Silver tailings: How Winnemucca got the Name

It might seem strange to honor an Indian chief who not only didn’t particularly like the white man and who had claimed the Paiute’s ancestral lands but also was known to attack them on occasion. However, Frank Baud, considered one of the city’s founders, had a fondness for the old chief and wanted to honor him.

Chief Winnemucca, who became a leader of the Northern Paiute, was actually a Shoshone. Known as Poito, or Bad Face, by custom and tradition he became a Paiute when he married the daughter of the old Paiute chief that some historians also call Winnemucca.

To honor him, as the story goes, the old chief named him Winnemucca the Younger, which translates as the “giver of spiritual gifts.”

How the chief got the westernized name also is a mystery. The chief was a young man in the late 1840s when white men first spotted him.

He was wearing only one moccasin at the time. Immediately, they dubbed him “One Moccasin.”

The Paiute word about items worn on the feet is mau-cau. Since he was shod on only one foot, he was known as One-a-mau-cau or Winnemucca.

Tradition says, wearing only one moccasin was a sign he was in love, but the more probable story is he lost the moccasin while running from the soldiers across the Forty Mile Desert.


Bohemian Rhapsody

As I rolled over — waking from a short nap — I heard these words rolling around in my noggin, like a bad dream. They’re from ‘Queen’ and their song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch – will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me
Gallileo, gallileo, gallileo, gallileo,
Gallileo figaro magnifico

But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me
(He’s just a poor boy from a poor family)
(Spare him his life from this monstrosity)
Easy come easy go will you let me go
(Bismillah no we will not let you go) let him go
(Bismillah, we will not let you go) let him go
(Bismillah, we will not let you go) let me go
(Will not let you go) let me go (never)
(Never let you go) let me go, never let me go ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me – for me – for me

No, I haven’t seen the flick, “Wayne’s World,” in ages. And come to think of it — I haven’t heard the song in a while either.

All I can say is — what the hell?

And Nearly Six Decades Later

It was 57 years ago, September 24th, that my parents, Margery Ann Olivera and Thomas Junior Darby married one another in a civil ceremony in Reno, Nevada. The newlyweds spend a honeymoon night at the Mapes Hotel, dining and dancing, before he had to report back for duty at Requa Air Force Station, Klamath, California.

1956 in front of the Mapes at First and Virginia streets

The picture shows what the town looked like that year. The Mapes was imploded in 2000 and a small park now fills the vacant lot.

My parents marriage imploded in 1980, resulting in divorce in 1982. Luckily, they remained married long enough for my sisters Marcy and Deirdre and our brother Adam to come into this world.

Both Mom and Dad are gone now, and I miss them terribly some days.

Grand Marshals, Fireworks and Festivities

The selection of grand marshal is typically an honor bestowed on community members who have participated in good deeds in Del Norte County. The grand marshal usually has a list of accomplishments and associations.

One such grand marshal was Sam Lopez, a member of the How-on-quet Tribe of Smith River. He celebrated his 86th birthday in 1972, the same year of his service to Crescent City.

Barbara Mann, a nurse at Seaside Hospital, was the grand marshal for the 1981 Fourth of July parade. She was a counselor for Future Nurses Association at Del Norte High School and a member of the Emergency Department Nurses Association.

Grand marshal and businessman Andrew Tomasini was grand marshal in 1985. A transplanted Italian, he arrived in California on March 15, 1911. His Fort Dick Tavern business was opened in 1930.

At that time, Prohibition was law and the establishment was an ice cream and sandwich shop. In 1933 he obtained his liquor license, which became the oldest held in the county.

The main feature of Crescent City’s Fourth of July festivities usually showcases Class B explosives. Class B is one level below dynamite.

Round explosives are called shells and have no military function. The multi-colored display may take 24 minutes to use $3,000 worth of ammo.

A pyrotechnics license is required to perform the duty. Pyrotechnics also found in local stores and firework stands have entertained residents for years.

