Silver Tailings: A Pig, a Dog and a Jumping Frog

“Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery,” wrote Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Clemens, better known to the world as Mark Twain, was friends with a Comstock prospector named Jim Gillis.  The pair met when Clemens was still trying to strike it rich as a miner.

Both men were first-class story tellers. They often spent their evenings at Gillis’ shanty telling each other whoppers.

Gillis was a “pocket” miner — one who goes out looking for deposits of minerals. And though it sounds like a whopper in itself — Gillis bought and trained a pig he named, “John Henry,” to help him find these pockets of minerals.

To train the pig, Gillis buried biscuits up and down Sun Mountain (now known as Mt. Davidson.)  It wasn’t long before John Henry caught on and started rooting around the rocky slope for himself.

Now trained, all Gillis had to do is lift his pick and John Henry was off, digging for biscuits. Gillis would then follow behind, looking for mineral deposits in the upturned earth.

Along with the pig, Gillis also had a dog, “Towser.” The two animals had a habit of wrestling when not out with their Master searching for his wealth.

One evening after telling stories, lies and sipping whiskey, Clemens laid down to get some rest. That’s when Gillis, also a practical jokester, opened the shanty’s door and in rushed John Henry and Towser.

The two jumped up on their favorite bunk and proceeded to wrestle — the one Clemens was currently sleeping in. Needless to say, Clemens awoke angry.

After getting away from the animals, Clemens started out the door, calling Gillis every name in the book. In order to calm his friend down, a still laughing Gillis promised to tell him, “the most incredible story you’ve ever heard.”

That story turned out to be one of the yet-to-be-famous Clemens’ first great literary successes — the “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

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Eel Gambles His Bones Away

The first Native American Folklore story I ever heard, was told to my Kindergarten class at Margaret Keating School. It was a simple tale of caution and morality.

It was read to us by Jon Larson’s mother, Juanita, who had jus’ written and illustrated a book on Yurok, Kurok and Hupa myths and Legends.  I was hooked from thereon.

“Eel and Salmon liked to gamble. The wager was their bones.  Eel began to lose — but he believed he could win, so he kept betting until he lost everything. That’s why Eel has so few bones and Salmon has so many.”

Nevada City’s National Hotel

Nevada City’s located roughly 90 minutes from Reno. Nestled among the firs and pines, at an elevation between 2500 and 3000 feet, it quickly became a prosperous town during California’s Gold Rush period.

I love to visit Nevada City because of its rich history and Victorian elegance.

The first miner to search for gold in the area was James Marshall, the same James Marshall from Sutter’s Mill, who in 1848 started the gold rush. In 1850, a man named Stamps was elected to the position municipal magistrate and named the city, Nevada.

The Native Americans who had inhabited the area for centuries were driven out and some even slaughtered.  For a time in the 1850’s there was a bounty placed upon the scalps of Indians.

The prospectors wanted all the land they could get, and they just came in and took it. It didn’t take long for the gold above ground to be mined, so in 1850 underground mining began.

Thirteen years later the State of Nevada was formed. As a compromise, the town was allowed to keep the name providing the word City was added. Hence — Nevada City.

With mining came the need for traditional amenities like saloons, livery stables, and living quarters. One of the first was the Bicknell Block, which opened in August 1856, which was also used as a stagecoach stop and telegraph, mail, and express center.

Later its name was changed to the National Exchange Hotel. In 1977, the old hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a California Historical Landmark as the National Hotel as one of the oldest continuously operated hotels west of the Rockies.

Nevada City businessman John J. Jackson, claims an 1898 meeting took place in Room 74, leading to the creation of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The hotel has also offered shelter to such notables as Black Bart,  Lola Montez, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Lotta Crabtree, and Herbert Hoover.

Of course, with over 150-years of existence — there’s bound to be a ghost story or two connected to the place.

One story is that the woman’s bathroom in the bar section’s haunted by a woman as patrons have seen her apparition. Her spirit’s believed to be connected to Room 48.

As the story goes, the woman owed a man money, but she refused to pay. So the man she owed money to, hid in her room’s closet and when she entered the room, the man cut her throat.

Then there’s the little girl who died of either mumps or the plague in Room 78. The girl’s name is Elizabeth and people have felt her presence, heard knocking while spending the night and seen what’s described to be a child riding a tricycle on the same floor as the room.

Finally, a full body apparition of a man in black pants, white shirt, black vest, and trimmed hair is said to have been seen walking up the hotels interior steps. Folks have reported seeing his side profile and then as they watched, he vanished.

