1. An Original Teacher
Introduces Pupils to Their Region
"I will never go away from Newtown again."
Newtown in the late 1880s was a good
place for a boy to grow up in. We flew our kites and chased goats on
the rolling hill to the north. We climbed the trail along the Iron
Doors to the top of Newtown Ridge. In the spring, we baled fish in
Weber Creek. It was illegal but we were never caught. After heavy
rains, we looked for gold flakes caught in crevices and bends of
Main street. On days the stage came through Newtown from
Placerville, we ran to Avansino's to see Jim Blakely pull in to
unhitch two horses and hitch four fresh, shiny coated ones for the
uphill pull to Grizzly Flat.
on a winding road eight miles southeast of Placerville. It's story
is typical of many of the Sierra mining towns; at first, easily
accessible gold and plenty of water to mine it. The camp prospers
for twenty years. Then, fire destroys it. More than half the people
leave for the valley or San Francisco. Soon the shallow placers
which produce gold so abundantly in the early years are panned out.
Easy gold goes out of reach and the miners turn to the demanding
jobs of tunneling and hydraulic mining.
People from many countries came to Newtown. What made the place
unique for me was the quality of the people.
As I try to tell what I know about the
lively town before the fire and the quiet village of my childhood
that was called "Sunny Italy", I shall let some of the people of
Newtown speak in their voice; Rocco who knew the old town and
Bellows the later one and my Aunt Rosa who wanted to hold to Italian
ways yet became as American as any Yankee. Gold was still the word
most frequently heard in Newtown when I was a boy. To me it meant
the metal my father worked hard to find in the tunnel he was working
with his partner. When he had enough "dust" to exchange for money,
he brought it to Alderson's bank in
I knew that Marshall
discovered gold in Coloma in 1848. He died in 1885 within my
lifetime. Most of the men in Newtown knew Marshall. They had drunk
with him in Placerville or over at his place in Kelsey. He had been
a cabinetmaker as well as a carpenter and blacksmith. A washstand
which he was said to have made, was in our storeroom until my father
gave it to a miner whose cabin had burned.
I don't remember the time Marshall came
to Newtown to sell his biography, the one Parsons wrote. I heard how
the children lined up to shake hands with the man who discovered
gold at Coloma. Marshall was not a popular man but most of the
Italians liked him. He drank their sour wine for one thing, and he
used the Spanish word "chispa" for nugget which is near enough to
the Italian "gispa" to have given intimacy to their
The women liked the story about
the pact Marshall made with his friend Tone Wintermantle. The
wintermantles were an early Coloma family who ran a brewery and a
hotel. Marshall and Tony promised each other to plant a rose on the
grave of the one who died first. Tony died not long after the pact
was made. On the Catholic cemetery at Coloma, a snag of the rose
Marshall planted was still growing after fifty
As a child of Italian emigrants,
I heard my parents speak of the opportunities for better living in
what they called the new country. To me, the United States meant a
place without recognizable boundaries. California meant Sacramento
or San Francisco. But El Dorado County was home and claimed my
loyalty. I knew it belonged in history and that at one time it had
the largest population of any of the mining counties.
It wasn't until the teacher we called
Mr. Lem came that I became fully aware of the fact that the people
who made up the greatest migration the world had ever known, had all
headed for this very El Dorado county in which I was
Mr. Lem was young, gangling and
restless. I've forgotten where he came from. As his friendly eyes
darted among the children, he made us feel we were in a friendly
conspiracy, a conspiracy against the routine of the three Rs. But we
would learn and have fun together. His eager mind enchanted us. He
was our Pied Piper and we followed him everywhere. That term we
couldn't get to school early enough. Two or three times a week we
were off skipping, trotting, running out of doors to learn about
places or about the earth and trees.
Mr. Lem told us stories about the gold rush. He called it "an
impulse in history." Using big words and strange names, he made us
see all kinds of people looking for new worlds. We could see the
Roman Legions riding over Newtown Ridge and phantom Viking ships
sailing over it. We didn't always understand the things he said but
we felt them.
One morning we walked two
miles to Pleasant Valley carrying our lunch buckets and pieces of
wrapping paper for maps. The three smallest children rode on Mr.
Lem's horse. Mr. Lem asked questions as our bare feet scuffed
through the dust of the familiar road. He used to say we could know
a place better through the soles of our
"Why did the 49ers come looking
for gold, Tom Sawyer?"
He never called the boys by their given
names but by any name that popped into his head. The girls were
"To get rich, Mr. Lem,
"And what's getting rich, Miss
"To buy anything you want, Mr.
Rosy answered Vaguely.
As country children satisfied with our present lot, none of us
quite knew what getting rich meant.
Lem told us about the Mormons who founded Pleasant Valley. They
weren't looking for gold although some of them found a lot of it.
They were looking for a place where they could worship God in their
"Here is one of their corrals,"
Mr. Lem said, looking at his map. We stopped in one of the oak
studded meadows where we played ball on Sundays. Mr. Lem told us
about the Mormon Battalion that had come to California in 1847.
After it was mustered out, Brigham Young the Mormon leader, ordered
the men back to Salt Lake the following year. This was the place
where the ones who were returning had agreed to meet. They called it
"It took sixteen days
that summer for the saints to gather." Mr.Lem said dreamily.
knew he was seeing them in his mind. The Catholic children among us
thinking of the pictures on our bedroom walls of St. Louis and
St.John and St. Peter found this confusing but Mr. Lem made us
understand that every religion could have
We located the two corrals,
familiar to us as our own backyards. They had pastured the cavalard
of horses, cows, oxen, and mules which followed the forty five
saints and one "saintess" across the mountains and
Captain Jefferson Hunt, the
Mormon leader, sent three scouts ahead to blaze the trail. When the
party came to the place we know as Tragedy Springs, they found the
bodies of the three scouts who had been killed by Indians.
"What is courage, Dick Swiveller?"
"Mr. Lem asked one of the
"To kill a grizzly all by
yourself, Mr. Lem, Sir."
courage, Moby Dick?" to another boy.
shoot an Indian who is running after you, Mr. Lem,
"What's courage, Miss
"To break a trail over wild new
country, Mr. Lem, Sir."
Mr. Lem never gave us answers unless we wanted
We ate our lunch under the
Chinese trees of heaven near the green shuttered Spencer House where
dances were held. Mr. Lem told us how the Saints left for Salt Lake
on July 4, 1848 in seventeen wagons with their cavalard and two
cannons for protection. The following year some of them came back
over the same road in the great gold rush of "49".
"Shut your eyes and see Pleasant Valley
as a tent city, men and women coming in covered wagons, on
horseback, on foot, devastating the countryside with their diggings,
rushing off to richer claims. But some of the Mormons like Dr. Snow
stayed and they made the trampled places
Mr. Lem tried to make us
understand the youth of the 49ers. If some of them were greedy, they
were also courageous and adventurous. He would leap up and cry out,
"The days of our youth are the days of our glory." And whether wa
understood or not, we would leap with him in body and
Soon after the day at Pleasant
Valley, we located Iowaville, a part of the holdings of Dr. Samuel
Snow. He was a Mormon who had led a wagon train out of Council
Bluffs across the country and down the Carson Emigrant Trail into
Pleasant Valley. The doctor favored our kind of study.
He let us eat all of the windfalls we wanted from his
Spitzenburgs. His hydraulic mine produced more gold than any mine in
Newtown. We could have watched for hours the Monitor or Giant throw
a powerful stream of water into the gravel bank. First, the "piper"
kept the stream directed close to bedrock, boring in a sort of wide
tunnel and then down came the bank, tons of gravel to be washed into
Dr. Snow located Mormon Gulch
for us on the north side of Weber Creek. Mormons who had worked the
Gulch sent tithes in great amounts to help to build the Tabernacle
in Salt Lake City.
In Dogtown, now a
part of Newtown, we found the closed cabin of George Russell who had
been a member of the Buffum Party, and two headstones on a knoll. At
the doctor's request we kept away from his fishpond. He was the camp
obstetrician and the story want that most of us who were in school
at that time had been fished out of that fishpond.
We had dredged the pond secretly many
times but we always went along with the doctor's story when he was
with us. Our final jaunt was an acting out of how Newtown might have
been founded. It had happened only thirty five years back, yet old
timers disagreed about people and places. After talking to a lot of
people in Newtown and Placerville, Mr. Lem made up his own version.
As actors we became a group of discontented people in Dogtown
because we wanted space for permanent homes. Israel Clyde's name
appeared in early records and in an old diary. Our best actor became
the leader, Israel Clyde. He was said to have had a prophetic thumb
and he told his followers that when his thumb began to prick, he
would have found a new town.
imaginary goods packed in imaginary wagons, we started out from
Dogtown on the trail to Placerville. We had scarcely gotten into
stride when the prophetic thumb began to prick.
Right under the Iron Doors on Newtown Ridge, it began to sting.
The story goes that he
and some of the men cut a trail along the Iron Doors which are an
outcropping of rock on the Ridge. At the top they saw the lift of
the snowcapped Sierras and below the valley covered with pine, oak,
and cedar. This would be the New Town. It was a triumphant ending to
our school term. We didn't know then that Mr. Lem was leaving us to
go to college near Boston. He was followed by a succession of black
sateen aproned teachers and school became a chore again.
2. How Newtown May Have
Israel Clyde and his party pitched canvas tent's, hauled boards from the mill at Pleasant Valley and
began to build cabins, saloons and a store. Gold placers seemed as
inexhaustible as the air the miners breathed. The lucky ones washed
as much $1400 in gold from a single pan and fifty pans were a good
day's work. Not all the pans were as rich. Water for ditches came
from the North and South forks of Weber Creek. The one we heard most
about in later year's was part of the 247 mile long Eureka canal,
longest in the state and built at a cost of
It was as though Israel Clyde
rubbed Aladdin's lamp the way buildings appeared. Stone masons and
carpenters built general stores "our stone store was one of the
first" hotels, saloons and houses. Kaler's brewery was as fine as
anything in Placerville. After it burned, people remembered the two
sets of pipes, one of clay and one of logs, that carried water from
Clear creek. The pipes and the water got credit for the best beer in
the county. Lava rocks, two feet square with surface polished smooth
as the best laid cement, paved the brewery floor. Besides a
wholesale business, the brewery carried on a lively local trade.
Some of the handsome glazed terra cotta pitchers used to serve the
beer were saved from the fire of 1872 but no one ever located them.
For the miner who wanted something stronger than beer, the
distillery, also on Main street, distilled a brandy whose potency
was known as far as San Francisco. The Italians did justice to both
brandy and beer but most of the time they patronized the five
"cantinas," the wine cellars, where they could sit around tables and
drink leisurely. The making and selling of liquor was big business
Whenever anyone joked about this
abundance of drinkeries in old Newtown in the presence of Miss
Glide, an old schoolteacher, she would remind us that there had been
a Newtown Sabbath School Library with almost 500 books which were
available to everyone.
She never forgot
that the first editions of Hawthorne's novels were circulating at
the time of the fire and were carried away by one of the two
families who saved their household goods. She also reminded us that
she and her friends subscribed to the English Cornhill magazine and
to Harper's Monthly so we wouldn't carry the impression that Newtown
was just another roistering camp.
Glide loved to tell about the house of her parents on Main street,
white, two storied with double balconies and French windows. Turkey
carpets covered the floors, the table was set with Chelsea china and
cut glass goblets. White Lamark roses and the two toned pink
Archduke Charles rose bordered the gravel walks of the garden. In
spring, lilacs flowered in profusion. Miss Glide continued to
romanticize about a dogwood trail "in spring, a glory of white, in
autumn a riot of crimson."
No one ever
located this trail after the fire. We had it on more stable
authority that apple trees grew with the speed of dock and mullen.
People came from other camps to see the Sheep's Nose from Kentucky,
the Pioneer Belle and Hawthornden and the Gloria Mundi that won
prizes at the County Fair for there size, some bigger than a baby's
head. An Englishman grew an apple he called a Carville under glass
and sold the apples for a dollar apiece.
Aunt Rosa who came to Newtown as a bride just before the fire, hated
Miss Glide because she put on airs.
Aunt Rosa came to a one room cabin without turkey carpets or Lamark
roses. "I liked the little cabin," she used to tell us, "it had a
red brick fireplace that looked like one in a story book.
We hid our long tin bath tub under the
board bed. The stove was in the pantry. It was all fun until your
uncle brought home the nuptial bed from Sacramento. He got off a
truck one evening swaggering with pride. He had hired the truck
which cost him a poke of gold dust to bring this monster of a bed to
Newtown. It was made of walnut. The head board was so high that we
could barely stand it up in the cabin. Turtle doves and garlands
were carved on the head board. A wooden cupid with a leering face
perched on top. Everything had to come out of the room.
I had to store our clothes and dishes
under the bed. When anyone came to see us they sat on it because
there was no room for chairs. I got so that I hated it. The fire was
a terrible thing but I was glad for it for one reason. Every
splinter of that bed, even the cupid, went up in smoke.
Rocco, one of the first Italians to
come to Newtown, talked with more authority about the old town than
any of the other miners. When I was boy he lived in San Francisco
where he owned a chain of livery stables. He came to Newtown with
his grandsons in the hunting season to the cabin he had bought in
the fifties. He came to the stone store every evening where he stood
drinks for his friends and where he left money for old friends who
were sick or in the county hospital. He spoke the Genoese dialect
fluently but when boys came to her, he spoke English.
The following story and the Spy Story after were our favorites.
3. Rocco's Story from
Genoa to Newtown in the 1850's.
I belonged to a family of
carriage makers in Genoa. Our business was over a hundred years old.
As soon as we were eight or nine and our grandfather who planned our
lives could tell we weren't cretins, we were trained for our jobs.
My brothers and my cousins and I studied at home with tutors in the
morning. In the afternoon, we went to the factories and the stables
to learn how to use tools and how to understand horses. 'when we
were twelve, we chewed tobacco and knew all the profanities of the
stable. But in the evening we were signorine. We dressed for dinner
and servants waited on us.
