some 40, possibly 50 murders demanded a strong message of law and order.

holcomb-hanging-tree

Records claim that this lovely juniper in Holcomb Valley witnessed as many as four  hangings at a single time. When the hanged criminal was cut down, so was the branch from which he hung.

Down the mountain, in the canyon below a tollway in Orange County’s  master-planned community of Irvine, bad guys were hanged long ago from a stand of seven sycamores. A plaque reads, “Under this tree, General Andres Pico Hung Two Banditos from the Flores Gang in 1857.”

General Pico, the brother of California’s last Mexican governor, led the posse that captured and hanged at that spot Francisco Ardillero and Juan Catabo of the treacherous Juan Flores Gang. The gang had massacred a Los Angeles County sheriff and three other lawmen during a reign of terror that blazed for a hundred miles. 

Juan Flores himself was strung up in downtown Los Angeles while thousands of spectators watched, but the humbler Ardillero and Catabo were soon forgotten.

They might be nameless even today if the monument shown below hadn’t been erected forty years ago by an equestrian club. Today these sycamores symbolize life. Docents will lead hikes to O.C.’s Hangman’s Tree later in the summer only after a pair of nesting hawks have raised their young.  

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 Up north, about an hour west of Lake Tahoe, Placerville, California still lays hangman-tavern-placervilleproud claim to its original moniker, Hangtown. All along historic Main Street, establishments display such names as Chuck’s Hangtown Bakery, Hangtown Grill, and even Hangtown Tattoo and Body Piercing. Without a doubt, Hangman’s Tree Tavern is the site most deserving of bragging rights, for down in its basement you can see the original stump from the white oak hangin’ tree. I’ve seen it…kind of sad, really. 

Placerville likely got its original name in January 1849 when a colorful gambler was waylaid by robbers after a particularly profitable evening at the saloon. Once captured, the thieves were unanimously declared guilty and condemned to death by hanging after a 30-minute trial and little evidence. At that time, the infamous white oak hanging tree stood in a hay yard next to the aptly-named Jackass Inn.

 Ken Gonzales-Day, an art professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, has written an excellent book, Lynching in the West, which chronicles 350 such cases in California between 1850 and 1935. Tragically, many were racial injustices. Because he feels people tend to fictionalize the past unless they realize real people lived it, he has photographed dozens of “hang trees” in his research and describes his pictorial journey as “part pilgrimage and part memorial.” Some day, he says, the trees will be gone, and the last living pieces of this history will be lost.

Ken, who describes the trees as “witnesses standing there when the mobs walked by,” has kindly shared with us some of his hauntingly beautiful photographs, the three below and the “bare” tree at the top. It actually is very like the imaginary scene in my head where my outlaw bride almost meets her Maker. I didn’t know Ken’s work when I wrote the story.

hang-tree-three

hang-tree-twoFortunately, most of California’s native trees don’t have such  grim histories. Our state has got California live oak and palm trees (not native), groves of avocado and lemon and olive, the giant Sequoia, Generals Sherman and Grant, the coastal redwoods, ponderosa and jeffrey pines, and bristlecones thousands of years old. Not to mention hundreds of species inbetween.

Other than a Christmas tree by my fireplace in December, my favorite tree hang-treeis the lemon tree in my backyard. I raid it almost daily for slices for my iced tea. And we found a humming bird nest in a red-leaf not long ago.

What are your favorite tree stories? Did you climb them as a kid? Build a tree house? Hang a tire swing from a branch, or a hammock between two trunks? Tack a fairy door over a knothole to give the little people some privacy?

Please share!

(Many thanks to Professor Ken Gonzales-Day and the LA Times, May 7, 2009.) 

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