As for Nevada City itself, in the late 1960s ordinances were revised to eliminate historically inaccurate storefronts and signage. The city also buried the power lines in the downtown area.

Gas lights made from original 1800s molds were placed along Broad Street and the Nevada Theatre was restored. Following restoration of the town, in 1985 the downtown area became a registered National Historic Landmark.

Thousands of Acres Scorched In Nevada Wildfire

Fire season is picking up steam in Nevada.  A wildfire that destroyed two homes in the rural neighborhood of Topaz Ranch Estates may have been caused by an illegal burn.

The fast-moving brush fire in Douglas County forced the evacuation of residents and continues to send up huge plumes of black smoke. Sierra Front Wildfire spokeswoman Rita Ayers says more than seven-thousand acres have been blackened and two homes and 17 out-buildings have been destroyed in the area of Topaz Ranch Estates about 20 miles south of Gardnerville, but nobody’s been injured.

Evacuees found shelter and assistance at the Topaz Ranch Estates Community Center, which was staffed by county social services and the Northern Nevada Chapter of the American Red Cross. Local animal control services were also at the evacuation center to care for pets.

As for large animals, the Douglas County’s Sheriff’s Posse evacuated several horses and other livestock to the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Gardnerville. They also handled small, unclaimed pets being delivered to the animal evacuation shelter in Gardnerville.

Steep, rocky slopes in the foothills of the Pine Nut Mountains kept fire engines and heavy equipment away from active flames as the fire burned to the east approaching the Upper Canyon Road neighborhood in the Smith Valley northwest of Wellington.The terrain forced firefighting crews to concentrate on an aerial attack to slow the flames.

Eight air tankers and six helicopters are assisting 560 firefighters on the ground. Firefighters also say flames are moving northeast, away from the neighborhood and is still burning in cheat grass, sagebrush and pinion and juniper trees.

“It’s difficult to get firefighting equipment up there so it is basically an air show at this point,”  Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Halsey said.

Meanwhile, investigators say the blaze may have been caused by an illegal ‘open burn’ that had been quietly smoldering at a private residence. Open burning of weeds and grass is allowed only with a permit when conditions are favorable.

Halsey says a preliminary investigation shows the residential burn exceeded the permit requirements, including the ignition of materials prohibited under county regulations. Halsey did not name the resident or provide other details about the burn, but said the Douglas County Sheriff’s office, Nevada State Fire Marshal and U.S. Bureau of Land Management were continuing to investigate.

One resident who lost everything said the fire department was called to his neighbor’s home two days earlier when an intentional burn got out of control. Fire officials would not comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Jack Taylor said the fire broke out in the same place. He grabbed a garden hose to try to protect the home where he lived with an elderly, disabled man, but the fire was swift and furious.

“After it hit the chicken coop, we ran,” he said.

Resident Diana Richardson witnessed the movement of the blaze.

“It shot across the valley real fast,” she said. “It was scary.”

However not all the news is grim. Betty Hathaway said the fire started behind her home and that a house two doors down burned to the ground.

“It was just a wall of fire,” she said. “It is unbelievable my house did not burn down.”

Northern winds blew smoke from the fire more than 350 miles southeast to Las Vegas, where a sooty haze obscured surrounding mountains and Clark County officials issued an air quality advisory. Officials say ozone and particulates reached unhealthy and warned southern Nevada residents to limit their time outside, especially if they have a respiratory condition.

A $2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help pay for three-quarters of the costs of battling the blaze.  Eligible costs include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.

“I am grateful that FEMA quickly granted Governor Sandoval’s request. FEMA’s assistance is a welcome contribution in the continued efforts to fight this blaze,” said Senator Dean Heller. “My staff and I are monitoring the situation and will assist in any way we can to help direct federal resources to the region. I am pleased this grant has been made available.”

Authorities remain concerned because weather forecasts call for dry conditions and strong winds, conditions that create extreme fire danger. Officials expect full containment by Saturday, May 26th.

“Even though this area is doing pretty good, we could have some flare-up,” said Sierra Front Wildfire spokesman Mark Regan. “We have a lot of open line right now and a lot of hot spots.”

Shaking Hands with History

Everyday you and I have a chance to meet history face-to-face. Often times though, we allow it to walk right on by without as much as a side-glance.

Perhaps we’re jus’ to busy – but I’ve tried to change this in myself. I have a real interest in northern California, Nevada, political and military history.