I was the
middle son in a family of five boys so I could be spared to go to
England to the uncle who ran the business in London. When I was
fourteen my grandfather said I was ready. My uncle who had a
houseful of daughters but no sons was married to an English woman. I
lived in their house where only English was spoken. In a couple of
years, I learned how an English mail coach was built and I learned
to drive one. The future looked bright for me when my uncle was
thrown from his horse while riding to hounds and killed instantly.
My grandfather decided to sell the English business and ordered me
back to Genoa.
I had been hearing about
California. A year before, a Genoese seaman I knew jumped a coal
ship in San Francisco to go to the gold country. He had written back
about the opportunities. My grandfather gave me a generous amount of
money and told me that if I made good I could return, if I didn't I
could stay in America.
I've always said
that my real education began on that boat that left New York to sail
around the Horn for San Francisco. I'd been taught that the value of
an education was to know a good man when I saw one. Now I had to
learn to know a bad one. I learned but not without losing some of
grandfather's money. It was like growing a third eye in back of my
head. I sat in on a faro game and in two minutes I spotted the man
I'd have to watch. I was quick on the draw. A couple of highwaymen
I'd met in London showed me some tricks. There were good men on
board too. That's where I met my partner. We worked together until
Newtown was about three years
old when we came here in '55. We staked out a good claim and bought
a cabin from a man who was moving to Diamond. Same one I'm in today.
The fire of '72 didn't reach it.
living in old cities like Genoa and London, it was like being on
another planet to live in a place where there were no old people. I
remember the healthy smell of green lumber and horse piss around the
cabin. Today there's the reek of billy goats.
The road to Placerville had just been
built, by Chinaman mostly. Dr. Colwell had an office over at the
turn of the road. He cold set a broken bone or pull an aching tooth
as well as any city doctor. Kaler was adding to his brewery. A
potter was doing a good business with the clay beds on Weber Creek.
As more Italians came they built stone cantinas. An Italian hates
drinking at a bar.
A young Kentuckian
had this store stocked with mining gear and canned oysters. One day
he went to Placerville and came back with two flutes and a book of
poetry and sold them that same night. Miners had money and wanted to
spend it. Those were the days we thought the gold placers would
never give out. To add to our expectations, two diamonds were found
in the lava capped gravel beds between the two forks of Weber Creek.
My first gold dust went for a horse.
Vane, in Pleasant Valley, was breeding Spanish mustangs to American
Wheelers. Fine horses for riding. In those days the road to
Placerville was as busy as Market street in San Francisco is today.
People drove or rode or walked. Grizzlies and mountain lion stalked
in the ravines. Deer snarled the traffic. It was all part of the
We worked our claim for
about seven hours. Then we mounted our horses for Placerville. Every
day wagon trains lumbered in from the plains. Many of them were
followed by bands of horses from Virginia or Kentucky. Chinamen took
up the roads with their shoulder poles and baskets. We saw Negroes
riding behind white masters or walking independently on their own. I
heard men swear in German, French and Spanish. I never needed
liquor. The whole spectacle made me drunk.
The grandest sight for me was the
Concord coach. I'd never seen anything finer on wheels than the
Concords that were brought by clipper around the Horn from New
Hampshire. Their heavy ash wheels must have weighed 2500 pounds
each, yet they glided into town like birds. I never knew Birch who
started his Pioneer Coach line between Sacramento an(] Placerville
with four Mexican broncos and an old wagon. That business grew into
the largest stage company in the world, right here in the youngest
state in the Union. My partner knew I'd have to have one last fling
with a stage and horses so he said he'd look after the mine for
three months while I got a job with Stevens.
Those three months went by like three
days. I had one of the runs between Placerville and Sacramento,
sixty miles. I made it in five hours. I felt like a king sitting on
the box holding six reins. I knew those six horses better than my
brothers in Italy. They used to say that to drive a stage you had to
have hands as skilled as a surgeons to guide the reins and feet
skilled as a dancer's to put on the brakes. I never had to use my
silver ferruled whip except for directions.
In those days there were giants of the
road. Greatest reinsman of them all was Colonel Jared Crandall.
They, used to say that his horses saluted him when he took up the
reins. He drove the first coach over the Sierras to the Great Salt
Lake Basin before the road was graded.
On many winter days I would see Snowshoe Thompson swoop into town on
his oak skis from Carson with the mail. A good guy. He'd do anything
for people, carry flour, medicine, love letters. He even carried the
dangerously sick on his back.
Swede will take it," people used to save when they were in a hurry
to get something delivered. He was a Norwegian but I always heard
him called the Swede. The trouble with him was that he had no
business head. He never asked for pay all the years he carried the
mail. Maybe he expected the government to hand him a wad on a gold
platter. Governments don't work that way. He went to Washington to
see if he could get some pay but I don't think he ever got a cent.
He's buried over in Genoa, Nevada.
Transportation was still in my bones. I had to be wherever there was
movement. Some of us from Newtown went to Folsom to see the first
train in California pull in from Sacramento. That was in 1856. They
were beginning to lay the tracks just about the time I came to
Newtown. It was a great sight to see the engine with the big chimney
that belched smoke like twenty houses on fire. Like the Concords, it
had come around the Horn on a clipper.
had just come back to Placerville from a job in San Francisco when
the Pony Express made its first run in 1860. 1 would have given
everything I owned to have been one of the riders, but by that time
I was weighing 200 pounds. I was in town the day the rider made the
record run when he brought the news of President Lincoln's
Inaugural. Seven days and seventeen hours from St. Jo. Ten days had
been the average. God what excitement. The ponies were put out to
pasture after eighteen months. That was when the telegraph line came
Newtown shared in Placerville's
prosperity in the Comstock boom. My partner and I owned a small
dairy near Pleasant Valley a part of the time. We went to
Placerville three or four times a week with butter and cheese. We
could have sold ten times as much as we had. I almost got a job on
the Concords that carried bullion to the Cary House but the
adventure had gone out of big money. That year I bought my first
livery stable in North Beach.
Rocco was in Newtown for a few days when
Mrs. Grandi found the Confederate flag. She was cleaning out a
miner's cabin and found it in an old trunk. The general talk turned
to the Civil War. That's when Rocco told the Spy Story.
4. Newtown's Spy a Pre
Civil War Incident Told by Rocco
Feelings between NORTHERNERS and
Southerners in the county began to be felt before the attack on Fort
Sumter. In Newtown our sympathies were with the North except for a
family from the deep south who began to make trouble. "I'm gonna
shoot ma self a few Yankees soon," the man went around saying with
his gun on his shoulder. His wife boasted that she had a Confederate
flag ready to hang from her balcony as soon as the South won the
first battle. After some of us threatened them with tar and
feathers, they loaded their goods in a wagon and left
The man we called Doc brought us a
first Hand experience. He breezed into Newtown in April of 1860,
same month the Pony express came to Placerville. He wore a gambler's
hat and carried a carpet bag said to have been full of frilled
shirts. At the hotel he told Cy the bartender, the only man to whom
he ever showed any intimacy, though he was friendly to everyone,
that he was a Virginian traveling for his health.
He didn't know how long he'd be
staying. As he was a teacher of penmanship, he might take a few
pupils to pass the time. Cy put up a sign for him in the hotel
parlor. I was sparking a girl at Fort Jim who came over to his class
so I kept an eye on him. He was young, with a dashing manner women
like and he went to Placerville twice a week for baths and haircuts.
I was wearing red flannel shirts.
called him Doc for no reason I can remember. His pupils called him
Professor. No one knew his name. My girl Jenny learned to write a
fine Spencerian hand and make up poems she called acrostics
accomplishments "I" thought she could do without.
Doc kept his seven or eight pupils, all
girls, at a respectable distance. He refused their invitations to
the Saturday night dances.
But he was
seen dancing the Portland Fancy at the Carey House with the
Senator's wife. The nights Doc was in town he played draw poker in
the hotel's gambling room. He began by drinking Iron Fences, a
potent drink made of apple Jack and Bourbon and later switched to
Virginia Peach Brandy. He held his liquor and was a quiet player,
breaking even most nights. Doc hired a horse and rode every day. He
must have known every road and every path in Newtown, Pleasant
Valley, and Fort Jim.
were building a log house at Fort Jim and I used to ride over to
help them. Often I'd find Doc riding or walking around Dead Head
Gulch where Steadman hydraulicked later. He would say to me he was
sure there was more gold in the gulch than had been taken
Doc met the Pony every time it rode
into Placerville. He always received letters and he read the thin
news sheets that the rider carried with him. After a couple of
months Doc wasn't meeting his classes regularly. People kept seeing
him on the stage to Virginia City or to Sacramento and on the river
boat's to Marysville or to San
Men in the know who came to
Newtown began to say that Doc belonged to the Knights of the Golden
Circle, a secessionist organization that was said to have a big
membership in the county. Others said he was a Yankee spying on
Senator Crittenden who belonged to the party that wanted to secede
from the Union and found a Pacific Republic on the west coast. It
was known that Senator Crittenden was storing firearms in Virginia
City and in Silver City where his followers were hiding them in
cellars and storehouses.
One stormy night in January 1861 two
strangers rode into Newtown and came to the hotel. They sat at the
table where Doc was getting ready for a game of draw poker.
When he saw them, he got up, saying he
had to go out to clear his head because the Stone Fences had, been
too strong. He lit his lantern, tossed a raincoat over his shoulders
and went out in the blizzard. The strangers followed him in a few
minutes. I could see that Cy the bartender was restless, he would
have gotten up a posse and gone out to look for Doc, but Fiood the
owner was in Placerville that night and there were strangers in the
saloon and gambling rooms.
morning Cy found Doc's body on Cemetery Hill with a bullet through
the head. Cy looked after the burial. He put a wooden marker on the
grave with "Doc, January 1861" carved into it. Doc's pockets had
been frisked of all papers by the man who shot him. Cy found one
identification among Doc's frilled shirts, a San Francisco address.
He wrote to that address telling how Doc died.
On the eve of Decoration Day when we
went up to clean the winter brush out of the cemetery, we found a
marble headstone in the place of Cy's marker. It had on it what must
have been Doc's real name and a fancy epitaph. No one knew when the
stone had been put up. Beswick's place, the house near the cemetery,
was empty that year. Barsini whose cantina; was at the foot of the
hill, was drunk all that winter and didn't know what was going on.
Cy had left Newtown the month before. We never found out about the
headstone, but we heard a year later that Doc wasn't spying on
crittenden but was one of his men and that he was hoping to hide
firearms for the Army of the Pacific in Dead Head Gulch.
There's a gravestone in the cemetery
which my mother called the "mystery" stone. I called it Doc's
gravestone. We cleaned it on Decoration Day and put flowers on the
grave as we did on all the untended graves.
5. The Fire of 1872
Climaxes a Troubled Year
I was never able to get a full account
of the fire that destroyed Newtown in 1872. My father was mining in
Diamond Springs, my mother was still in Italy. Aunt Rosa Had been in
Newtown for a short time but, except for the burning of Her bed, she
never talked about the fire. From what I pieced together this is
The year 1872 began
ominously. In January Newtown had the worst storm in it's history.
Two of the tallest pines in the camp fell on the cabin of Uncle
Luigi's friend Adamo. They flattened the cabin to the ground and
killed him instantly. Two months after the storm a severe earthquake
shook the foothills. In May, a fire in the neighboring village of
Hank's Exchange didn't leave a shed standing. As though nature's
devastations were not enough, three murders added to the calamities.
Their dates were questioned by people who loved accuracy more than
melodrama, but others relished the macabre touch to the destruction.
A school teacher was beheaded after he
had buried two sacks of gold on Newtown Ridge. The murderer Had to
make his getaway before he carried off the gold. It's said to be
there still. At about this time, an unknown man in the stone store
threw a knife with a sharp blade to the ceiling with intent to kill.
The knife fell, blade down, on the neck of the victim who was
bending over the card table and killed him outright. And finally, a
notorious gambler beheaded a horse thief in Ringgold.
Beheading appears to have been a
favorite form of homicide that year. The gambler joined card players
in the stone store that evening. (It must be said that the location
tended to change wherever the story was told.)
When the gambler's turn came to ante, he
called out loudly, "I'll go you a head better" and he rolled the
head of the horse thief on the table.
The fire started in the brewery on an August evening. A high wind
fanned the flames to Miller's unfinished hotel next door. Newtown
had no equipment to fight a fire of this size. A bucket brigade in
which everyone in the camp took part almost ran the wells dry. When
the wood store went up in flames, the houses on Main street were
doomed. Women got their children together, packed what they could
into wheelbarrows and make-shift trailers and left for the edge of
town. By morning the buildings were a heap of charred wood and
ashes, except for the stone store, the hillside cabins and a couple
of houses at the west end. Newtown's golden age was over. No lives
were lost. Mormon families out of the fire range helped generously
with food and bedding. By September, many had left for the valley or
San Francisco. The others built board and batten houses of rough
sugar pine. My mother, who came to Newtown about five years after
the fire, said that the acrid smell of charred wood was still in the
In a year or two, makeshift houses
were replaced by better ones. Willows, Chinese trees of heaven,
poplars and chestnut trees bordered the road again. Italians planted
Catawba and Isabella cuttings from the Coloma vineyard. "Sunny
Italy," the Newtown I knew, came into being.
6. Italian Parents: the
New Newtown as "Sunny Italy"
The "Sunny Italy" period was not a dolce
far niente time, a lazy time. The miners worked hard. My father and
his partner held high hopes for their Golden Gulch Mines. Pop kept
the patents for the mines, one signed by Benjamin Harrison In 1883,
the other by Grover Cleveland in 1887, in a tin safe deposit box on
the top shelf of the store room. They were the family documents. Yet
my parents never thought about them as passports to riches. They
were symbols of freedom from poverty and openings to a way of life
that would have remained closed in Italy. I always liked to hear
about the life in Italy.
the shoe Jack and the cobbling tools took up space in our crowded
kitchen, was a good time to listen to Pop. When the weather was bad
and Pop couldn't work in the mine, he cobbled shoes. My mother hated
the smell of leather. She said the tannic acid got into the flavor
of the food. But she never complained because she was glad to have
Pop home. When he worked ten hours in the mine he was too tired to
talk. While he was stitching shoes was a good time to ask questions.