Modern laws prevent the use of fireworks – such as Blackcats, Roman Candles, and Bottle Rockets – used in the earlier decades of the 1900s. Fireworks used in the neighbor’s yard now may include Giant Silver Screamers, Devil’s Delights and Peacock Fountains.

The parade of floats in the downtown area was another staple of festivities. In 1961, a small rodeo was held at the Del Norte Roping Arena on Northcrest Drive.

Holiday concessions operated on the beach at the end of H street. Food items normally included Chinese potstickers, Italian sausage sandwiches, clam chowder, shrimp, doughboys, tostadas, corn on the cob and Pronto Pups.

Dessert treats traditionally included cotton candy, blueberry and whipped cream covered Mooncraters, snowcones and ice cream bars. As celebrations grew through the years, the event began to draw people from outside of Del Norte County.

There really is nothing like a good old-fashioned Independence Day celebration — like a Crescent City Fourth-of-July.

Silver Tailings: The Lynching of Luis Ortiz

It was half-past midnight September 18th, 1891 when a group of 75 hooded and well armed men dropped Luis Ortiz to his death from Reno’s Virginia Street Bridge. By all accounts, he went to his Maker without a whimper.

Before his death, Ortiz was run out-of-town. He was also not welcomed in parts of north-eastern California as well as Nevada’ Humboldt County.

Ortiz, by all accounts had a nasty drinking problem, becoming belligerent and mean when drunk. The evening before, he had returned to Reno, only to start drinking at the Grand Central Hotel.

When the establishment closed for the night he, bartender Tom McCormack and bar patron Tom Welch stepped out side. Ortiz decided that would be a good time to fire his pistol in the air.

In drawing his six-shooter, Ortiz accidentally shot Welch in the butt, knocking him down. McCormack grabbed the gun as Ortiz squeezed the trigger, again.

The bullet missed McCormack, creating powder burns in his top coat. However his struck Washoe County Sheriff Deputy and Reno Night Watchman Richard Nash above his groin.

Nash was still able to arrest Ortiz, who was escorted to the county lock-up.  As for Nash, he was taken home, where it was expected he would die from his wound.

It didn’t take long for Ortiz to sober up. He reportedly told Undersheriff Bill Caughlin that he didn’t recall anything from the night before – let alone the shooting of a deputy.

As Ortiz slept off his drunk, a group of men, calling themselves the ‘601,’ gathered for an informal meeting in a nearby lumber yard to decided what was to be done with Ortiz. It was quickly agreed upon that they would hang him.

Within minutes the ban of vigilantes swarmed and over powered Caughlin, dragging Ortiz away to meet his fate. It would take two tries before Ortiz finally found his feet off the ground.

The first attempt ended when the rope broke. But not to be undone in their deed, someone found a thicker rope.

Before his first experience at the end of a noose, Ortiz was asked if he had any last requests. The doomed man asked for a drink of water and priest.

Neither was available. Yet someone did offer him a flask of whiskey, which he quickly gulped down.

A minute or so later, Ortiz found himself choking to death, dangling over the Truckee River, from the steel girder of the bridge that crossed the expanse of water. His body was left there until he was removed to Sander’s Undertaking Parlor.

Nash would recover from his wounds, going on to being elected in 1902 as Justice of the Peace. He served in that capacity until his death, December 15th, 1905.

A convening Grand Jury refused to indict anyone for the lynching. As for Ortiz, he was buried without ceremony, the thick rope still tight around his stretched-out neck.

Investigating a Centuries Old Crime

“…the two miners who died trying to steal the payroll from the hotel vault in the basement by digging up into the vault from mines underneath the city. They were successful…to a point. They made off with the money, but their bodies were found in a tunnel nearby. The money was no where to be found.”  Blog, ‘Death Valley Paranormal.’

Though not from what an investigative journalism might consider a ‘reliable news source, it wetted my curiosity to find out more. Unfortunately, I cannot find anything in the spools microfilmed newspapers at the library.

