Monday, January 11, 2010

Historic California, Part 1 - Placerville

The back-and-forth in the comments of this excellent blog spurred me to write a few stories of when I tried to really dig into the historic monuments of my home state, California. I am going to split this into three parts: Placerville, Donner Pass, and a surprise outcome of a Native American burial ground.

There are definitely Native American sites, but they are hard to find, not promoted very well, and few in number. I suspect this is for two reasons: First, the people roamed around rather than build fortified cities meant to withstand attack and last for hundreds of years. Most of my experiences of the culture are paintings on caves and things like divots in a large flat rock used for grinding acorns a very long time ago.

Second, I think there’s a bit of subconscious guilt along the lines of “Um, yeah, there used to be a whole lot of people here.”, so most of the investment in historical preservation goes to “American” history. However, I haven’t really researched this, I may be wrong, but it’s a gut feeling.

I spent four years of my late teenage life in a city called Placerville. It’s also where I met my wife so I have a fond memory of it, but I am not inclined to live there ever again. I am too addicted to convenience and technology to call the wooded hills my home, but it has some historic significance.

Most of the California monuments begin in the mid-1800s when there was a huge influx of population to mine for gold that was discovered in the El Dorado Hills. Placerville is somewhat near where gold was discovered so its stories begin around that time period.

It has the nickname of “Old Hangtown.” The story goes that there were some thugs that were terrorizing the town, killing people that crossed them, hanging out at the saloon gambling and generally being a nuisance. The miners get together and give an ultimatum to the town saying all professional gamblers have 24 hours to get out (translation: Hey, you guys that hang out in the saloon and gamble all day? We are talking to you. Leave.)

One of the leaders of the miners gets mysteriously shot while walking near the saloon. The rest of the miners take this as the answer to their ultimatum, haul out the gamblers and hang them all from a tree outside. The saloon owner comes out and starts yelling that he is going to have them charged with murder for killing his customers with no proof. The mob doesn’t like hearing that, get another rope and hang him too. (Note: I find this an excellent example of a good time to keep one’s mouth shut.)

Now the saloon has a dummy hanging from a noose outside and a bright neon sign that it is a historic monument. I went in and it’s what is known as a “dive bar”. Nothing special. After that disappointment, I decide to up the ante on the California history front with one of the most infamous and tragic stories about a migration to the West.

Up next – Donner Pass!


AngelaCorrias said...

Hi Matt, thanks very much for mentioning my post, I'm truly honoured to have inspired you such an interesting research and story. It's exactly what I mean culture is. Of course, paintings, sculptures and monuments are a must-see, but they were created by artists and geniuses and sometimes are just great to watch, but don't really explain how the life was back in their times!
I think "normal life", the facts that are not worth mentioning in history books, are actually very important if we want to understand where we come from...
Looking forward to your next findings and posts!

kathy said...

unfortuately, the bar is gone and with it, the "hanging man". peace from kathy

Matt said...

Holy moly, you're right! I had no idea it was gone! Well, at least I got to see it while it lasted I guess.