I pretty much knew the answers but I was always glad to hear them
again. "Pop, tell us what you did on the boat the first time you
came to the United States." "I ate hard ship biscuit all day".
`Gallette' we called them. I guess that's what they fed the galley
slaves. My brothers and I had little mallets and we chipped off
pieces. At night my mother made soup out of oil, cheese and water on
the stoves used by the steerage passengers. She put more gallette in
that. The men were allowed a small bottle of wine a day. When we
landed in New York we stayed at a place called Castle Gardens until
one of my uncles came to take us to Massachusetts. We lived with
him. I slept with his sons under the kitchen table. "Did you go to
"For two years, summer and winter
without vacations. It was a good thing for me because I never went
to school again. "There were no houses for my father to rent in the
town so we lived with the different uncles. Mr father worked hard
with pick and shovel on a road job. One day my mother said she would
rather go back to Italy, and starve than keep on climbing other
people's stairs in America. My father had just enough money saved
for our passage back. Steerage wasn't crowded and we had plenty to
eat this time, bread, cheese, and
"And you didn't go back to
school in Italy?" I asked
Our village didn't have a school. By that time I was old enough to
be apprenticed to a shoemaker my father knew in the nearest town. I
lived with his family and I called him 'maestro' master. A good
craftsman was respected. My first jobs were to soak leather and to
keep the tools in shape. In a couple of years I was making shoes and
boots and the maestro was paying me a few cents a
"At this time one of the uncles in
Massachusetts offered to pay my passage to New York where I could
work long enough to pay my way to California. I accepted at once. We
were a jolly young crowd. One of the men who was a cook brought a
supply of macaroni and salt pork on board. We all paid him something
so we weren't hungry as we had been when we lived on 'gallette.' We
sang, we improvised Stornelli for two girl passengers who were so
well guarded by their mother and aunts that we never got near them.
"Where did you live in New
"In a tenement in the Italian
Ten of us slept in one room.
One of the fellows had a monkey, Giacomino, who kept us awake at
night looking for lice in our hair work?"
"Where did you
"We had a choice of jobs, pick
and shovel, street cleaning, rag picking, shoe shining. I was lucky.
My uncle got me a job stoking the ranges in the St. Nicholas Hotel.
It was hot work. Sometimes we only wore a towel around our middle.
One of the chefs was a wiry little Frenchman who had worked in
Genoa. He gave us juicy steaks and tender
Pop smacked his lips.
"It didn't take long to save up enough
money for a steerage, ticket on the Panama bound boats," Pop went
on. "What hell holes they were. About 900 people crowed into a space
meant for 300.
"Some of the boys who
came with me from Italy were on the boat. A young unfrocked priest
looked after us. He spoke English and he scared some of the
superstitious Irish guards into getting us fresh meat from the first
class kitchen. Most of the time we ate beans and rancid
"Tell us how the ex-priest saved
"As soon as we left the boat
in Panama, I came down with fever. Whenever we had to walk, Padre
Franco found a mule for me. Some days I was so sick he had to strap
me on and make a cover over me like an umbrella to protect me from
the sun. He bought tamarind from the Indians to make tea for me.
Afterwards, the fellows talked about alligators and big snakes and
jungle trees, but I couldn't remember
"On the Pacific Sail to San
Francisco we had fresh stuff to eat. It was a good voyage except for
the storms. One fine morning we landed in San Francisco to the roar
of guns which were always fired to welcome Pacific Mail passengers.
Baggio was at the dock to meet us with rolls and blankets and
supplies. I said good-bye to Father Franco and caught the Sacramento
river boat that day."
I knew the rest of Pop's story he went
first to one of the Gardella families in Genoa, Nevada. Then he
tried his luck at so many mining camps he could never remember them
all. He came away from Virginia City, in the Bonanza time with less
money than when he went there. He settled in Newtown shortly after
the fire. My mother and Aunt Rosa knew more songs than there are
days in the year. Pop was a one song man. He sang or hummed his one
song while he worked at the shoe Jack. It had been written in praise
of an Italian girl and Pop knew only these four lines:
"Bella di santita tu sei
E di richezze tu sei
E di pompezze tu sei
E di bellezza tu sei
The song says, he would explain to us, that the girl is very
desirable. She is as saintly as a Roman, rich as a Genoese, stylish
as a Milanese and beautiful as a Venetian.
Pop loved marionettes. On winter nights
with string and match sticks, he made for us the Comedy dell'Arte
figures, Harlequin, Pantalon and Columbine. They were as familiar to
us as Mother Goose characters were to the American children. Pop's
supple wrist and his voice capable of many inflections placed these
characters in situations of the past and present even to involving
our neighbors which shocked my mother and delighted us. Pop knew
about the language of gesture which is as important as speech to an
Italian. He bit his finger to show he was mad, his hand to show he
was very mad. To make fun of someone, he stuck out the index finger
and the little finger of his right hand. This was also the sign of
the evil eye, but Pop didn't know the words.
He told us a story by lifting his eyebrows, contorting his mouth
and wiggling his ears.
We were all too
familiar with the sound of gnashing teeth. That came before a
paddling with his slipper, which we felt at that time must have had
an iron sole.
Where Pop had forgotten
about his life in the Ligurian hill village, my mother talked every
day about the old stone house in Chiavari where she was born.
Remembering her childhood, she hated to wake us up in the
"We were such little things,"
she would say, "when we staggered down the stairs at four in the
morning to hold candles for my father. The wall lamps didn't give
enough light in the cooperage. In the winter Nonna gave us hot milk
and coffee but our hands were numb with cold. We would drop the
candles sometimes, singeing my father's bushy eyebrows. We hardly
felt the sting of the slaps he gave us because of the cold.
"I was the youngest of six girls. Two
boys came after me. We waited on them as if they had been little
princes. I didn't know what it was to have new clothes until I
bought my wedding dress to bring to California. I wore hand-me-downs
from my sisters."
A charcoal portrait of
Nonna, my grandmother, hung on the bedroom wall. She had the kind of
face you wanted to smile back at. Ironically, she carried a fan in
her work hands. Besides raising a large family, Nonna was a midwife
in her neighborhood and she laid out the dead. This nearness to
lifeand death enhanced Nonna in the eyes of her daughters. They
thought she was the wisest woman in the world. And Nonna had great
tenderness for her girls. They were baptized with the names of
saints and relatives hut she gave them special names, that meant
happiness in Italian: Allegra, Gaudia, Felicita, Gioia, Giaconda,
When five of the daughters left Italy, Nonna learned to write. We
looked forward to her letters with little jokes in them to amuse the
grandchildren that she would never see.
The girls had gone to a parochial school in the morning. In the
afternoon, they went to different seamstresses to learn the trade.
My mother used to say she had picked up enough basting threads to
reach to the Milky Way. My oldest aunt married at fifteen and
received a dowry. Her parents mortgaged their small olive grove to
give it to her. This left the remaining five girls
"didn't you fall in
love?" Aunt Rosa's Fiora asked her mother when talk turned to single
girls in Italy.
"Italian men refuse to
be romantic unless the girl has a dowry," Aunt Rosa answered. "After
the boys serve time in the army, they go to South America or come to
the United States. Our older sisters went to Argentina where Italian
men were looking for Italian brides."
mother was a picture bride. Aunt Rosa showed her picture to Pop who
was one of Uncle Louis's friends. He liked her looks and offered to
pay her way to California. Aunt Rosa sent Pop's picture to my mother
who thought he was quite dashing in a Prince Albert coat even if it
was two sizes too big. Mother traveled second class on a French
liner with a family from Chiavari who were coming to California.
We had five meals a day on that boat,"
she recalled with pleasure. "I hadn't known what it meant to have a
full stomach until then. We had beef a la mode. I tasted mayonnaise
for the first time and croissants and petit fours. I can't imagine
what they gave the first class passengers; larks' brains and
nightingales' tongues. The emigrant trains were a letdown. Indians
sold meat and fruit at some of the stations. We tried to cook on the
big range in our coach. But even if our food was half raw we found a
lot to laugh at and wonder about."
Mother had been in someone's care until
she got to Sacramento. Except for pangs of homesickness at night,
the trip had been a lark. From Sacramento to Shingle Springs, this
was before the train came to Placerville, she was on her own. Aunt
Rosa couldn't come to Shingle but she had asked Nick, the Italian
stage driver, to meet mother and bring her to Newtown. As soon as
mother climbed on the stage, a spring storm blew up with thunder and
lightning. Mother was the only, passenger and Nick was having
trouble with one of the horses. She thought her time had come to
die. If the lightning didn't strike the coach, the horses were sure
to drag it over the embankment.
father liked to tell about the first time he saw her. "Sure, I was
curious to see what my bride looked like. Rosa said I'd better keep
out of sight until the next day. I hid behind the door of the stone
building where I could see her get off the stage. . . ." It was
still raining when the horses splashed to a stop. "Rosa and some of
the women ran out. Nick opened the stage door and called out, `Ci
siamo. Benvenuta. "It had rained inside the coach. A drenched little
scarecrow climbed out, frightened and sobbing. As soon as she saw
Rosa, she cried, I hate California. Get me back to Italy. I won't
stay here for any man. She kept this up until Rosa got her in the
"That night I thought seriously
of rolling my blankets and hitting the trail for Nevada. But the
next morning when I saw her, she had dried out. Her hair curled over
her ears and her eyes twinkled. I decided to
Mother had been told not to
expect a Villa Pallavicini even if this was the land of gold. She
liked the rough board house Pop had bought from a family who were
moving to North Beach. They left beds with painted headboards,
deep-well dressers and chairs with cowhide seats.
When I was in bed with colds in my mother's room I looked at the
pictures on the walls, violently colored "holy" pictures of a
crucifixion, madonnas, and saints, family pictures in which all of
the aunts wore roses in there hair and black ribbons around their
necks with lockets attached. On the south wall a glass frame held a
sheaf of wheat tied with a purple ribbon. The wheat had lain on the
coffin of a cousin before burial. It was customary for Italians to
keep a memento mori before them, a reminder that in the midst of
life we are in death.
When I was
feverish, mother took her blue velvet missal carefully wrapped in a
silk handkerchief and soothed me to sleep with the "Litany to the
Virgin" which she read softly in Latin:
For the days of convalescence she
found a deck of tarot cards wrapped in the handkerchief. My father
used to laugh and say "God and the devil together in the
handkerchief." The cards which had been forbidden at some time by
the church were the devil.
me stories about what could happen when the Hangman appeared in
conjunction with the green skeleton or with the four talisman cups.
The devil who had horns and was sticking out a long mocking tongue
looked more like a juvenile delinquent than the great evil force who
could settle your doom with his pitchfork. For the final day in bed,
mother read to me from her tattered copy of the "Orlando Furioso."
My favorite passage was the one where Orlando goes to the moon. It
was a good life inside that little house of rough, unpainted boards
where the known was still clung to and the unknown anticipated.
7. From "Traviata" to
Sweet Betsy from Pike"
Italians in the mining country had
not escaped prejudice. The law passed in 1850 against the staking
out of claims by Latins, was aimed at Mexicans. But it also hit
French and Italian miners, evicting many of them from rich claims.
In the eighties the law had been forgotten. But some of the
Midwesterners who came to Newtown still saw the Italian as a
perennial "monkey grinder." One afternoon in late fall after a rain,
my cousin Gino and I asked Tim and Harry who had just come to
Newtown from Missouri to come mushroom hunting with us. We'd have a
good time showing them how to find the mushrooms in the mounds of
pine needles under the manzanita bushes. When Gino told them we
would have better luck if we turned our shirts inside out, they
began to laugh at us and to call us "dagoes."
"Black, superstitious dagoes," they
Surprised and hurt, We
left the thicket. They followed us, continuing to Jeer: "We don't
want dagoes for friends. They stink of garlic." Gino tried to laugh
away the Jeers with his clown trick, simulating an organ grinder and
singing in a squeaky voice:
monkey An make a oregano dance."
and Harry weren't amused. They kept saying, "We're leaving Dago
town" over and over. Gino andI were hurt. We had lost our friends.
Our race and our town had been insulted.
As we turned into the main road, I
tried to see Newtown as a newcomer would see it. We had been proud
when outsiders called it "sunny Italy."
Malfatti, a cabinet maker from Milan, planted the great clump of
Lombardy poplars near the Placerville road.
When they turned yellow as they were now, we called them gold
torches. My Uncle Stephen planted the chestnut trees between the
locusts and willows. On the roof of old Zeno's cabin, a coach
lantern which he called his lantern of Genoa, swayed in the late
The men were coming home from their
mines. I heard the guttural Genoese dialect that sounded like the
croaking of frogs mingle with the lilting Tuscan that was like the
chirp of crickets. The smell of food seasoned with garlic came from
most of the open doors. In our kitchen Aunt Rosa, Gino's mother was
pounding cheese and basil in the marble mortar. My mother was
rolling out dough for taglierini.
came in frowning.
"What grumpy faces,"
Aunt Rosa said.
"You know what we got
for being nice to those new kids?"
"They called us
My mother was all for turning
the other cheek, but Aunt Rosa wasn't about to have her son and her
nephew insulted by Pikes. All rude Americans were Pikes to Aunt
Rosa. She knew about the gypsy like, poor whites who had lived for a
couple of years in the cabins near Dead Head Gulch. They were lazy
and they were troublemakers and had been driven out of the camp.
"Dirty Pikes," Aunt Rosa said, banging the wooden pestle on the
table. "Call them molasses eaters."