After spending over seven hours searching several turn-of-the century state and regional newspapers, many that are no longer in publication, the best I could do is find a blog entry from The Las Vegas Sun’s ‘Finding Nevada.’

“…to the basement and into a room that was a vault for a bank 100 years ago. The story goes that three miners tunneled up into the room through the dirt floor, and they emptied it right before a payday. But there was no honor among thieves, and one turned on the other two and killed his partners.”

It gave me a reference point to begin my search and parallels some of the details I heard and read. The problem is the word ‘about,’ could mean several years before or after the year 1913.

But my investigation into this ‘supposed crime,’ will continue as there’s something behind the story. After all the newest owners of the Mizpah Hotel, Fred and Nancy Cline, in Tonopah had this to say in their blog, ‘Revitalizing the Mizpah: “…uncovered a secret entrance to the Mizpah mine, located in a deep dark corner of the equally deep, dark Mizpah basement.”

Either the crime is real – or it’s not – either way I intend to find out.

Research is Only the Beginning

This is generally how I start, when it comes to writing a historical article about California or Nevada — research. I love tying where I live to where I grew up.

For example, Bret Harte was a journalist who cut his ‘reporters teeth’ in the Comstock’s Virginia City, along with the likes of Mark Twain and Dan DeQuille. He would later spend part of his career in Union (now Arcata, some 90 miles south of Klamath, California.)

By all accounts, he was popular with folks living in Humboldt County at the time. But, following editorials about the 1860 massacre at Indian Island, between the Samoa and Eureka Channels within Humboldt Bay, Hart found himself run out-of-town because of death threats.

I found amid the pages of the Friday, March 16th, 1860 edition of the New York Times, though I don’t believe it’s written by Harte, is story on that massacre:

“The particulars of the horrid massacre of peaceable Indians, one bright Sunday morning, (Feb. 25,) I detailed in my last steamer letter. Since then, many who were in the vicinity have been in town, and the coherence and agreement of their several stories show that we have arrived at the truth in the matter.

It appears that the brutal murderers were not over-anxious to meet the male Indians; that a spy who had attended an annual dance on Indian Island (about a mile from Eureka, the County Seat of Humboldt) the evening previous, conveyed the intelligence that there was not a gun, bow or arrow on the island, that the savages were entirely defenseless. The whites then approached, about 6 o’clock in the morning, fired upon and killed three men, who were asleep in a cabin at some little distance from where the women lay, then, entering lodge after lodge, they dirked the sleeping, and with axes split open and crushed the skulls of the children and women.

The total killed on the island were fifty-five, of whom only five were men. On South Beach, about a mile away from Eureka, in another direction, an hour or two before, the same party of whites had killed 58, most of them women and children.  

No defense was made. Many of the women were making an honest living in the families of the whites. The half-breeds pleaded for their lives in good English.

On the following Wednesday 40 more were butchered on the South Fork of the Eel River.

The Humboldt Times, which justifies this short method of getting rid of disagreeable neighbors, says that many of those killed on Eel River were bucks and bad fellows. Still later, by a few days, 35 were slaughtered on Eagle Prairie — total of the butchered within one week, 188.

The victims had lived on terms of peace with the whites, and relied on them for security. They were not even charged with thieving.

Their great crime was that the whites suspected that some hostile mountain Indians had taken refuge among them when hard pressed. The names of the brave men who brained the children have not been published.

One writer for the Bulletin says, however, that there is a fellow in Eureka who boasts that with his own hatchet he slew 30 women and children in one day, and that another man who professes to have been captain of the outlaws says that he alone killed 60 infants.”

Further down the column — a surprise:

“The Crescent City Herald has seen some golden sands panned out from the ocean beach; nobody believes it. Fine copper has been discovered near the same place, and forwarded to San Francisco as a bait, but it does not tempt much.”

One never knows what is to be found tucked away in an old newspaper. Frankly, I can hardly wait to develop a larger article based on what these two newspaper stories have to offer.