My major focus in military history comes down to the two branches of service I enlisted in: the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps. The best place to find stories and information about these subjects are to simply shake-hands with men and women I identify as previous military.

That’s how I came to meet 85-year-old Bill Walsh, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the tender age of 16 in 1943. Bill was in the Corps until 1946 when he was Honorably Discharged from active duty.

The reason I bring this up is that Bill fought on Guadalcanal and later on Iwo Jima. Both battles were literally ‘Hell on earth,’ as the Marines fought the Imperial Japanese Army for control of the two islands.

It’s estimated that 850 World War II veterans pass away everyday in the U.S. That’s a sad statistic to say the least – but a natural one nonetheless.

Furthermore, it’s estimated that the last World War II veteran is expected to pass away in the year in 2035. This is based on the fact that the last World War I veteran died 90 years after the last battle of the ‘War to end all wars.’

That’s not much time when you look at the ‘bigger picture.’

For me – it was a pleasure to shake Bill’s hand and thank him for his service. Furthermore, it was enjoyable to listen to his ‘salty’ tales of two of the most horrific battles in Marine Corps history – as lived first-hand and not from a documentary, book or movie.

Thank you again, Bill, and Semper Fidelis!

Real Talk

It’s something I’ve never felt real comfortable doing – talking to a stranger about my faith. But a while ago I decided to challenge myself to step out my comfort zone.

Hey, writing about something is completely different from talking about it.

When I heard Sparks Christian Fellowship was asking members to sitdown for a one-on-one interview, called “Real Talk,” I submitted my name.

SCF wanted feedback in a couple of different areas. The first was to see where church members were in their walk with Christ — and secondly they wanted to know each persons passion.

It sounded very simple from where I sat Sunday morning as I filled out my participation slip. It didn’t take very long for Jeff Greenblat to reach out to me and ask if we could meet.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect with regard to the questions I was going to be answering or even if I’d feel comfortable with the person doing the interviewing. There were several questions that I was asked to answer, however I remember only five of them:

  1. What do I enjoy doing?
  2. Where do I see God at work right now?
  3. What would I like to see God do in my life over the next six to 12 months?
  4. How do I see myself serving other?
  5. How can the church help me?

What I figured would be half-an-hour to 45-minutes grew into nearly two-hours of conversation. Answering these questions wasn’t painful at all.

I’ve come away thinking everyone should spend a little time answering these questions for themselves.

The Loaming of Deputy Cari Tom Owens

She was sitting at the counter of “Dippin’ Donuts,” jus’ north of Adelanto proper, working on a cup of coffee when she noticed the tiny ripples forming in the dark liquid. Before Cari could think any further — the earth jumped forward, then backwards, splashing coffee all over the counter.

She’d been in earthquakes before, but this one was much harder than she’d ever experience. Cari held tight to the counter top to avoid being knocked to the floor.

The jolt lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to cause the window to the little donut shop to shatter. Cari heard Joe in the back of the building cussing a blue streak as he picked up whatever pots or pans had fallen.

Evelyn stood feet and hands planted solidly in the doorway between the counter and the kitchen. She was obviously frightened, her eyes opened wide and wild staring at the female deputy hanging tight to the counter to her right.

“Is everyone okay?” Cari hollered loud enough for Joe to hear her.

“Yeah, son-of-a-bitchin’ quakes,” Joe responded.

Evelyn stepped out of the doorway, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Cari answered. “Shit! I got coffee on my uniform!”

“Do they have earthquakes in Florida?” Evelyn asked, hoping to break the tension.

“Hell, I don’t know,” the deputy retorted sounding angrier than she’d wanted too. Then she added in a more friendly tone, “But I know they got alligators.”

Both women smiled at each other.

Cari’s cell phone rang and she fished it out of its leather holder on her equipment laden belt. It was the Kern County Sheriff’s dispatch.

“Yeah, I’m okay? She answered. “How about you guys?”

“Okay,” she added, “I’m on it.”

For the next 48-hours Deputy Cari Tom Owens remained busy taking reports of damaged property throughout the county. She recorded everything from broken windows and cracked walls to various outbuildings having fallen over to large upheavals that ran though residents property.

Meanwhile the earth continued to quake – though not as violently as it had that first day.

Jus’ as she was getting ready to go off shift the second day, she received a radio call about a possible 10-50 north and east of Wilson Ranch and Holly Road. A couple of ATV riders had found what they believed to be a dead body.

