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The Big Oak Flat Road (1955) by Irene D. Paden and Margaret E. Schlichtmann


Chapter VII
THE RANCHES AND THE RANCHERIA

The expanse of rolling, oak-studded farming country known as Deer Flat cannot be omitted from any study df the Big Oak Flat Road; neither can the community of Miwoks who lived peacefully within its environs. It lies north and over the Serra or Sierra Gorda Ridge from the neighboring town of Big Oak Flat and west of Groveland. A road which began its career as a pack trail comes southeast from Sonora, splits in Deer Flat and sends one branch to Big Oak Flat and one to Groveland. Between Sonora and Deer Flat it crosses the main Tuolumne River at what used to be Ward’s Ferry and is now Ward’s Ferry bridge.

The canyon of the Tuolumne lies among the mountains just here, high, rocky and covered with chemise. The bridge, dwarfed by its surroundings, seems spidery and slender and from it one may look down on blue slate boulders far below which wear in their buttonholes fragile purple flowers. On the north side of the bridge and possibly 100 yards up the road a ruined stone and log cabin crouches on the steep long mountainside. It may have been a toll house connected with the bridge.

The overhanging northside cliffs are formed of rock in which small birds have built nests and during the spring freshets the thunder of the tumultuous waters so echoes and re-echoes that one wonders how the tiny creatures endure it. The spot is indescribably lonely. Few cars and no pedestrians come here.

From a vantage point on the bridge one can see the old pack-mule trail coming down the brush covered mountain—just one switch-back after another. Before the shelflike, one-way road was cut across it, the trail dropped precipitously to the edge of the snarling river without a break. It is completely impassable now, of course, and only glimpses are visible here and there. To have ridden it in pack-mule days (which is a daring assumption as any sane person would rather have walked) would have rendered the side-saddle equestrienne grateful for the stiff shrubbery which interposed its not inconsiderable barrier between her and a non-stop trip.

Below the log cabin the mule trail struck the inhospitable narrow footing of the river’s edge at a stretch of pansy-dark smooth water; and it was here that, in 1850, Joseph Ward built a ferry of hand hewn logs and ran it himself.

His fares were reasonable: footmen—twenty-five cents, horsemen—fifty cents. In fact, he sold his life cheaply as he was soon murdered for his profits in gold dust.

By 1854 James Berger and Sam White were operating both the ferry and a store carrying miners’ supplies and kept their gold dust profits unpretentiously in a baking powder can.

This cutoff from the Sonora country, when made possible by a ferry, was very tempting. Why go clear down to Chinese Camp and climb up again by way of Moccasin Hill when, by means of even a rough and unattractive trail, one could travel more directly? Countless miners, afoot and mounted, came by Ward’s Ferry. As in the case of Knight’s Ferry and others, the name stuck even though Knight never finished his ferry and Ward ran the one that bore his name less than four years.

On the south side of the Tuolumne, soaring up from a landing beach apparently the size of a soda cracker, runs Murderers’ Gulch. It grooves deeply a mountain darkly smudged as the miners’ cheeks. The trail can be seen ascending in three or four large switchbacks before it disappears to the left around a jutting, brushy shoulder. Each zigzag is built up on the lower side with rock work to keep the whole thing from washing out during wet weather and has lasted a full century. Tall, many-branched diggers thrusting up from the bottom of the canyon obscure the view but, by looking for the smooth place in the river where it was alone possible to cross, the trail can be located easily.

Murderers’ Gulch was dangerous and bandit infested. Early travelers, if possible, made this portion of their journey in groups, being careful that they knew of whom the group consisted; but many a lone man left his bones to be scattered by coyotes in the thick growth beside the trail. Death always knew his way along the Mother Lode.

In the ’60s Berger and White were murdered and the baking powder can preŽmpted. Then a Mr. Tuttle, who ran the ferry and collected the fare in dust, was eliminated by the same system. Posses searched unsuccessfully in the heavily timbered country. In the 1870s a bridge was built and years later, the tolltaker, Charles Pease, was killed as was also a visiting friend, Joseph Lowe. The bridge and toll house were burned. This time the bandits had their trouble for nothing as the can of gold dust was found melted in the ashes.