Aunt Rosa, molasses was a sticky, unsavory substance unfit for human
consumption. The very word, to her, expressed the ultimate in
insult. We had eaten molasses in the homes of our American
schoolmates and found it a big improvement on the bread and olive
oil we were given for snacks.
But somehow, we felt we had to
vindicate ourselves. The honor of "sunny Italy" was at stake. The
next morning we met Tim and Harry with our own name
"The sooner you get away from
here, the better Tim and Harry "Pikes are lazy. Pikes are
"Newtown doesn't want the
likes of you,"
" Tim and Harry weren't
prepared for this. They didn't want to rub our noses in the dirt any
more than we wanted to rub theirs. Then Gino, who could never stay
mad long, began the organ grinder act. This time, Tim and Harry
joined in and shouted louder than we did. The racial war was over.
Maybe Pikes weren't as bad as Aunt Rosa
Aunt Rosa worked hard at informing
herself about Italians in the United
"If the Pikes call you `dagoes'
again," she said, after she heard of the peacemaking with distrust,
"tell them that the Italian artist Malaspina came to California to
paint pictures long before any of their covered wagons got here. And
tell them that their Abraham Lincoln begged the Italian General
Garibaldi to command an army in their Civil War. If Garibaldi had
come, the war would have been over in six months." Carried away by
enthusiasm, she once imparted to us the dubious information that
Verdi composed all of the great operas and Raphael painted all the
On a rainy afternoon
after the mushroom hunt, when my sister and my cousins and I were
winding strips of cloth into balls for the rug Aunt Rosa was
braiding, she talked about her plans for
"The boys will go to the college at
Santa Clark where the Italian priests will teach them to become
lawyers. The girls will go to the convent of the Blue Nun to learn
We didn't have lawyers in Newtown
and we didn't know what a lawyer did, but it all sounded grand.
Cousin Fiora said that after you learned deportment you would look
like one of the girls in Peterson's Fashion
My more practical and less
ambitious mother suggested that the boys go to the woodshed to saw
logs and the girls stir a pot of polenta for dinner. The next
afternoon cousin Fiora came from school excited about a piece in the
Placerville Mountain Democrat.
paper said that the prima donna Adelina Patti received two thousand
dollars for one appearance in San Francisco last
"Only an Italian voice would be
worth that much money," Aunt Rosa said, tossing her head in the way
she did when she felt vindicated.
you hear Patti in Italy, Aunt Rosa?" I
"You know we were too poor for
opera. But I know her songs. I'll teach you
Aunt Rosa dropped the rug she was
braiding, flung a strip of red flannel around her head, snatched a
goblet from the shelf and holding it high with flourish, began her
favorite form "Traviata":
lieti calici Che la bellezza infiora."
The girls found goblets to flourish and entered into the spirit of
the song. Gino and I held back. We were learning the many verses of
"Sweet Betsy from Pike." Grand opera sounded sissy. From our corner
we sang in low voices:
"Oh don't you remember sweet Betsy from Pike
Who crossed the big mountains with her
With two yokes of cattle, an
old yellow dog,
A tall Shanghai rooster
and one spotted hog."
8. Italian Customs and
In Genoa it had been customary for the
ladies who lived in the great places to cook dinner for their
families. It was a point of honor, no matter how many servants they
had. They looped up their velvet trains, put on aprons and rolled
out a ravioli crust transparent as a veil and firm as canvas. In
Newtown the Italian women spent a big part of their day in the
For breakfast, the women and
children dunked their bread in milk and coffee, but the man who was
going out to a hard day's work ate ham and eggs and sausages and
other hearty foods that stuck to his ribs. Miners who lived alone
carried slabs od polenta, a mush made of coarse corn meal, with
cheese and a bottle of wine for their lunch. The family man whose
mine was within walking distance from home expected a hot lunch at
noon. One of the children was excused from school to carry it to
him. I brought my father a jar of minestrone, an egg and vegetable
dish called a frittata, meat balls, cheese and a bottle of
For the evening meal, my mother
served soup again. In winter she made polenta every other night,
stirring it with a manzanita stick for an hour over a wood stove.
She prepared it with melted cheese and oil, with finely chopped
green cabbage, alla borghese, with rabbit, or alla contessa,, with
birds. My father preferred home made pasta to the factory made
macaroni, so mother rolled out dough which she cut into lasagna or
taglierini or reginette and a dozen other shapes. The sauce for the
pasta simmered three or four hours on the back of the stove. In
summer besides cooking fresh vegetables from her garden, mother made
salads from dandelion and water cress. In winter, she served the
vegetable her Mormon neighbors had showed her how to can.
American food won favor slowly, except apple pie which had become
an instant favorite.
confusion of the missal and the tarot cards, my mother and the other
women missed the church and its rituals. Sometimes a prist came from
Placerville to offer mass at Fort Jim with the appropriate name of
Cherubino conducted the funeral services when the priest couldn't
come. The only wedding I remember took place before the time about
which I am writing when I was about seven years old. My uncle and
aunt were married by Justice Carpenter from Smithflat in the stone
store. It was a gala affair. everyone in town was invited as well as
friends from the surrounding camps. My uncle asked the teacher to
dismiss school early so the children could come. He had ordered
little tin watches filled with candy as favors for them. I remember
festoons of blue and violet crepe paper, tubs of dogwood, tables of
rich food with coconut and chocolate cakes brought from a
Placerville bakery. Champagne corks popped and there was dancing to
the music of a fiddle and an accordion. By the time I was old enough
to know about Christmas, my mother was decorating trees and filling
stockings. A makeshift creche was still a part of the Christmas
scene. We made more of putting it together than of trimming the
tree. For the Christ Child we had a swaddled China doll, Joseph and
Mary had been stitched from a rag doll pattern. We made fresh
shepherds each year from twigs and baked fresh animals modeled out
of dough. The three Magi dominated the creche, finely carved wooden
figures from Italy. We exchanged gifts of food with our American
neighbors. They brought us fruit cakes and mince pies. We gave them
ravioli in terra cotta casseroles which my father bought in
Placerville. After Aunt Rosa moved to San Francisco, we received
Christmas boxes from her with hard candies and the Italian nougat
She sent us toy from Rotten Jimmie's, a reputable store in North
Beach, a forerunner of Woolworth's. On Easter Sunday my mother
refused to roast the customary kid because it would have been an
affront to our pet goat Ninetta.
it for granted that hens were less sensitive and we had roast
chicken with the pascal torta made of chard, cheese and eggs. On May
day we ate dry figs before breakfast to make us immune from fever.
On the last day of September we sampled the new wine. To test the
flavor, we sharpened our palates with three kinds of cheese. Women
were urged to taste the wine to pass on its quality and flavor. Many
Genoese women did not drink. The men polished off one or two bottles
of wine a day, children drank wine and water as soon as they were
out of the cradle. My father used to say that the kiss was invented
so that a husband or a lover could tell if his lady had been
drinking. On All Souls day some of the women made a penitential
offering by eating a meal of boiled dry horse
To celebrate birthdays was not an
Italian custom. The family honored the saint for whom one had been
named. Our feast day was on June 24, St. John the Baptist's day.
More than the feasts, I remember the rituals we observed when I was
four and fire. All the woolens were out on the clothes line on St.
John's eve to catch the beneficent dew which acted as a demothing
agent for the rest of the year. At dusk, we went bareheaded to the
ravine across the meadow to shout the name of St. John and to hear
in the echo, the wails of the repentant Herodias. And by exercising
our imagination a step farther, we caught a flash in the sky of the
sword that had beheaded the saint.
dawn on St. John's day, the elderberry flower at the peak of its
healing power. The flowers had to be cut before sunrise. After they
dried, they were stored to make tea for colds and infusions for
bathing sore eyes.
The drug shelf in the storeroom held other bottles and jars of
home remedies: dried chamomile flowers, flax seed for tea, flax seed
flour for poultices. From the Italian drug store in San Francisco my
father ordered manna, a sticky sweet gum scraped from ash trees and
a seaweed called coralina that made the bitterest drink I have ever
tasted. We sipped anisette liqueur and Fernet bitters for stomach
upsets and drank by the tablespoons the tonic Ferro-China (iron and
quinine). Gold stars pasted on the castor oil bottle never made it
more palatable. The treatment for sore throat, after a gargle of
vinegar and salt, was a sheet of newspaper folded and soaked in
kerosene, then wrapped securely around the throat. The next day the
paper was replaced with a slice of fat salt pork which didn't always
heal the blisters.
When measles or
chicken pox broke out among the children at school, in place of the
asafetida bags worn on a string by the American children, we were
decked with a string of garlic kernels. As soon as we were out of
sight of the house, we hid them and picked them up on our way home.
Some of the Italian women wore coral earrings, brooches or necklaces
to ward off the evil eye. Aunt Rosa knew a charm to cure the evil
eye. She used a saucer of water, three drops of olive oil and a snip
of the afflicted person's hair. The secret words she whispered had
been entrusted to her by Nonna on a Christmas
Scortina, a latecomer to Newtown,
worked the charm that cured babies. Milo, Newtown's early settlers
brought Scortina back with him as a bride when he went to Italy for
a visit. She came from one of those remote Italian villages where
hats and shoes were unknown. It was said that Milo bought her a hat
in New York which she innocently wore back to front all the way
across the continent.
But if millinery wasn't Scortina's forte, a charm to cure babies
was. When children were brought to her for healing, Scortina felt
justified before a community that openly criticized her for her
overlooked the dog lying on the blanket that covered the rising
bread dough or the chicken laying an egg in the clothes basket or
the smell of the pet goat that had the run of the house. Scortina
rubbed the sick child's back with an embrocation of warm olive oil
to which had been added scorched bits of a garment that had been
worn by the child's father. Apiece of shirt was best. After this,
she passed a silver coin up and down the child's back, reciting the
charm in a loud, resonant voice. Roughly translated from the Genoese
dialect, it want something like this:
Like the pomegranate
Release this child from its
To follow up the charm, she prescribed large doses of goat's
9. Bellows, Italian Miner,
Cook and Storyteller
Bellows was a portly man with a trim
beard and eloquent eyes. We called him bellows because he had been a
bellows maker in Italy. It was the custom to call men by the name of
their trade. My uncle was called "Miller," my father "Cobbler."
Bellows didn't Have Rocco's drive or any of the Genoese aptitude for
making money. The people of Newtown valued him as a man. My father
loved him as a friend and admired him because he was competent. He
made wine like a king's vintner and built a stone wall like a master
mason. He could raise a scaffolding for a barn, trim vines, prune
trees, butcher pigs. He was a better cook than any man or woman in
I liked Bellows because he was
the best storyteller I had ever listened to. He learned to tell
stories from his father who had learned from his, no one knew how
far back. As far back, at least, as the time that the Venetian Marco
Polo was taken prisoner by the Genoese. That was in 1298. The doors
of the prison in Genoa were open to the people who could never hear
enough of Marco Polo's stories of Cathay and Kublai Khan. These
stories were handed down to the family by one of Bellows ancestors.
I shall write about Bellows stories later. Now I want to tell about
his cabin and how I helped him make minestrone one morning when the
cranberry beans were ripe in his garden.
At mid-morning with well scoured hands I ran to his cabin, which was
on a grassy knoll looking toward the alders on Weber Creek. The
cabin, built of rough pine boards by a Kentuckian, escaped the fire
of 1872, Bees buzzed around the ripe Bose pears. A grapy, musty
smell came from the open doors of the stone wine cellar hollowed
from the hillside. Vintage time was near. Bellows owned the best
wine making equipment for miles around.
I could see the big ferment vats, oak barrels, a wine press and a
crusher. After making his own wine, Bellows made wine for three
families. Wine making was a serious business for him, conducted
without any foot tramping of the grapes or any merrymaking. Children
were ordered to keep away. The wine Bellows made, my father said,
was as good as any made in the famous valley
The brown, woolly dog
Ballila, named for an Italian patriot, sat on the doorstep. He had
developed a taste for good food and smacked his lips after sharing
Bellows meals. Bellows was in his patch of garden carefully
selecting basil leaves from the plants that were beginning to seed
in September. With these he carried tips from the broccoli stalks, a
tender chicory leaves and two zucchini taken from his screened
cooler half buried in a mossy cavity between two springs. Bellows
did not make the peasant minestrone we ate at our house. He had
learned to make what is called "a more subtle" kind at the Villa
Beliore near Genoa where he was a cook's helper one summer when he
was twelve years old.
In the cabin the
old stove, whose heat Bellows regulated to any temperature he wanted
with dry oak logs and sticks of scrub oak, stood on a zinc platform.
Cast iron cooking pots hung on the wall near it. The other walls
were bare except for a faded picture of the father who inherited
more than a hundred stories and bequeathed them to his
Bellows handed me the wooden cheese
grater and the Parmesan cheese with which his sister in San
Francisco kept him supplied. For chopping vegetables, Bellows used a
knife that looked like a sword. It had come from a hotel in Virginia
City and had been used by a famous chef of the Comstock days.
While we enjoyed the aroma of the garlic and the salt pork
crisping in the iron skillet and the ham bone and vegetables
simmering in the cauldron, Ballila made gurgling sounds and pawed
the floor to show his appreciation. When the ingredients were
combined, I was allowed to add the final touch, the minced basil
leaves. We watched the peaked Gothic clock and counted, keeping time
to its ticking. One hundred and twenty! The minestrone was ready to
serve. The soup ladled into ironstone bowls, Ballila generously
served. Bellows proceeded with our wine
"Lachryma Christi or the Est
from Montefiascone?" Bellows asked, holding a decanter of his own
wine. Using the names of great wines was part of our
"The Lachryma, per favore." And
Bellows poured my quota of wine into the tumbler half filled with
water. We raised our glasses and gave our
"Alla grazia di Dio." "To God's
bounty. We settled to the business of eating but not without what
Bellows called "good talk. I had something to tell that I knew would
interest him. At school, the Reverend Charles Calab Peirce had
visited us. We called him the traveling preacher. Only one family in
Newtown was a member of his church, the Episcopal church in
Placerville, but he came to the school frequently and to any family
in need of spiritual comfort. It made no difference to him under
which religious banner you traveled; he never suggested that his was
better than yours. Bellows was one of his
I explained to Bellows that we
were studying Whittier's "Snowbound" at school the day that the
Reverend Peirce came. He told us about Whittier's life and asked us
for our favorite lines.
