I just returned from a week’s trip to Coronado Island at San Diego. The occasion was an all-too-brief writers retreat with three very good friends: Lynn Kerstan, Alicia Rasley and Carol Prescott. The stated reason was brainstorming our current and future books, but somewhere along the line we found time to watch the Oscars (none of us had seen any of them), eat, drink, watch Navy Seals train up and down the beach and take a day trip up to Julian, a historic gold-mining town located one hour east of San Diego.
I love old western towns. If one is within hours of wherever I might be, I head that way: Georgetown, Colorado; Virginia City, Nevada; Bisbee, Arizona.
They all have their own personality and I always love every moment exploring their streets.
I was quite fascinated with seeing the toilet Mark Twain used when he was editor of the paper in Virginia City. I visited the cell once occupied by Butch Cassidy in Wyoming, and slept in the hotel room frequently occupied by John Wayne in Bisbee. I always buy whatever books and phamphlets I can find. Someday, I know, I’ll use that place in a book.
Sure enough, I found a great book, “Julian City And Cuyamaca Country,” a treasure about the town’s past.
So on the trip home, I eagerly turned to my newest edition to my already overloaded western library. One chapter particularly fascinated me. I’m a great devotee of old westerns, including the old black and white “B” movies. One frequent plot was the land grab by claim jumpers. So I was enthralled with a chapter that involved claim jumping.
“There probably has never been a more troubling chapter in the history of any young town than that which befell Julian City in its infancy,” reported Author Charles LeManager.
“The boom was no sooner in full swing in the spring of 1870 when a dark cloud descended over that rag-town. It took form as a “grab for the mines and the land upon which the settlers had built their hopes and dreams.” Four men, who had already purchased a grant in the area, learned of the discovery of lucrative gold fields in the area and decided to claim that land as their own. Years of skullduggery, including bribery and forgery, followed.
Several had already gained reputations at scoundrels. “This was not the first time they had been involved in attempted landjumping,” according to the local history, and they were pretty blatant about it. They forged the signature of the governor along with the state seal. They bribed a surveyor to change the grant boundaries to increase their land from 12,000 to 30,000 acres to include the lands of some 100 settlers and several gold mines.
There was talk of “Judge Lynch” to assist, but instead the settlers and miners took their case to court. It took three and a half years with many ups and downs, but they won.
Soon after the victory, the gold started to pan out, Except for a few mines, the business of taking gold from the mountains around Julian was not especially lucrative. When compared with the Mother Lode country of northern California, Julian’s total production of about five million dollars was a drop in the bucket and settlers looked elsewhere for sustenance. They found the land was particularly fine for growing apples, and Julian went from a gold past to an apple-filled future. The town’s apple pie is now its main claim to fame.
Now how can you make up good stuff like that? Whenever anyone asks where I get my ideas, I point to a history shelf. History has always been more fascinating than fiction.
I might add that there’s a store named Pistols & Petticoats in Julian so maybe I’m prejudiced. Of course, I paid a visit and bought souvenirs.
So now Julian City has become one of my favorite old western towns and some day, some time, it will be the locale of a book. It gives me an excuse to return and relish even more local history.
Do you have a favorite old west town? Has one ever inspired a book?
And a shameless promotion note: My newest book, “Catch A Shadow,” will be on the stands this week. It’s romantic suspense and, although not a western, part of the book takes place in Texas. Romantic Times said it was “not to be missed.”