None of the criminals were apprehended and the route bore a bad reputation but, with all its disadvantages, it was shorter and people would chance it.

In the fall of ’54 Ellen Harper May, then a baby of three or four months, rode over the Murderers’ Gulch Trail. Her father, Cornelius McLaughlin, had come from Australia to Sullivan’s Creek near Sonora. She was the fifth child of her twenty-two year old mother. There were no white women. There were no supplies to speak of. The little mother made her own soap and candles from cooking grease but there came a time when she had no bread. It was flood season and they were isolated from their supply base in Sonora but their need was so acute that Cornelius managed to swim the raging creek both ways, arriving home in some miraculous manner with a sack of damp flour. When they opened it a mass of weevils greeted them. She, who had not wept from cold, hunger nor fright, cried bitterly at the thought of disappointing her children; she was so worn and so in need of food. So they dumped the flour on a large clean piece of cloth and picked out the weevils, one by one.

Shortly two of their children died and they became desperate enough for desperate measures. When Ellen was barely old enough to travel they sold their claim to James G. hair and started on the journey. They had heard of Garrote and would settle there. Mr. Fair was later to make money from the claim but they were mercifully ignorant of that.

All the household goods and mining equipment were packed on mule back. The little mother wore a long alpaca dress and sun-bonnet and rode a sidesaddle, holding her baby on one arm while she guided her riding animal with the other. The combination of a sidesaddle, a baby and the descent to the ferry was cause for prayer and, one has no doubt, occasioned it. Now and then the anxious mother looked back to sec how Johnny and Adeline were faring on the horse with their father which brought up the rear of the little procession. But their bad luck was over and the children remained safely atop the animal until their new home was reached.

As settlements along the Big Oak Flat Road grew and prospered and fertile Deer Flat filled with ranches, such sticky progress as the pack trains were able to make up Murderers’ Gulch was no longer to be tolerated. The merchants and farmers conceived of a bridge instead of a ferry and a better road lying to the east of the Gulch. It was then, in 1870, that the first bridge was built. The trail up the Gulch was abandoned gradually and the new road finished.

The present road from Ward’s Ferry bridge to Deer Flat is not for anyone unaccustomed to mountain driving but is full of interest. In May the flowers are lovely, vivid red Indian paint brush, tangerine-colored daisies on long stems, duller gold “monkey flowers,” long lavender spears of mountain balm, the white stars of wild syringa, and red bud, fifteen feet high. The crossing of Deer Creek south of Ward’s Ferry bridge is negotiated on a tiny iron bridge, bright red with rust and draped at both ends with wild grape. Quail bob across the road which is often marked with coon tracks. Cattle, invisible in the brush of the steep hillside, low continually and, frightened by the unusual advent of a car, crash heavily away from the noise.

Still farther south and immediately at the road’s edge stands the old schoolhouse. At noon its weather-fringed roof-shakes cast long shadows down the walls, across the many-paned windows and almost to the ground. All the children of the Deer Flat ranchers attended here. For a long time this ungraded school was taught by various members of the Ortega family from Sonora. Later D. M. Ortega went as teacher to the school in Groveland, succeeding John Gamble.

The farmers might have had trouble keeping the opulent pasturage of Deer Flat if the miners had coveted the land; but it was composed of a peculiar sticky clay and was troublesome. James E. Hunt wrote, “it was what we called gold stealer for it would roll in little balls in the pan while washing and collect all the fine gold.”1

So the ranches of Deer Flat were prosperous. The fields, orchards and homes well cared for; but the outstanding landmarks were the big barns, some of them built by Charles Harper whose handiwork has outlasted him by over half a century.

About five miles north of Groveland is the present Gookin Ranch which used to be the home of Giovanni Batiste Boitano, a ’49er, and still boasts the old stone and adobe dwelling. It is long and narrow with a heavy shake roof and seems originally to have been divided into two large rooms but is rapidly crumbling and partially overgrown with grapevines.

At the well-known Carlon Ranch, Nora Carlon Mogan, now deceased, was happy to talk about her parents, John and Kate Carlon. “They were born in Ireland,” she said, “and came to Tuolumne County in 1849. They had to reload all their belongings onto mules at West’s Warehouse. They were true “pack saddle pioneers” and had eight children all born in this county. Father didn’t stay long with mining and soon transferred his interest to cattle. His brand was known all over this part of the state.”