I remembered his favorite passage and quoted it:
" Oh time and change ! with hair as
As was my sire's that winter
How strange it seems with so much
Of life and love, to still live
One of our schoolmates had died the month before. Hearing the
Reverend Peirce read these lines, I realized for the first time that
books had something real to do with living. I could say this to
Bellows who understood because he had so many books stored in his
10. "Keeping Vigil" Brings
Variety to the Stone Store
My father and my uncle
were both working their claims. At the same time they ran the stone
store, from habit and as a village convenience more than a business.
They stocked mining gear: picks and shovels, pans and gumboots. They
carried a few household items as needles, thread, brooms and soap.
Glass bins held coffee beans, macaroni in various shapes, rice from
Carolina and from Italy. Canned oysters were a commodity that had
moved since 1852. A brand with a bright red label covered an entire
Old ledgers gatherings dust in a
corner were some of my favorite reading.
In 1875 the store was doing a
flourishing business. Gallon tins of olive oil and flannel shirts
were selling by the dozen "Coleco" (calico) sold for 8 1/2 cents a
yard. My mother wondered how the 445 3/4 yards sold in March of that
year were used. A neighbor showed her Peterson's "Fashion Magazine"
in which directions for making an ordinary dress called for from
sixteen to eighteen yards of material. A China-man, Sam Kee, bought
1500 cigars for $27.00. Now "coleco" wasn't stocked any more and
only, eight or ten boxes of cigars were kept on hand. At night the
miners gathered around two tables to drink and talk. They used the
Italian word "vegliare," "to keep vigil" for these gatherings. On
summer nights the iron doors were wide open. The men drank claret
poured from demijohns that had been kept cool in the cellar. Men
from other camps came to share news and to talk about the past. We
listened to stories told by Amos Laird from Fort Jim who had played
the trumpet in brass bands that had performed at all the hangings,
the legitimate ones, that is, since the fifties. An old time pocket
miner camping on Weber Creek joined the group.
He had mined with Sailor Jack and two partners in the Pinch Gut
mine when it promised to be another Mt. Pleasant and he had shared
the excitement in the discovery of two diamonds on the Snow
property. He came every summer for about six years trying to locate
the lost Goose Egg mine.
A Miner who was
still working the productive ledges of the Mt. Pleasant mine at
Grizzly Flat told us about the Scotch ghost. When something good,
auspicious was his word, was going to happen at Grizzly Flat, the
Scotchman's ghost would be seen walking in the direction of what was
once the town of Humbug. He didn't wear kilts or play a bagpipe. He
wore a Scotch cap called a tam-o'-shanter, twirled a cane and sang
"O, My Luv's Like a Red, Red Rose" in a tenor voice that could be
heard for a mile. The Scotchman wasn't seen again when the richest
deposits petered out.
You couldn't by
any stretch of the imagination associate a merry ghost with
Smithflat. But, as Josh Hunter who used to walk up from the Flat in
summer said, you could jolly well think up emblems for it as a
horseshoe and four leafed clover. It was a lucky place except for
Mormon who stopped there to water his horses and cows at the
abundant springs. Smith left before gold was discovered, leaving no
forwarding address, only his name to the flat. We knew that its Gray
Channel and Blue Channel produced some of the richest surface gold
deposits in the state. Smithflat miners were equipped with
electrical machinery. Their stockholders received dividends. In
Newtown stock had been sold in the Utah mine, but it folded before
dividends could be paid. As Newtown's prospects diminished,
Smithflat's brightened. Scarcely had the last mine car of gold
bearing gravel slid into the bin than Smithflat's low hills became
dotted with fruit trees and its flat land piled with lumber from a
But we lost our resentment over Smithflat's good fortune when we
went to the Fossatti House, the hotel where some of the old miners
of Newtown stayed in winter. Well or sick, with or without money,
they were cared for. A sense of shared well being came with the
smell of beer and sawdust and meat roasting in the kitchen. Hear we
forgot horseshoes and clover leaves and enjoyed the company. To get
back to the stone store. I liked the Winter evenings best when the
"regulars" came. Oak logs crackled in the potbellied stove. The men
took off their rubber raincoats, snuffed out their lanterns and sat
down to an evening of drinking aqua vitae and listening to Bellows
tell stories. If I nodded while Bellows stopped to drink, all he had
to do was to lean toward me and say, "Where did we leave the giant
with the seven heads? and I was wide awake as
No man went to sleep listening
to Bellows. He told us fables from Aesop and tales from the "Arabian
Nights." He knew stories that Grimms had told, stories from the
Bible and from the Italian and French romances of
"My father walked miles,"he
would tell us, "to hear a new story or what was said to be the
authentic version of an old one. We told stories every night. It was
an obligation to keep them in repair because they were our family
inheritance. Nothing was ever written down. My father had a
capacious memory for details. We had to tell how Roland's horn
sounded, what the colors were in Joseph's coat, which was eaten on
the eve of the feast of St. Agnes" "My mother was in sympathy with
the family passion for stories," he continued. "She had a quirk of
her own". As soon as summer came she was overcome with the urge to
go on a pilgrimage.
When she heard by the way of a village grapevine that a
pilgrimage was in the offing, she called one of the grandmothers to
take care of us, rolled a change of clothes and a sake of bread and
cheese into her blanket and she was ready. Pilgrims didn't go to the
cites. They walked in their bare feet to mountain shrines or
grottoes that had been the scene of miraculous cures or apparitions.
They climbed stone steps or ledges on their
"Sometimes my mother brought back
a story to add to the family stock. I remember one about a hermit
whose cave on a mountain top had become a shrine. He had the power
of levitation and people used to see him floating in the air. And he
worked miraculous cures in three separate places at the same time.
Mother brought back stories of the adventures of the Italian Banshee
that were more terrifying than those of the Irish counterpart. And
she added to the mischievous capers of the Italian Poltergeist
called Folletto who flew invisible over rooftops ready to upset
people in houses and horses in barns." Some evenings Bellows
entertained us with imitations of the many Genoese dialects,
imitating the lady in the palace entertaining her friends or the
fisherman on the wharf trying to sell his morning catch. He recalled
saints and sinners of Genoa. The story of St. Catherine who put
pebbles in her slippers when the count, her husband, insisted she
dance at the court balls. The story of Branca D'Oria who killed his
father-in-law. Branca's soul was already suffering in the icy depths
of hell while his body with a fiend inside of it carried on business
as president of the bank of Genoa. Yarns of Genoese seamen were
favorites: stories of Christopher Columbus that never got into
history books, stories of Leone Pancaldo who piloted Magellan on
that first voyage around the World.
We walked out into the winter rain or snow, bemused or
exhilarated, lifted out of ourselves as I learned later one came out
of the theater after seeing a play.
11. Fourth of July in
Newtown "Open House"
Italians in Newtown
had been quick to adopt the Fourth of July as a holiday. They
couldn't find a saint to attach to the day, but the word
"independence" suggested freedom from the tyrant's heel which had
been more than an empty phrase to them and to their ancestors. Ways
of celebration differed. The year I was born I was told that a
Frenchman from Pleasant Valley had come to our schoolhouse grounds
to deliver an oration on Lafayette in French. No one understood a
word, but he received courteous attention and a salute with cannon
I remember jumping out of bed on
the Fourth of July when I was eleven. Getting into my overalls, I
ran to the door to see what was happening. Red, white and blue
bunting decorated porches and fences. The Newtown flag with 38 stars
flapped gently in the early breeze. Blossoming birch brush foamed at
the edge of the ravine. In the meadow, chicory flowers reflected the
blue of the sky. The sound of popping crackers and the smell of
burning punk were already in the air. Quickly I dashed water on my
face. The Fourth was my favorite holiday. I liked eating and noise
Newtown families held open
house on this day. Before noon People from Fort Jim, Pleasant Valley
and Smithflat would be walking or driving into our camp. Some of
them brought picnic lunches to eat in the schoolhouse grounds,
others depended on the hospitality of the Newtown
Each housewife liked to offer
something different to her guests. My mother's specialty was fritto
misto, a delicacy that called for various ingredients. She began to
worry about the preparation in June.
Would the butcher bring her enough calves brains, would the
oyster plant get too stringy, the squash flowers too dry? Would the
artichokes come in time from San Francisco? "Why aren't you
satisfied with head cheese and salami? Pop grumbled. "You would
think the King and the Pope were coming. You didn't sleep last night
because you were afraid you wouldn't have enough fresh
This year my mother had all
the ingredients. She had just finished decorating the three heaped
platters with lemon slices when two wagons drove up to the gate with
people from Fort Jim. Our house was the first stop for the eight
hungry ones. In less than fifteen minutes every delicate little
brown fritter had disappeared. Only the lemon wedges were left.
Mother hadn't even had time to put aside a sample of each kind of
fritter for Pop.
"That fritto was mighty
good," belched fat Beppina as she ambled down the path. "We'll tell
the others about it and you'll have lots of
Nothing like this had happened
before. Usually, each guest took two or three fritters. Mother crept
down to the cellar for head cheese and salami to offer the next
guests who kept hoping the fritto misto Beppina had talked about
I sat on the steps with
other children watching people go by. Because it had been stormy on
Easter, the girls couldn't wear their new summer finery. They were
wearing it today.
The girls on the steps
were waiting excitedly to see Gilda, the stately belle of Newtown
who anticipated the Gibson girl. She subscribed to fashion Magazines
and made her own clothes. We called her the Princess, not from
malice because she was friendly to every one and she helped a sick
mother look after a large family. Gilda had suitors from Placerville
to Grizzly Flat. Today she was driving with one in a buggy.
The girls stood up when the buggy came in
"Look, she's wearing pink
dimity," one cried in admiration.
tell it's trimmed with real Val lace.
"That's a Chase-me-Charley" hat she has
"I wish I could smell her perfume.
I'll be it's Piver's White Rose."
think she's going to marry that fellow, the oldest girl whispered.
"I heard that she made him a pillow case."
The gift of a pillow case was part of
courtship at that time. The girl made it by hand with lace or tucks
or what not. The boys were interested in the horse and buggy and
wondered how thy could get a ride.
the housewives wearing stiffly starched white aprons received
company and served food, the children between shooting firecrackers
and cap pistols, were allowed to make a few visits. Wearing new
overalls and a starched shirt, I started out with my friend
Our first stop was at the stone
store where the men had gathered. Some were playing boccie in the
freshly sanded alley. Inside men surrounded tables covered with
platters of cold chicken and ham, Gorgonzola cheese on crackers and
strips of foccaccia, a flat bread topped with oil and
Under the chestnut trees, Black
Jack was singing the fifty or more verses he knew of "Old Dan
Tucker" to the rattling of bones. These were two eight inch polished
pieces of wood played with a flick of the wrist. Jack Perkins was
the only Negro in Newtown. He came in 1849 to Mud Springs, where he
worked a rich claim and paid for his freedom. Now he owned a hog
ranch near Pleasant Valley. "do you think so," Pop answered. "We say
Indian George in the same way.
If I were living in a place where there weren't many Italians,
I'd be called Dago John, not as an insult but a way of telling me
apart from another John. Black Jack was a friend of the Negro Dr.
Porter who practiced in Placerville twenty years ago and was said to
have only white patients."
stopped to rest, Milo played his wheezy old accordion. He was good
at extemporizing stornelli, those Tuscan love songs in which the
girl is addressed as a flower: "flower of the peach," "flower of the
orange," Flower of the quince." Milo had picked up some of the
popular American songs. Girls walking up and down Main street on
that afternoon stopped to sing the ballad about a lovesick girl in
Jersey City who hangs herself for the love of a butcher boy. And
they asked for the most popular song that summer which
"I'd rather marry a young man
with twenty cows to milk,
Than marry an
old man in a jacket lined with silk."
please the young fry, Milo played "Down Went McGinty," which we sang
While our shirts were still
clean we went to see our Mormon friend, the one who had shown heavy
footed Italian miners and their shy wives how to dance the quadrille
and the schottische. She wore side curls and crinolines. Our mothers
said they were out of style.
"I wove the
cloth for this skirt from wool shorn from my father's sheep," she
said proudly. "Why should I throw it away for sleazy new
With flowers in her curls and
benign smile, she looked as much like royalty to us as the pictures
of the Italian Queen Margherita.
She gave us wedges of apple pie made
from her Alexander's and a sampling of the Mormon dish known as
"lumpy Dick" on little cardboard plates.
"When we first came to Newtown, we made lumpy Dick just out of flour
and water," she told us. "We made treacle for it out of beet juice
because we didn't have sugar. Today we can make it with eggs and
milk and put raspberry jam on it."
"Dawson's next," Henry said, "maybe they'll have lardy
And they did. Mrs. Dawson brought
us slices of the English cake made of raised dough folded three
times and filled with raisins and brown sugar. We ate it
out-of-doors in the garden once famous for its Archduke Charles
roses. Today it was overgrown with lilac bushes and overrun with
Mr. Dawson made his own wine,
sour stuff that the Italians wouldn't touch. When drunk as he always
was on holidays, he became homesick and kept repeating names of
English counties. "Essex, Middlesex, Devon," he hiccupped,
"Yorkshire, Suffolk ..." "Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont," one pert
nephews mimicked. Mrs. Dawson cuffed the pert one on the ear and
offered us more cake.