Cari swung her patrol truck around on Three Flags Highway, better known as U.S. 395 and headed north towards Seneca Road. Soon she was east bound looking for Wilson Ranch Road in order to get to Holly and the reporting parties.

It took her less than 20-minutes to find the ATV riders. The youngest of the pair looked shaken, “At first I thought it was a mannequin or something.”

The oldest pointed out the body.

“Yeah,” she spoke calmly over her radio, “I’m gonna need the M.E. out here.”

Soon more squad cars and fire trucks started arriving. Officers, deputies and firefighters worked to secure the scene while still others took statements from the riders and searched the area for possible evidence.

Meanwhile, Cari documented the body and the area in which it lay. She tried to photograph it from every angle possible, much like she’d been doing with property damage reports the last couple of days.

It took about five-hours for the Medical Examiner to load the body and clear the scene. Finally, Cari thought, “I can get home, shower, eat and get some sleep.”

The following morning she arrived early at the examiner’s office to find out what, if anything, the doctors had learned about the dead man. She found Dr. Michaels sitting at his desk, looking perplexed.

“I’m a little confused,” he admitted.

“Why?” Cari couldn’t help ask, knowing it wasn’t a necessary question.

She jus’ wanted see the smug S.O.B. sitting in front of her sweat a little. Time and again Michaels had set her up to be embarrassed — usually over something overtly sexual.

“You ought to file sexual harassment charges against the asshole,” her sister. Maggie Tom told her.

“That’ll cause more trouble than he’s worth,” Cari replied as they sat, sipping coffee on the porch of her sisters little home on the Walker Lake Reservation.

“Maybe,” Maggie responded, “but he shouldn’t be able to do that stuff to you.”

“I know,” Cari said, allowing the subject to fade.

“Well,” to begin with,” Michaels started, “His clothes are antiques – and he had a two 1902 half-dollar coins and four Indian-head pennies in his pocket along with a cloth billfold containing photo of a woman dressed in a Victorian-style gown and a letter from April 2nd, 1906  — but no I.D.”

Cari frowned slightly – “Could he be one of those re-enactor guys I’m always seeing on the History Channel?”

“Yeah,” Michaels returned, “But I don’t think so.”

“Of course you don’t,” Cari thought, adding, “You pompous mother-fucker.”

Sometimes she wished she didn’t think stuff like that – she feared one day she’d say it aloud by accident.

“So what are you thinking, Doc?” she asked.

“He’s got compression injuries, sand in his airway and mashed deep into his skin,” he said, pausing, “and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was trapped in a mudslide or a cave-in.”

“There’re no mudslides where he was found,” Cari tossed out, “and I didn’t see any place where there could’ve been a cave-in, either.”

“Yeah,” Michaels replied, “I didn’t see any either. If I didn’t know better I’d say our guy’s been dead a long time, but I don’t see any freezer burn to his organs and though I think he’s about 30-years old – desiccation says he’s a helluva lot older, so I don’t get it.”

“Well, I’ll go out there and look around to see if we missed anything,” Cari offered.

Michaels then invited her to have a closer look at the body. The dead man was about 5-foot, eight-inches, medium built with dark brown hair, eyes and rather large moustache.

Outwardly there didn’t appear to be anything outstanding about him. Then Michaels pulled the sheet covering the body all the way off.

“Good lord!” Cari exclaimed.

“Yeah,” Michaels relied, relishing the deputy’s reaction, adding, “Eleven-inches, limp. Maybe he works in the porn industry.”

Cari was wishing at that moment she’d done a better job at containing her surprise. She knew Michaels enjoyed this perverse sense of power.

“God Dammit,” she chided herself as she left the building, walking to her truck.

Within the hour she was back at the place where the body had been found. She spent the next three-hours walking through the tumble weeds, looking for anything that might prove useful to her investigation.

There was nothing but scrub brush, rocks and garbage on the trail-crossed land and no sign of a cave-in or mudslide. Cari did note the ground had shifted about two-inches, forming an opening that ran nearly a quarter of a mile in a northwest-by southeast direction.

She pulled out her note pad and penned a small map in it. It was then that a strange thought trickled into her brain, “What if…”

Before she finished, she felt the ground buck violently beneath her feet, emitting a sharp crack.  She sensed herself falling and a sudden inability to breathe or move.

It wasn’t until the next day her abandoned patrol vehicle was found and they realized Deputy Cari Tom Owens had vanished.