Some of the ranchers were also mine owners. Dearborn Longfellow, known always as “Derb,” was one of these. A pertinent letter from Mrs. Frank Cassaretto of Piedmont, California, who was Lula Longfellow, gave us first-hand information: The Longfellow family came from Maine where their son Dearborn was born. They were reserved and competent and Mr. Longfellow was proud to tell that he was the nephew of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Primarily he was a rancher and soon moved over the divide from Big Oak Flat into Deer Flat where a number of households were already living comfortably in the midst of their fields and herds.

When Dearborn Longfellow was twenty-nine and Louisa Wootton was fourteen they were married and took up housekeeping on the Longfellow Ranch where they raised cattle and race horses. Louisa had five children; but Civil War days, no matter how comfortably upholstered with money, were not easy for children in the Mother Lode. There were never enough doctors and often it was not possible to get any trained help in time of sickness. Two of the five died in the terrible diphtheria epidemic of 1879 while another succumbed to an accidental gunshot wound. But the ranch and the rich Longfellow Mine came down to those who remained. The name will be remembered.

Another well-known family who mined in the ridge west of Groveland was Augustine and Maria De Ferrari with their offspring. They came directly from Italy in 1862, making the long dangerous journey around the Horn and settling in the Mother Lode country, which their descendants have never left.

The Meyer brothers, Diedrich and Heinrich—called Dick and Henry—with a brother, John, left Germany, as they said, so “hell-bent for the diggings” that they couldn’t be bothered with a large city lot on Montgomery Street, San Francisco, offered them in 1850 for $20.00. They had no time for small deals. They soon lost interest in mining but did well in cattle; their holdings in the rolling hills east of the James Ranch were supplemented by the customary summer grazing land in the high mountains. They acquired it in an interesting way. Some of their horses were stolen by Indians and John started out with a posse to recover their property. While riding they came upon a lovely alpine meadow on what was later the old Tioga Road. An Indian encampment was poised there temporarily and they named the place White Wolf for the chief. When it became possible they patented the land. It is still a place of beauty where bear wander harmlessly and deer frequent the salt lick in the clearing at dusk. It is still called White Wolf and is in the Yosemite National Park.

Other ranchers of the vicinity whose names were known throughout the county were James Ballentine, John Gray who purchased the Samuel Ayres ranch, Patrick Murphy, Thomas Clark, Lurain Hunt, Robert Simmons, the O’Neils, the Woodruffs, the Lumsdens, the Corcorans, and others.

Scenic Deer Flat is watered by Deer Creek; while Big Creek and Big Humbug flow to the east of Deer Flat and Ward’s Ferry. All three empty into the Tuolumne River and their small tributaries, winding through the ranches, provide water for the live-stock.

*   *   *

The well-known Miwok tribe living in this vicinity was a branch of the Mokelumnes, a larger division of western Indians, and its individuals were too comfortable to be warlike. They were competent and well adapted to their existence in the low mountains which abounded in food throughout the year. They made water-tight baskets in which to cook. They sewed skins together to make exceedingly sketchy clothing but soon found that it was easier to beg for cast-off breeches which the neighboring whites were only too glad to donate.

The first known location of the Miwok rancheria was on the old Reid Ranch, somewhat north of Groveland, whose crumbling and vine-covered adobe now stands empty. Nearby is Garrote Creek where many mortars have been found. A century-old apple and cherry orchard still bears heavily and the Indian village was on a sunny hillside just south of it. About sixteen slightly flattened sites are all that mark the locations of the little houses made of cedar bark. The Miwoks scrupulously kept their hillside bare of brush, but now timber and other growth is fast encroaching. In 1857, when the Reid family built their house, the Miwoks had just transferred their belongings from this first site down to Big Creek. Later Edmund James preŽmpted the land surrounding their new village but apparently the Indians didn’t mind having a neighbor and continued to occupy their hillside near the creek without disturbing him. Their village site (now deserted) is visible from the present county road, just within the fence and north of the gate to “Big Creek Ranch,” but in early days the road from Groveland turned east before getting that far and went past the ranch house, crossing Big Creek on an ungainly long wooden bridge still in existence, so that the Indian village was off the beaten track. About once a month the residents of nearby ranches could count on a sleepless night as the men of the tribe really settled down to a good powwow in their “round house” or gathering place which was on a bare knoll north of the village.