We refused. Our
last call was at Henry's grandmother's house. We ate the German nut
cake she gave us sitting on her great feather bed that she had
brought to California from Germany. While we ate she told her
favorite story about the German boys who while mining on Weber Creek
a mile below town, dug up a thirty-six ounce nugget. On the way to
Kaler's brewery, they invited the town to celebrate with them. She
added her own sequel to give the tale a moral for young ears. When
they found the next big nugget they went to Sacramento, bought a
bakery and became good and prosperous
By this time we were ready for
It would be fun to hide picnic hampers on the schoolhouse grounds
or to frighten girls with make- believe snakes. But if we were
caught it meant being sent to bed and missing the fireworks. We
found some of our friends and started a game of prisoner's base. As
soon as it was dark we came together on the schoolhouse for the
fireworks. Two of the older boys went over to the cabin near Snows
to bring Newtown's only China man, See Youg to see the fireworks.
Tall Ben sent the skyrockets zooming up to the stars. We kept
telling each other that this year they sparkled brighter and
crackled louder than the year before. The last rocket blazed
triumphantly, into a resemblance of the American flag. We shouted
"hurrahs" and "viva" until it dimmed to
Good byes were shouted,
lanterns lit. The big day was over. When we got home I was awake
long enough to hear my mother say:
"Everybody was at the fireworks except the
"I heard that George led the
parade in Placerville as he always does," Pop said. "Maybe, the rest
of them don't feel that this is the land of the free and the home of
the brave as the rest of us do."
12. Three Vivid Memories
of Indians in Newtown
Only a few Indians
were living in Newtown at the time about which I am writing. Except
for Indian George and Lucinda, they kept pretty much to themselves.
Indian George, who spoke better English than the rest, acted as a go
between. A week before the Fourth of July celebration, he came to
the stone store to tell the storekeeper that he was taking Indian
Jesse to the county hospital in Placerville. For the last five years
Indian Jesse, who lived at Bartram's mill, had been haunted by the
ghost of his dead son Willie. It was said that Willie's ghost was
trying to take his father to the happy hunting ground but his father
wasn't ready to go. Running away from Willie's ghost one night,
Jesse fell and broke his leg.
a Maidu. He used to tell us that before the gold discovery, a tribe
of Maidu's lived in Newtown. Stone mortars that they had used to
pound corn were propped against trees and fences in most of our
yards. When the miners came, the Indians fought to keep their homes.
That's the time the white men said they had become violent. A
trapper scout called Peg Leg Smith went around the county helping
Indians and white men to make treaties. A treaty of sorts was made
in Newtown, but after it was made most of the Indians moved away. In
the 60s and 70s bands of Indians still visited their old home sites.
George told us that his father came to Carshum Bowl on Texas Hill
where as many as 200 braves met to perform ceremonial dances and
I wasn't much over four when
one of the last cries was held in Newtown. We were sitting on the
porch after dinner. I was leaning against my father's shoulder half
asleep. Suddenly I heard dogs barking and saw a small band of
Indians plodding up the dusty road.
The faces of the women who pushed the carts were daubed with
"They must have come a long way,"
my mother whispered.
"they are on their
way to the meadow above Kimmer Flat to hold a cry," my father said.
"That's a memorial service for their dead. Bands used to come every
year when I first came to Newtown,"
"What's in the carts?" mother asked.
"Offerings to burn to their dead, like woven baskets and rugs and
things to eat their dead liked."
night we saw the flames rise from the memorial
People who lived near the meadow
heard moans and cries all through the night. It was said that the
women who had pitch on their faces mourned their men by knocking
their heads against trees. The next morning the Indians came by with
drooping shoulders and empty carts. They tramped silently down the
road toward Fort Jim. No one spoken to them and they had spoken to
Lucinda, we felt, belonged to
Newtown as much as any of us. She was a hunched up little squaw with
sunken cheeks and straggling hair. Lucinda and her two hundred pound
husband, Indian Jim, were nomads. A frequent sight except in winter,
was big Jim shambling along the road while Lucinda followed dragging
a cart or shouldering the sacks that held their camp equipment. One
of their favorite camp sites was the field near my friend Henry's
. We liked to watch Lucinda make
camp. First, she made Jim comfortable under a tree and fed him
jerky. Then, she made a shelter for a bed out of a piece of old
canvas. For the bed she gathered pine needles, cleaning and fluffing
them with her skilled, skinny hands. Two boxes held her camp goods:
one was for a pan, flour, coffee, and jerky, the other for her
Indian basket things. Lucinda and Jim wore all their clothes when
they were on the move, shedding and adding as the weather dictated.
Sometimes Lucinda invited us to eat
flapjacks which she cooked over an open fire. She served them
without butter or syrup and, more than not, ashes got into them but
we ate them with relish. Lucinda :begged" from the families she
knew. Once a month she walked to their back doors, held out her
right hand and said, "You give." All of them gave something, old
clothes, scraps of food, old pots which no one ever saw her use. My
mother kept a "Lucinda box" in which she put things for
Lucinda was as busy as Jim was
idle. Whenever he was given a job to saw logs, she stood over him
and most of the time, finished the job herself. We saw her digging
soap root, cutting willow boughs for her basket making and looking
for redbud to color them. She had learned to make baskets from a
Pomo woman and the Pomo's were the best basket makers in the
country. We used to watch Lucinda's claw like hands weave strips
around the ribs of willow root. When she coiled baskets, she used a
sharp bone needle to sew the strips. The baskets that Indian Gorge
sold for her in Placerville, Lucinda decorated with feathers of
orioles and tanagers which she hunted for
In the fall, Lucinda gathered
weeds and seed pods for her cures. She was secretive about these,
trying to explain to my mother that if she told what the weeds were,
they would lose their healing power. When my Uncle Stephen fell from
the roof he was mending and cut his arm, the cut didn't heal. He was
ready to go to the doctor in Placerville when Lucinda brought a weed
poultice which she folded around his arm. In two hours the swelling
went down and the healing began. Aunt Rosa tried to find out what
was in the poultice. She smelled tansy and yerba santa and chamomile
and then gave up.
One winter afternoon I found out why
my mother and the other women in Newtown accepted Lucinda as a
"Golly, Ma," I said, "Lucinda
must be a hundred years old." She had just left the house after
drinking a cup of coffee, with her sack of offerings under the man's
raincoat she was wearing.
grow old quicker than white women," my mother said. "Lucinda isn't
much older than I am. She has had real
"You are friends, aren't you?
Maybe like blood sisters?" This expression was used about the
friendship of Indians and white people. Everyone knew about Indian
Sam Pete in Coloma who called himself the brother of James
"Sharing Joy and sorrow can
make blood sisters," my mother said. "Lucinda had eight babies and
they all died before they were a year
Then she told me more of Lucinda's
"You were about two years old the
autumn that Lucinda carried her beautiful baby on her back in its
straw cradle. The others had been little flat nosed papooses who
never smiled. As long as Lucinda carried a baby on her back, she
never came to the back door. She sat with us on our porches or in
the grape arbors as an equal. Maternity was her passport to
acceptance. And we were all glad about
"We called the beautiful baby
Angiolino Indiano. He had the same flat nose his brothers had, had,
but his eyes sparkled. He gurgled and he smiled. When Lucinda took
him out of his cradle, he flapped his little arms and came to all of
us wanting to be loved. And we all loved him as though he belonged
to us. "Lucinda beamed and kept saying, "You like? You like?"
"I felt that if that baby could be
kept alive through the winter, he would have a chance to live. I
wanted her to let me keep him warm and well fed and sheltered. I
showed her the cradle you had just outgrown, piles of clean diapers,
rows of nursing bottles and the little warm gowns you had worn. She
smiled, happy to know that someone wanted to care for her baby.
Barbara and Angela had empty cradles and they offered to take the
baby. Lucinda shook her head. I remember how proudly she walked down
the path that day with Angiolino swaying and smiling in his
"We didn't see Lucinda again
until it was almost spring. Her shoulders unburdened by the cradle
sagged hopelessly. She had one baby after that, a puny thing who
lived only a couple of months. Life has been hard for
I thought about the baby Angiolino
when I went to Lucinda's campsite to eat flapjacks, the next time
she camped near us. He would be playing with us I was sure, if she
had let my mother take care of him that winter.
The last of my Indian stories happened before the fire.
I had heard my mother say that an Italian killed an Indian girl
in cold blood and that the Italians refused to help him. She didn't
know how or when it happened. Rocco told us the story one
Gigio was a bad egg from the
start. When he had been in Newtown a week, he told us that he had
stolen money from his parents to come to America and that he was
going to steal more to pay them back. He quit mining as soon as he
found out that he couldn't scoop up gold from the ground without
using a pick and shovel.
We warned old
Simon that Gigio wasn't to be trusted.
But Simon had just lost his partner and he was lonely. Gigio
lived in his cabin and ate his food. Twice the men in camp made up
purses for Gigio so he could go to San Francisco to find work. Both
times he came back broke in less than two
This was the time that Chief
Hila's sons who called themselves Pinons, came from Nevada to
Graystone in the summer to tame horses. The Hila's spoke English.
They had taken an English name, Smith or Wilson, I've forgotten.
They were independent Indians who paid their bills and asked no
favors. One of their women, Indian Sarah the Chief's sister, had
been at Johnson's Ranch on Bear Creek when five members of the
Donner Party came there half dead. She was skilled in the use of
herbs and Indian ways of healing and nursed them back to health. She
went to Sutter's Fort to nurse some of the rest of the party after
they were rescued. The Hila's built tepees of cedar bark for their
summer houses and staked out corrals for their horses. The women
made Indian baskets. John Ringer, the unofficial Justice of the
peace, used to say he wished all white men were as honest and law
abiding as the Hila's.
afternoon some of us used to hike to Graystone to watch the Indians
lasso their horses in the big corral. It was a diversion for us and
the young Indians liked to show off their skill to the white man.
Gigio, always on the lookout for any amusement, went with us. We had
warned him to keep away from the Hila squaws, handsome women who
could tame a horse almost as easily as any of their men.
On a September evening one of the Hila
men came to the stone store to buy flour and sugar. A young squaw,
riding her own horse, was with him. She sat on her horse while her
companion went inside to do the buying. It was a warm evening.
I was sitting on the bench with some
of the men. Gigio was one of them. I saw him try to get the girl's
attention. When he failed, he walked over to her horse and talked to
her in the little English he knew. The girl motioned him away. When
he got close to the horse and tried to take hold of the rein, she
lashed her short whip across his face. He drew a gun it was Simon's
and fired two shots before we could get to him. The girl fell off
her horse, dead
. At the sound of the
shot, the Pinon ran from the store. He picked up the girl's bleeding
body and galloped away. We knew there would be trouble. Some of us
went to warn the women and children to stay indoors. Stephen, was
running the store, jumped on the nearest horse and rode to Smithflat
to get John Ringer. Gigio was crawling on the
"Get your guns," he kept
whimpering. "Those savages will come back to shoot me. You've got to
protect me." We didn't pay any attention to him except to see that
he didn't get away. Ringer came back with Stephen at the same time
that the Chief's eight sons arrived. They sat upright on their
horses, mouths tightly pressed, eyes blazing. A mad Indian is an
ugly sight. Anything could happen. The Hila's could set fire to the
camp, torture our women or shoot us all. Except for Simon's gun, we
had only a few hunting rifles among us. There was a moon that night.
No lights were lit anywhere. I remember the chill in the air,
although the day had been oppressively
Ringer and Hila's oldest son got
off their horses and greeted each other
After a parley had gone on for an hour, a shot rent the air. One of
the Hila's, perhaps the one who had picked up the dead girl's body,
shot and killed Gigio who had been worming his way to the edge of
the crowd. Again all hell could have broken loose.
Ringer said it was a truce. After a week of anxiety during which
we were even afraid to draw a deep breath, Ringer went to Graystone
alone and made peace. We didn't go back to our everyday life until
we heard that the Pinons had broken camp. The young chief sent word
to Ringer that he and his people were going back to Nevada. They
never came back to Graystone. I think we escaped with our lives
because Chief Hila's sons were men of honor and Justice Ringer was a
13. Visit to San
Francisco's North Beach "Americanization"
Word came one fall
that many of our friends were gravely ill. My parents decided to
make one of their duty visits. Usually they took my sister Marie
with them. She was as engaging little girl who was a good traveler
and never got train sick as I did. This time I was to go. I watched
my mother pack the big portmanteau in which she had carried her
wedding dress from Genoa.
"You will have
to wear clothes like a city boy," she said, as she folded shirts and
underwear. I had worn only overalls all
"try on the suit we bought for
you last year," she said frowning. "It looks small. You can't have
grown that much."
The pants legs had
enough hem for lengthening, the sleeves would have to stay two
inches above my wrist. I didn't care vary much but when I saw the
round straw hat with the elastic band under the chin to hold it on,
"I won't wear it," I sulked.
"It makes me look like a girl."
wear it," my mother said in a voice I knew I could not argue with.
"Perhaps you won't get train sick this time. We will ride on the
ferry boat and the cable car and we will see Aunt
The prospect brightened. I
climbed on the stage next morning full od anticipation. After almost
two days of travel during which I was train sick and I didn't lose
my hat although I tried to, I followed my parents at dusk to the
ferryboat at Oakland Pier.
smell. Pop?" I asked, sniffing happily.
"It must be tar and wet rope and brine," Pop answered
Inside the boat musicians were
playing "Sweet Marie" on a harp and two
"That's Gilda's song," I cried
out, happy to have recognized it. "And look at all the little
stars!" I called out as the street lights began to appear at a
distance on the San Francisco streets.
wounded how my parents could talk so quietly. I longed for my
friends or my dog, for someone with whom to share the new sights and
smells and sounds. I fell asleep and was dragged off the boat and on
to the horse drawn car bound for North Beach The piercing jangle of
the bell woke me as the car stopped to let passengers off in front
of an ice cream parlor. I saw people sitting around tables eating
saucers of ice cream and I heard a woman singing Aunt Rosa's song,
:Libiam conlieti calici." We would be coming hear, I thought happily
and went to sleep again.
remember coming to Aunt Rosa's house in August Alley. I woke up next
morning on a cot in my cousin Gino's room. He had already gone. A
one eared cat sat on the window sill looking into the strip of
garden in which boxes of herbs grew together with cinnamon
. Sounds from out of doors crashed
into the room. I heard the pounding of horses' hoofs on cobblestones
and the creak of truck wheels. The unfamiliar peal of church bell
seemed to shatter my ears. Along the alley, children screamed and
dogs barked. I put my head under the blankets again but hunger and
curiosity got me out of bed.