In 1898 the James Ranch was sold to S. A. Ferretti of Groveland and later to Dunn and McLellan.

The funeral rites of these Miwoks were interesting. Fred De Ferrari of Groveland told of the last two to be buried on the rancheria sometime in the ’90s, an Indian named Jimmie Bill and his wife called simply “Sullivan.” The body of the deceased was placed in a hut and a constant marathon was maintained about the place where it lay. Sometimes the participants walked and sometimes danced but were always supervised by a person of authority. The ceremony was to prevent an invasion of evil spirits. The dancers took turns resting but the movement around the body never stopped. Four slabs of native rock mark the two graves which are about four hundred yards from the ranch house. There is no other indication of a cemetery.

Before the coming of the white man the Miwoks cremated their dead according to the old-timers.

All Indians were fond of visiting and sometimes a whole village would arrive and practically take up residence in a tribe with whose members they were friendly.

One year the snow came early and without warning even to the keen weather-sense of the Indians. It caught a large party of acorn gatherers at Big Creek village, marooning them west of the passes. Although the braves never did anything about the acorn gathering they were possessed of cavernous appetites and had to be fed.

The food gave out; any remaining acorns were under the snow; the deer had sought lower levels and there were exceedingly dim prospects for a comfortable winter. When there was nothing else left to do the braves staged a ceremonial dance, chanting and stamping in the melting, snowy mud around their camp fires. It was reported in the settlements and the citizens of the Garrotes were legitimately worried. They hoped that the dance had a religious significance but weren’t quite sure. The Indians might be working themselves up to a raid. The common humanity of the pioneers, who only existed because they helped each other, also asserted itself; they couldn’t let a group of fellow creatures starve. James Tannahill, Jacob Boitano, the Meyer brothers and others visited the camp.

The braves regarded them through sullen slit eyes and went right on curveting and vaulting in the dance, tensely curved as leaping trout one moment, then bent almost double as they tramped in a circle chanting, “We are hungry. We are hungry.”

The men decided to feed them. Tannahill gave an adequate supply of flour and staples from his store and the others gave what they had.

Whether prayerful or threatening, the dance had been effective. The affair simmered down into a feast and the citizens were given affectionate names by their grateful red friends. One (which we can only hope was Mr. Tannahill) was called “Moss Covered Rock,” denoting dependability.

Partly because of this incident the Indians from the Mono country seem to have been always friendly to the travelers they encountered on their age-old trails over the Sierra.

When the Indians from Cherry Creek and the Jawbone country foisted themselves on the Miwoks of Big Creek they crossed the main Tuolumne River by an ingenious grapevine bridge. A vine clinging to a tree on the north side was strengthened and lengthened by braiding other runners into a strong rope. Then the best swimmer of the band threw himself into the river’s chilly race and took the rope across to be fastened to the vines in a tree on the south bank. When it was swinging above the current the Indians went across hand over hand, getting a foothold now and then on the rocks that bared themselves like white expectant teeth.

The valley of Big Creek was a nice location with fertile soil and good pasturage but, of course, that was not its main appeal for the Miwoks. Excellent hunting, fishing and abundance of acorns were the reasons that they had elected to live on the spot.

The men were a lazy lot and seldom exerted themselves although they occasionally panned out dust and nuggets on the fringe of the diggings. They were very good at it, preferring to use the Mexican wooden batea rather than the miners’ pan. Even though they enjoyed it, however, it was much easier to let the women do it. Mr. Edwin Harper contributed a colorful item to our knowledge of the Indian in the days of gold. Every year, he said, after the beginning of the rainy season, the Indian women came with their wooden bateas and panned the gold dust out of the wagon ruts in Big Oak Flat, squatting imperturbably in the midst of the hoofed and wheeled traffic of the day. It seemed to pay fairly well.

Accepted outdoor attire for an Indian woman apparently included a burden on her back—more often than not her baby. But during acorn season the papoose carrier made way for the heavy cone-shaped basket whose weight was supported by a band around the forehead and in which she endlessly garnered acorns; snatching them up swiftly with both hands at once; cleverly keeping a continuous barrage over her shoulders and into the flaring receptacle. Meanwhile her baby was not neglected. It was either hung from a convenient branch or propped against a tree as the mother worked and chattered with other women similarly encumbered. Seldom did a woman go out to work alone but always as a sort of village project.

Each year the acorn crop was carefully stored for the winter as acorn meal was a staple in the Miwok diet but they did not lack for variety. Fish and game were abundant; also grasshoppers which they collected by building a large circular fire in a suitable flat, grassy spot and letting it burn slowly toward the middle where a hole had been dug. This took care of everything except ladling the hoppers out after they had been roasted. Sometimes, if toasted extra dry, they ground them into meal in their stone mortars and made cakes from them which were palatable to the ordinary diner if he didn’t happen to know whereupon he was dining. General John Bidwell occasionally had them served to unsuspecting guests. Fat earthworms also were collected, dumped on hard ground and trampled by the bare feet of the squaws into an indescribable mass. The long white wood grub was a compact little item and full of calories. Because of the peculiar pungency of their cuisine few whites, except children, went to the rancheria. Of course the latter were not supposed to trespass but, judging from interviews given in their later life when too old to be held to account for childhood transgressions, most of them went to see the Indians whenever they got a chance.

The Miwoks were fond of visiting especially when profitable, so they often roamed abroad to do a little concentrated mingling. Once a year they came into the towns of Big Oak Flat and Groveland and put on a fandango dressed in their native garb, during which they jumped up and down and chanted, not forgetting to pass the hat afterward. At other times a few wandered about singly, begging. “Old Grizzly” was a rancheria character often seen in town. Some remember him as the chief, for a while at least. He was covered from neck to ankles with bagging shirt and pants but always with naked feet—one of which was a shapeless mass. Eunice Watson Fisher said, “I remember his horrible foot, all twisted and knotted. He was chased by a bear and managed to reach a tree and start to climb, but the bear got him by one foot and held on until he had chewed it all up. I don’t know how he got away without being killed because a bear can climb a tree pretty well unless the trunk is too small for him to get a good grip.”

“Old Capitan” or Captain Luis, was another well known rancheria Indian probably at one time chief of the tribe. He always wore a loose shirt and very little else, but invariably carried his bow and arrows. “It was rather disconcerting to the women of the community,” said Mrs. Fisher, “to encounter him in the stores begging for sugar and tobacco, but they finally got used to him.”

The Indians had interesting, sometimes beautiful names but cheerfully went by whatever appellation was applied to them by the whites. Mrs. Fisher continued, “We always called Old Grizzly’s wife ‘Lucy.’ She died of a stone bruise on her heel. It might have been from blood poisoning. They were all dirty but mostly were harmless although they would always steal if they got a chance. They didn’t seem to think it was wrong; it was just a convenient way to get things they needed. They spoke to us in garbled Indian, Spanish and English—mostly just names of things and verbs, like ‘Give me carne, sugar, pan, salt.’ We always knew what they meant. Except when they came into town in all their regalia and paraded around, most of them kept to themselves and it seemed as if we children were the only ones who paid any attention to them.

“They were always curious, though, and would press their noses against our windows to see what we were doing. When Mother got tired of it she would walk up and put her face close to the inside of the pane and drop her false teeth. There was nothing that scared them more.”

Ellen Harper May remembered the Miwoks best as door to door visitors. “One day a poor old squaw knocked at our kitchen door,” she said, “and mother felt sorry for her. So she cut the crusty end off a fresh loaf of bread, still warm from the oven, and gave her the spongy thick slice. It looked and smelled wonderful to me for I loved the crust. The old Indian woman said ‘Gracias’ and with her wrinkled dirty hand took a wet mass of pulpy earthworms from her pocket and mashed them into that delicious new bread. My mother ran and tried to stop her, but she backed off and just smiled and said ‘Muy bueno, muy bueno.’ She was an inveterate beggar and it seemed as if she could always smell fresh bread.”