Used to a
water pail near the kitchen sink and the outhouse, I was puzzled by
the plumbing. I coped with it and with the nine pieces of clothing
neatly piled on a chair. I met the family, smiling and hungry, with
a rim of train soot inside my ears. Aunt Rosa and Uncle Luigi ran a
small grocery shop across from the Plaza. As I dunked my Italian
bread into a bowl of milk and coffee, smells of cheese, dried
mushrooms and dried codfish drifted in from the shop. What surprised
me was the big barrel of molasses. This was my first discovery that
Aunt Rosa was going over to American
While Uncle Luigi worked for five
hours in a macaroni factory, Aunt Rosa tended shop. When he returned
she went to her sewing machine in a corner of the kitchen. Beside
the machine were two boxes of boys pants, cut out and waiting to be
stitched. Before the Garment Workers Union outlawed this practice of
"sweat shop" labor, Aunt Rosa and many of her neighbors took in
"piece work" from a North Beach garment factory to add to their
Life at Aunt Rosa's moved at a
different tempo from that of the long days in Newtown. When thirteen
year old Fiora got home from school, she changed into an old dress
and did the washing, ironing and whatever needed doing in the house
before she started the evening meal, always a large one.
"When will Gino come home?" I asked,
hoping for some hours of play in the Plaza. "He works in the
chocolate factory after school and gets home just before dinner,"
Fiora said. I wondered when my cousins played. I was puzzled at how
quickly they had grown up. They never spoke of play and never seemed
to miss it. Fiora sang all of the time she
On Sunday morning Gino chopped
enough wood for the week and cleaned the shed. In the afternoon he
went to Fisherman's Wharf with his friends or to watch the men play
at a boccie court. Fiora went to early, mass in the church across
the Plaza and the rest of the morning she worked in the kitchen
making soup and scallopinis, and taking great care with her pasta
sauce. To make a good sauce was the test of an Italian
On Sunday mornings the shop was
Customers tapered off in the afternoon when Aunt Rosa and Fiora,
wearing their Sunday dresses and lace mitts, climbed Telegraph Hill
to visit friends. They took me with them while my parents visited
the sick. I loved the impact and smell of the wind. I could have
watched the four masted schooners and the ferry boats on the bay for
"Look at the goats scrambling up
the hill," Aunt Rosa said laughing. "The one with the red ribbon
around its neck belongs to our friend
No one thought of putting
ribbons around the necks of Newtown
One afternoon we went to a
wedding party. A crowd of people milled around people milled around
parlor and kitchen and cellar, eating heartily if not daintily from
ravioli platters and dishes heaped with Italian ham and pickled
mushrooms. Wine flowed from bottles and barrels. Children stuffed
their the pockets with the sugar-coated almonds that were known as
"wedding candies." Bemused by the sun and wind and good food, I was
still ready for more adventure.
we go to the ice cream parlor, Aunt Rosa?" I asked, "the one where
they sing the Traviata song."
Batto," she answered, using her special name for me to soften the
blow of disappointment. "I'll buy ice cream to eat at
"You see, Batto," she tried to
explain, "people go to ice cream parlors as families. It's not right
for only a part of the family to go. When Uncle Luigi takes a few
hours off, he plays boccie. A girl can go with the man whom she is
engaged. When Fiora is engaged and goes with her fiance, she can
That seemed a long time to
wait. I remembered how Aunt loved songs from the operas, and hear
they were sung almost at her doorstep and she wouldn't go.
She had changed, just like with the
One day my father took me to a
shoe store owned by a man who had mined at Newtown.
"Give the boy a pair of shoes with good
thick soles and big enough so he can grow into the them," my father
ordered. Walking over the cobblestones with new shoes, I felt as
though a hive of bees had been let loose inside of them. "Can't I go
barefoot?" I begged. "I see boys in the alley without shoes."
"Your country feet aren't used to
wooden walks and cobblestones. You'd get blood poisoning," my mother
said, using the voice I couldn't argue
Gino had told me about Chinatown,
its funny smells and singsong talk.
"Don't go near Chinatown," Pop warned me. "You'll be Shanghaied."
"What's Shanghai?" I
"The Chinamen put you in a
dungeon inside a boat and when you get to China you're sold as a
With the shoes hurting my feet
the way they did, I didn't need warning. Some evenings when I
dragged my feet home from visits to the sick at the end of a long
day, I wondered if being a slave in China could be any
Aunt Rosa hated idleness. She
gave me a broom to sweep the wooden walk, a thankless, job because
the wind blew the cinders and papers right back. In the shop I wiped
the drawer of the coffee grinder and kept the molasses keg from
getting sticky. One morning when my uncle was hosing out the store
after a scrubbing of brown soap and sal soda, Aunt Rosa gave me a
nickel to buy roasted chestnuts from the street vendor at the corner
and told me to eat them in the Plaza. I liked the Plaza. The willows
made me feel at home.
The stretch of lawn was a new sight. Someday I would build a
Plaza in Newtown. As I munched the hot chestnuts, I watched old
ladies in black shawls going to church. I saw skipping children
carrying long, unwrapped loaves of bread under their arms, men
shouting and gesticulating with their hands, yet all in the
My sense of well being
didn't last long. Gino had told me about the gangs. The ones he knew
about were all Irish or all Italian. I saw a gang walking toward me,
eight or nine boys about my age in enviable bare feet. They spotted
me with a whoop and cry, snatched the bags of chestnuts out of my
hand, grabbed my hat and sat on it. "A basso il Micco. Down with the
"The Shanty Mick's crawling with
"Punch him in his belly full of
"Let's take his big old shoes
off and throw them in the pond."
then one shouted, "Cheez it, the cop."
And they streaked into an alley.
a new experience for me to be taken for a Mick by one of my own
kind. I felt flattered and betrayed at the same time. I punched the
hat into shape, wishing they had thrown it into the pond, and walked
back to Aunt Rosa's.
All of this time
my mother and Pop visited diligently. "Why don't you go to a wedding
on Telegraph Hill or some place where you can laugh?" I asked my
"That's not what we came for,"
she answered shortly.
gifts for the sick, restoratives" she called them, bags of oranges,
packets of ladyfingers, sacks of biscotti. Pop brought old cronies
bottles of aqua vitae.
Unless it was a serious illness, I was taken along. I didn't go
into sickroom's, but waited in kitchens that smelled pungently of
garlic or on back porches that smelled dismally of drains. I never
saw children. Someone usually handed me a piece of spinach torta or
a slice of panettone which I ate slowly to make time go
We visited "Baggio," a nickname
which means "toad," toward the end of our stay. Baggio was Pop's
partner in Newtown for five years. He came to North Beach when he
had barely enough money to buy into a shoe shine stand. Now he was
known as one of the rich "Eyetalians." He owned two saloons, two
barber shops and many buildings from which he received high rents.
When Mother saw his house with satin
glass panels on the doors and a silver knocker, she wanted to go to
the back entrance. Pop lifted the shining knocker with confidence. A
woman in black wearing a small white apron came to the door. "Whom
do you wish to see?" she asked, without cordiality. We saw that she
was not impressed with our appearance. My father hesitated because
he had forgotten Baggio's real name. My mother came to the rescue
and said "Mr. Fazzio," in a small voice. We were shown into a room
darkened by red curtains. My feet sank into the pile of the thick
carpet, a sensation I hadn't known before. Just as I was beginning
to make out the outlines of two statues in the dark room, Baggio's
wife came in. He had married her in San Francisco. She was as
unfriendly as her maid. She took my parents to the sickroom and me
to a side porch where I tried to make friends with a sullen
I was beginning to hope
for something special in the way of refreshments, but nothing came.
In about fifteen minuets my parents joined me and the uncordial maid
showed us to the door. The visit had not been a success.
Because oranges or even a bottle of aqua vitae wouldn't have been
right to take to Baggio, Pop found in the little tobacco sack of
nuggets that he carried with him, a leaf shaped one that had come
from a claimthat he and Baggio had worked together. Baggio accepted
it with indifference. He was fretful and inattentive all through the
My parents were silent as they
waited on a windy corner for the horse car to take us back to Aunt
Rosa's. Inside the car, they began to talk.
"See what money has done to him," Pop
said. "Many times we shared our last dollar. Now, he appeared
suspicious as if I was going to ask him for a loan."
Mother remembered Baggio's jokes and
his ready laughter. "It's his sickness," she said, trying to comfort
On the last afternoon of our stay
in North Beach, my parents went to see a friend in a hospital. I sat
with Aunt Rosa in the strip of garden winding basting threads on a
spool. Aunt Rosa sat near the cinnamon pinks mending socks. I talked
easily with Aunt Rosa. She showed me the affection she dared not
show her own children because it might interfere with her
discipline. I had something to say to her and I came right to the
"Aunt Rosa, you must come back
to Newtown with us. All the people who came to San Francisco are
sick or dying. Come back while you are still well." Aunt Rosa
smiled, warmed by my concern.
you see, Batto? there is no future in Newtown. Today gold is only in
the tunnels. Your poor father is breaking his back to reach it. We
want him to come to North Beach. Here he can open a shoe repair shop
and make money."
Money hadn't had much
of a place in my life. I had a cigar box with dimes and nickels in
it, but I hadn't thought about what to do with
"We are happy without money," I
blurted. "My father looks sad now because he sees so many sick
people. He's not that way at home." "But what is going to happen to
you while you are growing up?"
"I go to
school," I said, "and I play."
longingly of the cool water in Weber Creek, the leaf and needle
covered path on Newtown Ridge and bare feet to enjoy
"We are saving money to buy our
own house," Aunt Rosa confided. "You must own your own property in
America. Then we will set up Gino in business, in a bigger store
than this one."
Aunt Rosa said nothing
about the big college at Santa Clara where Gino was to become a
lawyer, or the Convent of the Blue Nuns for
"When Fiora is a little older,
she will marry Martin, the blacksmith's son. She's a good
housekeeper already." Aunt Rosa was becoming Americanized but still
believed in marriages made by parents.
"But the Convent of the Blue Nuns, Aunt Rosa?" I whispered, almost
in tears. I didn't want Fiora deprived of the lessons in deportment
that would help her to find a rich husband; Martin wasn't any better
than the boys in Newtown.
"There are no
Blue Nuns here, Batto. We are bringing up Fiora to marry a man in
her own station. She will do better by her children. That is how it
works in America."
Aunt Rosa sighed. She
had not known this when she was making the extravagant plans for
"When Gino is in business you can be
his partner," she said.
Rosa," I said positively. "I am going to live around Newtown and
plant apple trees. I'll sell the apples to the stores and to the
bakers who make pies."
"But you will
always be a country boy, a paesano. In the city you can have
everything. Look at Baggio."
he is going to die and that the city has made him mean and
unfriendly. The city changes people."
In a rush of feeling, I said, "And you don't laugh or put flowers in
your hair as you did in Newtown."
Rosa snapped a cinnamon pink from its stalk and stuck it in her
black braids. She tried to laugh, but it wasn't the same. It would
never be the same and I began to cry.
"We must change with the times, Batto," she said, putting her arms
around my shoulders. "Someday, you will understand. Stop crying now.
Tonight Bellows' sister is coming and she will tell us
Bellows' sister Gemma came,
after dinner, She didn't look like Bellows, Wrapped in a Paisley
shawl with a scoop hat over one ear, she looked like a circus clown
I had seen in Placerville the year before. I began soaking chestnuts
in wine and wondering how soon I could go to
The story of the ten years war
the Greeks waged against the Trojans began monotonously. Before I
knew it, I was captivated by some quality in the rise and fall of
the odd little woman's voice. Suddenly, I was sitting up seeing
Hector plain. Agamemnon and Achilles were fighting on an
imaginatively created battlefield. Andromache walked on the walls of
Troy. I never knew how much time it took to come to the burning of
Hector. After the women stopped and drew a deep breath, I looked at
my cousins. They sat on the floor, wide eyed, as though they had
This was my introduction to "The Iliad" by the clown like little
women who had never read the epic but had inherited from ancestors
who may have gone back to Homer himself, the power to make the
spoken word live.
Early next morning, my
mother packed the portmanteau. I repeated "thank you" and good by,"
clutching a striped bag of peppermint lozenges that were to keep me
from getting train sick. The journey home was swift and without
incident, except that I lost my hat and no one tried to find it.
Soon we were on the stage, calling to Colas at the at the turn of
the road. Blackberries were still ripe in the hollows, the poplars
on Weber Creek were turning to brightness. I saw my sister and my
friends and my dog Tiger, and I cried out with joy,
14. "Miners Pops"
Ironic, Sarcastic, Wise or Otherwise
Mountain Democrat of March 16, 1901:
Always designate the Super as the "Old Man." It may inspire him
with a parental regard for some who evidently need a guardian.
Don't fail to call the foreman "Captain." It may impress him
(where impressions are possible) with a more exalted sense of
importance and indispensability.
Never fail to lay all responsibility for defective work on the
opposite shift. (This suggestion is only for the younger members of
the digging fraternity.) Old hands invariably follow this rule.
Never fail to mention the way things were done and run in some
"model" mine where you were formerly employed. This will create the
impression that you are a "master among craftsmen."
Always exhibit unusual diligence when the Boss shows up. By so
doing you might hold your job to the end of the shift. Should the
Boss possess asinine horse sense you could not in reason expect to
hold it longer.
Never let an opportunity pass to enlighten the Public at large
with reference to all that transpires in and about the mine. By so
doing they will eventually? know more about its workings and
prospects than those who are paid TOP salaries for such knowledge.