With the exception of certain well known characters who enjoyed the white man’s town the members of the Miwok village stayed in their own domain most of the time. Many of the Deer Flat ranches can show portable mortars and pestles of stone used by the Indians for grinding acorn meal and some of them can boast the large stationary mortars consisting of twenty or thirty grinding holes in one boulder. These are always found near a creek or spring. Sometimes the pestles have been found in the holes as if the users intended to return.

Until twenty years ago obsidian arrow and spear heads were frequently picked up on the Flat. The obsidian was brought by the Mono Indians from east of the Sierra Nevada to exchange for the superior baskets of the Miwoks, for acorns which they did not have in their country and also for hunting privileges. The Miwoks made surprisingly perfect arrow heads of this black volcanic glass by a simple treatment which took, nevertheless, a high degree of skill. Suitable fragments were heated in the fire, so we were told by Mr. John De Martini of Groveland, then icy water from the creek was sucked into a straw and retained by closing the upper end with a finger or the thumb. Drop by drop the arrow maker released the water around the edge of the projected arrow head and at each application a chip popped off. Only the jet black obsidian was used.

The native food supply of the Miwoks being plentiful and varied, resulted, through generations, in a better stature than, for instance, that of the Indians of the Mono country. They seemed more intelligent and, consequently, cleaner, although the latter attribute might not have been perceptible to the casual observer. They also had culinary arts in advance of the habits of the Mono Indians.

Mr. W. D. McLean, grandson of the founders of Dudley’s Station on the Coulterville Road, often ate acorn mush, or chimuk, with his Indian friends. He said, “It would have been fairly good if they could have been persuaded to add salt, but salt was a scarce commodity in the Sierra tribes—something they had to trade f or— and was not to be wasted. Even after it became plentiful they retained their old habit of putting a pinch on the tongue and making that do for a whole meal. They also stayed with the old-time method of leaching the bitterness out of the pulverized acorn meal by placing it in a bowl-like hole scooped in clean coarse sand and pouring hot water through it. Seven washings was usually the rule. The only concession they finally made to modern labor-saving devices was to put the meal in a flour sack or other cloth so that it could be lifted free of the sand. They cooked it,” he added upon being questioned, “in a basket with water by dropping in hot rocks as became necessary just like mush. Dulce, an old Indian woman who lived near Cascade Creek, used to invite me to eat chimuk now and then. It was very rich, had no grain at all and always looked to me like pork gravy made with milk. They ate it hot sometimes but more often she floated the basket in which she cooked the meal in cold water until it solidified. Then they just broke it into chunks and ate it when they pleased.

“Black oak acorns made the best meal. When the acorn crop failed the Indians were in real trouble. In very bad years they gathered buckeye balls and leached them until they were just dry pulp. They had little food value but they filled the stomach and prevented starvation.”

Observing the more utilitarian qualities of the early miners’ cabins the Miwoks gradually abandoned the picturesque but sketchy bark abodes and built ramshackle frame huts. We know that in 1877 there were only sixteen Indian families remaining on the rancheria and that their buildings were in the white man’s style.

One at a time the family units left. Some moved to Tuolumne, a small settlement near Sonora; but, in the main, they have been profitably absorbed into the white population.

A bizarre item in the economic system of Deer Flat was an outlander, Ah Chew. He came with the first of the Orientals and was left stranded by the backwash of their tide of retreat. He lived alone in a tiny cabin and was a person of privilege, especially with the children. Mrs. Frank Cassaretto remembered the old Chinese with affection. “He was a part of our childhood,” she said. “We went to his cabin every now and then. He used to give us odd-tasting Chinese candy and little pies that were made out of a short dough and filled with mincemeat. He was very clean and we thought they were delicious.

“The old man did a certain amount of prospecting and mining and, every week, went to Garrote for supplies. He would just put his tin box of nuggets and gold dust on the counter and enough would be measured out to pay for what he wanted. He didn’t seem to know his own age, but men who came into the country about 1849 estimated it as over ninety years. When he began to get too old to work some of the citizens in Garrote gave him a pension. We always liked to see him bobbing along the street with his cue swinging down his back. He was a real part of the life of the community.”

After his death Ah Chew’s single weapon of defense was found in his lonely cabin. It is possibly eighteen inches long— too big for a dagger, too small for a sword. Hand made and crude both as to handle and blade, but beyond any doubt effective.

There is necromancy in the homely scenes of the ranching country. Stalwart barns, blackened by time and weather, under giant oaks. Hyacinth sky bracketed between curving branches. Far-off sun-slants on fields where long grasses swing their tasseled tops. In leaving it one can fairly feel the silence rolling back to linger undisturbed.

*   *   *

The Serra or Sierra Gorda Ridge that separates Deer Flat from its neighboring towns is brush-covered and spiked with scrubby trees along the top. Beneath the unattractive apron of chaparral the innards of the mountain are scarred and depleted from mining operations, for several of the best known of the hardrock mines are located here: the Mack, the Mississippi, the Tip Top, the Nonpareil, the Longfellow and others. Several branches of the Golden Rock Ditch wandered through, maintaining their grade level and serving the mines.

For the person who enjoys nothing more than an hour spent idly in a country graveyard there are two spots between Big Oak Flat and Groveland that are mandatory, Mount Carmel and Oak Grove Cemeteries. The first, just east of Big Oak Flat, is marked by a little white Catholic church on a knoll. It was built in 1861; burned but was rebuilt in duplicate and the vestments saved. It stands guard over sacred ground in use for almost a century. Some of the graves bear familiar names and are bordered by ornate iron fences. Anna Jones Reid, of Groveland, to whom we were indebted for much first-hand information of pioneer days, was the first to be baptised here, in July of 1862, and, at the present reading, the last to be buried in its confines. She was the first child of the first marriage to be performed at Mount Carmel—Margaret McCarty to Martin Jones, September 1, 1861.

Beyond the church and on the north side of the road is a small flat where the Miwoks were in the habit of camping. Nothing outstanding remains to distinguish the place but, in the past, interesting relics have been found.

Indefinitely near the top of the divide (some say 500 feet before reaching the crest) the Big Oak Flat School of the ’50s stood on the left. While still atop the hill a road turns south to Oak Grove Cemetery and its older companion, The Oddfellows’ Cemetery. The title first used was St. John’s Cemetery in honor of Mr. C. A. St. John who was a lawyer living in Big Oak Flat during the ’60s and who donated the land. He further recommended himself to history by being in the first party to ascend Mount Dana. The name was eventually changed because, it is said, of its misleading implication—strangers often mistaking it for a Catholic Cemetery.

The untended plots are fascinating. The markers range from small slabs to marble monuments of fair size and elegance. There are tight little wrought iron fences just the shape of the graves they outline, as well as simple wooden rails. Naturally, the older markers are of wood.

Moving from plot to plot one can pay respects to the memory of many a familiar name. Here lies Ellen Harper May. Nearby is the grave of her first husband, Charles Lukens Harper, builder extraordinary for the community, creator of bridges and barns. Markers bear the names of Tannahill, Woodruff, Longfellow, Crocker and James, so tolerant of the complexities of his Indian neighbors. Under a slim stone shaft lie the four children of Colwell Owens Drew, victims of the terrible diphtheria epidemic of 1879. One can imagine the disappointment of the family when the monument proved too slender even for the short inscription they had planned, but the stone mason did his best with the space provided:

“Earth counts 4 mortals 1’s
Heaven 4 angels more.”

The family, crushed beyond bearing, left their high mountain home and moved to Chinese Camp.

The Repetto family is buried here, reminiscent of the days of ’49; also many of the Mecarteas. The dates spread over the passing of a century and the names range from unknown miners to Charles and Fred Schmidt of Second Garrote, brother companions who died in 1953 within forty-eight days of one another and on whose graves during our last visit the flowers were fresh.

In spring this is a hushed and peaceful spot sheltered by black-trunked oaks with foliage of a glossy, living green; clustered with fairy lanterns and mariposa lilies. Pine scented breezes from the forested peaks make it a happy and uplifting place of serene memories. These pioneers founded an era; saw it through and some of them outlived it. They have their places in the very foundations of our state.



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