I observe that some of the best barroom miners get into a harder
formation as soon as they operate underground.
Costly buildings and machinery are no more reliable indications
of a prosperous mine, than that fine clothes are the unquestionable
envelope of a gentleman. A real, genuine bona fide mine is USUALLY
Always stoutly deny that you were ever a "mucker" thus deluding
your fellow workmen with the idea that the saying applying to poets
and artists, "Born, not made," applies to you particularly as a
Pick up all of the Cousin Jack terms possible, especially if
either your Super or Foreman hail from the "Hornwall of old Albion,"
and fire them off frequently when in their presence. If this won't
make them feel homesick, they are fully naturalized.
If in drilling double handed you should hit your partner,
convince him,if possible, that it was his own fault; else console
him with the assurance that he is not hurt nearly half so bad as the
last fellow you struck. This will cause him to conclude that you
think twice as much of him as you did of the other fellow.
Don't fail to cuss the blacksmith occasionally, especially if
your holes fissure. Never for a minute admit any fault of your own.
Should the other shift accomplish more work than yours insist
that it is only the result of your superior wisdom and foresight in
giving them a show.
If the rock should prove very rich, pick out all of the handsome
specimens you can and save them for the Super. Nearly all thrifty,
honest miners do this.
If your holes fail to explode, cuss the fuse and detonators, as
well as their manufacturers; if they fail to break, "blow up" the
dynamite and its compounders.
Should the Super and owners visit you in the mine don't fail to
chip in the conversation at every opportunity. This will probably
provide the means of your getting promoted some where else.
Don't forget to pay your respects to the carpenter if the timbers
fail to fit and declare that either his square is not perfect or
else his mechanical ability is not sufficient to construct a chicken
It is indeed a difficult task for the ordinary brain to build up
something from nothing, creative genius being a gift usually
relegated to the fine arts, and it certainly would not require any
signal stroke of genius to picture the average mining
superintendent. I venture to assert that not one superintendent in
ten gives complete satisfaction to anybody but himself. The fatal
mistake of nine is the want of common courtesy extended to those
with whom they are constantly in contact.
A soldier who lacks confidence in his general would assuredly
prove a faint hearted fighter, and the miner with hammer and drill
could not be expected to exert himself to an uncomfortable extent
for a superintendent who treats him as a menial and thrall or as our
erstwhile Charlie would say, "A brother to the ox," forgetful
perhaps that it is only owing to circumstances that many times in
life the superior is at the bottom and mediocrity on top.
The average superintendent ignores another fact entirely. By
isolating himself from his miners he deprives himself of much
practical information which they alone can furnish.
Were I a capitalist and wishing to invest in a working mine, I
would place for greater dependence in the testimony of some
intelligent working miner than all the maps, books, specimens,
assays, and rosy tales from the office.
It is a well known fact that what is performed willingly is
usually performed in less time and better than that done through
coercion. Although the horse may be driven to the water you cannot
compel him to drink, and the miner likewise may be driven
underground but can't be driven to accomplish more than just and
honest day's task. Hence I would say to every superintendent, "Treat
your miners well, for as a rule you will not find them ungrateful."
Contribute to their comfort as far as practicable. A sound healthy
force of men will preform far better service than a debilitated
crew. Be just, listen to all statements or grievances and judge with
absolute impartiality. And remember that it is only by fortunate
circumstances that you are temporarily placed over your fellows, and
that all must be equal by and by, "For six feet of earth makes us
all of one size."
Don't say too much about the engineer. "He has the drop on you."
15. Mine's of the Newtown
Avansino Mine S29, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Also called, the Standard Gravel Mine.
Dominico Besimo Tunnel S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Two deep channel drift
mines between Avansino's Store and the bluffs to the north, near
Pleasant Valley. Active beginning 1893 when it was developed by
Bind, Avansino and Company. By mid 1895, the machinery was removed
by the company when finding the gravel at 100 feet, bedrock level
would not support further development. The gravel's and benches were
developed by a shaft that was 107 feet deep with a 57 foot north
drift on the 90 foot level and a 307 foot drift on the 107 foot
level. During the early 1930's, the mine was prospected again.
Dug by Dominico's son, John A. Besimo, probably after 1900.
Buffington and Company Mine S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located in the SE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 and in the W 1/2 on the NE
1/4 of the SE 1/4 in sec. 20, T10N, R12E.
Now flooded and used as
a spring water source.
The Jonah Mining District, bounded by Zerga and Company., prior
Chilean Camp S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Adjacent to the Mormon Diggings on the South Fork of Weber Creek
in 1848-1849 near the Snow Road crossing.
Deadhead Gulch Mine S29, S30, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
A hydraulic mine active in the 1870's and 1880's in the Newtown
area, a C. P. Steadmen hydraulicking operation. Water was supplied
by the steadman Ditch from the South Fork of Weber Creek. This is
where the confederate spy, "Doc" was planning to cache weapons for
the Knights of the Golden Chain and the Confederate Army of the
Pacific. A 42 1/2 ounce nugget was found near the confluence of
Deadhead Gulch and the South Fork of Weber Creek.
Ferari and Garaventi S20, S21, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Probably Ferrari and Garavento.
John H. Ferretta Claim S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Nick Ferretto Placer Claim S--, T--N,
R--E Placer gold
Located in Newtown Mining District and proven during 1897.
Ferriera S29, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
One mile south of Newtown, it was prospected in 1930 when a 135
foot shaft was sunk in search of gravel. No pay was found.
Fossati (Tunnel) S17, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
A drift mine located one and one half miles south of Camino on
Goose Nest Ravine, east of Sailor Jack Mine. Active intermittently,
1930-1936. Two channels of the Tertiary South Fork American River,
the lower one being 25 to 200 feet wide, were developed by adits and
French Ravine Hydraulic S20, T10N,
R11E Placer gold
Also called French Ravine Hydraulic Claim, owned by Samuel Snow.
It is located in the Iowaville Mining District west of S. Zerga and
Company., east of D. Raffetto, north of Keller. Water was supplied
by the Samuel Snow Ditch from the North Fork of Weber Creek.
French Ravine Ledge S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located within the French Ravine Hydraulic area, probably during
the late 1800's.
Golden Gulch Mine S20, T10N,
R12E S29, T10N, R12E
Two mines active in 1883 and 1887 in the Newtown Mining District.
The 1883 mine was located about 400 yards southerly from Newtown,
west on and adjoining Monteverde's Claim. The mines were known also
as the Angelo Gardella Gravel Mining Claim, patented to Giovanni
Gardella and Gio Balter Paginini.
Goose Nest Ravine S17, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located in the south Camino vicinity, it rises out of the North
Fork of Weber Creek to the north about the middle of Section 17. It
was so named for the nuggets of gold found there by Emanuel Snow in
the 1870's Located in the Newtown Mining District.
Highville Gravel Mine S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Previously called Iowaville Gravel Mine which was purchased by
Highville Gold Mining Company of San Francisco in 1881 and newly
equipped with the best, most substantial appliances. The mine was
located near Newtown. One solid nugget weighing 3 1/2 ounces was
Iowa Gulch S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Probably active early in the Gold Rush through the late 1800's.
Monteverde's Claim S20, T10N, R12E
A claim working in 1883 about 400 yards southerly from Newtown,
east of and adjacent to Angelo Gardella Gravel Mining Company
Mormon Diggings S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
The gold discovery site
in the Plan area, mid Jun 1848, by the Veterans of the United States
Army Mormon Battalion while assembling at Pleasant Valley for the
trip to Salt Lake. The Mormons had made a surface cut three hundred
feet long, four feet wide and two feet deep.
Mormon Gulch S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located along Snows Road between the South Fork of Weber Creek
and Snow Ridge. It yielded fabulous sums in it's day, supporting the
construction of much of the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle.
Newtown Gulch S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
(W 1/2 of NW 1/4 of S20, T10N, R12E,) Old Mines.
Newtown Mining Company S13, T10N,
R11E Placer gold
Active during 1899.
One Spot Mine S17, S18, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Also known as Sailor Jack, and known as Pinchgut and Pinchemtight
because of it's narrow entrance. It is located in the Pinchgut
Ravine. Sailor Jack was Finnish, knew nothing of mining, and was
persuaded by miners teasing him to file a claim on worthless land.
He turned the joke around, finding a huge pocket of gold where none
had been expected! It is a drift mine active in the early days
producing $40,000. Active again in 1934-1941, some prospecting
continues. Two channels of the tertiary period South Fork American
River, one above the other, were developed by a 500 foot adit with
drifts and raises. The gravel yielded up to $8.00 a yard. Gold from
the mine won blue ribbons at our County and State Fairs as well as
at the Treasure Islands gold exhibit.
Phelps and Wood Mine S16,T10N,
R12 Placer gold
The Snow Brothers Newtown Mine which they sold to F.M. Phelps
and Aetemus A. Wood, five moles east of Placerville. Two men running
a tunnel, cross cutting, and removing about 100 cars of gravel per
week, crushing with a water powered ten stamp mill. (W 1/2 of S16,
T10N, R12E, mouth of tunnel)
G.B. Raffetto, Biagiotto and Pardi Claim
S19, T10N, R12E
Located in Newtown Gulch near Newtown, an hydraulic mine granted
a permit by the Debris Commission. (W 1/2 of NW 1/4 of S20, T10N,
R12E, old mines)
Sailor Jack See: One Spot
Snow Brothers S16, S17, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
A hydraulic mine 1/2 mils northeast of Newtown, which became
active in 1880 when cemented gravel was mined in two pits. It
produced more gold than other mines in Newtown and Pleasant Valley,
except for the Grand Victory Mine on Squaw Hollow Creek in Hanks
Exchange. (cont) One nugget of 5 1/2 ounces was found in July of
1880. (The Snow Brothers mined in Mexico's Sonora State also along
the Guaymas Railroad grade, finding a bonanza there.) The first
significant dam on Weber Creek was built in 1894 as a debris
impounding basin for the Snow Brothers to prevent silting of the
Creek downstream. The dam was located a few hundred yards upstream
from the present concrete Weber Dam. Water for hydraulicking was
supplied by the Samuel Snow Ditch from the North Fork od Weber
Creek. In 1895, 140 ounces of coarse gold were shipped as part of
the winter's work in the hydraulic mine. The mine was licensed by
the Debris Commission in 1897.
Snow Consolidated S16, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Patented to Joseph and Charles Snow.
Snow Quartz S20, T10N,
R12E Load Gold
Located within the boundaries of the French Ravine Hydraulic Mine
in the Iowaville Mining District during 1889.
Joseph Snow and Company Mine Placer gold
S16, T10N, R12E
Snow and Woods Claim S16, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located and working in the Newtown vicinity by 1896. Also see
Phelps and Wood.
Southerner #1 Tunnel S--, t10N,
The tunnel was started in 1855, and located in the Mormon Hill
Swansborough and Kimerer Ledge Quartz
S16, T10N, R12E Lode gold
Located on Snow Ridge in the Newtown area, it was developed with
a 30 foot tunnel during 1887.
Swiftsure Tunnel S--, T10N,
Near Newtown in 1855, it was over 300 feet long.
Utah Consolidated Quartz S--, T10N,
R--E Lode gold
Located in the Newtown area, a rich body of quartz ore at the 60
foot level, a ledge 20 feet wide. In 1878, the shaft was sunk to 100
feet. A steam powered ten stamp quartz mill was financed by the
people of Newtown; but, the rich ore gave out and the mine failed in
the 1880's. The owners were Sheriff J. B. Scott and the County Clerk
L. M. Buello
Utah Quartz S20, T10N,
R12E Lode gold
Also called the N. D. Arnot, Jr. Claim in 1881 and the J. B.
Scott Claim in 1890, it was the chief quartz mine of the Newtown
District. Ore was worked by arastras in the early days but by the
1880's, stem operated stamp mills were installed. The mine was
located about 300 yards southerly from Newtown. During the 1930's, a
tunnel was cut through the mine to Diamond Road (now Pleasant Valley
Ventura Mine S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
A drift mine, also called the Solari Tunnel, located on the north
side of the ridge between Weber Creek and Pleasant Valley, south of
The ridge (Newtown Ridge) contains a lava capped channel; and, a
1300 foot adit (now connecting with workings on an adjacent
property) was driven through the volcanic ash in an attempt to reach
the channel gravel. The mine was proven in 1899 by Luigi Arata and
most active during the 1930's and 1940's. In 1935, a 351 foot adit
was driven, prospecting for bench gravel.
Weber Creek Mine S--, T10N,
R--E Placer gold
Located in the Newtown District by Frank A. Ferretto who proved
the mine in 1899.
Woodworth Claim S16, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located above Snow's Mine in 1890, a rich streak in the gravel.
S. Zerga and Company Mine S20, T10N,
R12E Placer gold
Located east of French Ravine Hydraulic Mine. Stefano Zerga was
31 years old, a native of Italy, when he was naturalized 10 May 1867
in El Dorado County. He was the Newtown delegate to the 1882
Democratic County Convention.
Stefano Zerga and Luigi C. Misone Claim
S20, T10N, R12E Gold
Purchased from Andrew Gardella of Bodie in 1881.
17.Nuggets of El Dorado
County Newtown Area.
The Lost Goose Egg Mine,
and the Goose Nest Mine, produced large nuggets in the Newtown /
Weber Creek area producing easy income in their day.
A 5 1/2
ounce nugget was taken from the Snow Mine on the North Fork of Weber
Creek, a 36 ounce nugget and a 42 1/2 ounce nugget were taken from
Deadhead Gulch near the South Fork of Weber Creek; and, a fifty
pound nugget worth $9,000. was taken near the Knapp's ranch
(probably at the extreme east end of the North Fork of Weber Creek).
Another 36 ounce nugget and a 10 ounce nugget of gold quartz were
taken from the claim of two Germans, near Newtown, in 1867.
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