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The history of Indian Gulch is similar to and closely associated with that of Hornitos. It was originally called Santa Cruz (meaning Holy Cross), by which name it is still called by Mexicans. It early became the headquarters for hundreds of miners and soon there were established two hotels, several stores, fandango halls, a dozen saloons and many gambling places.
The last pioneer resident sometimes sits in front of the old store, holding his muzzle-loading shotgun and thinking of the past. “Old-timer, what are some of your interesting early-day memories?”
“It’s hard to know where to start”, he replied, “but I will do my best, for I love to talk of the old times. Among our first settlers was the Thompson family. They started from North Carolina with a considerable flock of chickens but when they arrived here at Indian Gulch, the flock had dwindled to just one hen and one rooster. The hen laid eggs and after a time started to set on them, but a wildcat or skunk caught her before the eggs hatched. So the rooster took her place and kept the eggs warm until the little chicks broke their shells.
“The rooster was not only a novelty among the miners but a tough old bird that went on sprees. The miners would bring it to town, feed it crackers soaked in whisky, and, after its first spree, no one ever heard it crow again. Perhaps, it felt too ashamed.
“This town was the rendezvous of the early-day cattle and horse thieves. They would steal animals on the Coast, bring them to Mariposa County to sell, and then steal a band from Mariposa County to take to the Coast and sell. These thieves were excellent customers of this store. Nicola Solari, the proprietor, knew their occupation but as they spent money freely, he always figured that their money was as good as that of anyone else. When broke, however, on a number of occasions, they came to the store, in the dead of night, aroused Nicola from his bed on the counter, and on being admitted, helped themselves to different articles of food. When satisfied, they would thank him and then depart without paying. Had Nicola resisted, he would not have lived to the ripe old age of eighty-six.
“A power against these thieves was Valentine Ruiz, a high-class Mexican of powerful build, who really looked more like a Spaniard, on account of his light complexion. He was a sort of ‘Major Domo’ for a large cattleman and he was possessed of good ‘bay-horse sense’.
“On one occasion, when about twenty horses had been stolen from his employer, he started in pursuit, alone, with five saddle horses. He changed from one to another to relieve the weight. For three days and three nights, he never slept and he finally overtook the thieves, almost at the Mexican border.
“He recovered all the stolen animals and then drove them, unaided, back to his employer. Whether he killed any of the thieves, he never told us, but he was a highly-respected and much-feared man by law-breakers for he was an excellent shot and could handle two guns perfectly. When he died, one of his Colt’s revolvers, which was supposed to have belonged to Joaquin Murietta, was found to have seven notches filed thereon. Whether these notches represented killings of Murietta or Valentine, we never could determine for certain.
“Other towns had rooster fights but they were not as thrilling as those held in Indian Gulch. Here, daggers called cock-spurs, a couple of inches long, were fastened to the spurs of the roosters. The quickest bird to jump on his adversary inflicted a death wound instantly, literally tearing the other bird to pieces. This barbarous custom originated with the Chilenos or Filipinos, who spent a great deal of time in training their birds. The betting was generally high, ten dollars being the common wager on each fight and it is needless for me to say that the decisions were quickly reached.
“Of course, we had murders from time to time. One prominent case was the killing of John Royal by Henry Ivy, in a dispute over the ‘Silver Lead’ mining claim. The murderer drove a pick into his victim’s skull. Ivy was arrested, which was really unusual in those days, tried, convicted of first degree murder and hanged on a gallows, just outside the jail in Mariposa.
“Goucher was our District Attorney and he was a brilliant criminal lawyer and afterwards practiced in courts all over California, even though he was never admitted to practice by the State Supreme Court. He surely could shed ‘crocodile tears’ and make the entire court room weep. In those days, jurors were not kept in the custody of the Sheriff, during the progress of a trial, like they are today, but were free to go where they pleased, between sessions of the court. Many of the jurors lounged around a certain saloon, I believe it was called, and rightfully so, the ‘Court House Saloon’, where all aspects of the case being tried were discussed. It was in this saloon that the lawyers got in some of their most effective work. Many times, the most popular lawyer in this saloon won his case right there, instead of in the court room. Before this trial of Ivy, Goucher told him, ‘Even Saltpetre wont save you’, and such proved to be the case.”
“Old-timer, can’t you tell a story about a sweet romance. Surely, all your recollections are not about cattle thieves, barbarous cock-fighting and murders.”
“Did you ever hear about Joe Souza?” he replied. “Well, he was born here and when he grew up, he was the greatest teamster in these parts. Why, he could turn his twelve animals and two wagons, completely around in that little Plaza in Hornitos.
“His animals were all over fourteen hundred pounds each and he trained them so they could do everything but talk. He rode one of the wheelers. Two wheelers and two pointers held up the tongue and in front of them, he had two additional pointers, who would step over the traces, when touched by the single jerk-line used in guiding the team.
“Do you know what that boy and his team did? Well, he drove the first twelve animal team with two wagons into the Yosemite Valley, down the old Inspiration Point road, where many years later, automobiles had difficulty in making the turns.
“It was this way. It was his first trip into Yosemite and he was told to stop at Fort Monroe, near Inspiration Point, and take off four of his animals. It was foggy and the boy passed by, without seeing the spot, where he was supposed to leave part of his team.
“He just kept on going and the first thing he knew he was right down in Yosemite Valley, near the foot of Bridal Veil Falls. Here he found some other teamsters and they were dumfounded to find that Joe had made the trip down that precipitous, narrow grade, with his entire team and two wagons. Joe, however, didn’t think he had accomplished anything wonderful. It was all in a day’s work with him.”
“Old-timer, that’s a swell story about a real man but what about a love story?”
The old man sat silent for some time, thinking, before he continued: “Yes, there were many romances of the sweet uneventful kind, where lovers wooed, wed and were happy ever afterwards, but unless a romance has something thrilling connected with it, it doesn’t make an impressive story. There’s one love story, I can never forget.
“One of the customers of this old store was Jack Caldwell. He was a good-natured, little, wiry, Scotch miner, who had a good claim up the gulch, which made him considerable money; in fact, everyone thought he had accumulated about five thousand dollars. On his claim, he built a cosy two-room cabin, for he was preparing to marry a most charming Mexican belle, the daughter of a neighboring miner. She, also, was a customer of this store. Jack had plenty of opposition in his courtship, but he was finally accepted by the beautiful and gracious Rosita. She told her other suitors that she had made her choice, but there was one of them, a young Mexican dandy by the name of Jose, who refused to give up hope and whenever he met her, continued to make entreaties of marriage. However, she was loyal to Jack and final preparations for their wedding were soon under way. It was to take place in the little church, just around the corner at the end of the main street.
“The hour for the wedding arrived. The church was filled with guests, the priest was ready to perform the ceremony, the bride was there with her father, but Jack was absent. A half an hour went by and then another. The bride became fearful and nervous. A horseman was dispatched to Jack’s cabin to find the missing bridegroom. Shortly he returned with the report that he had found the cabin locked and being unable to arouse anyone, he had pried open a window and entered; that he found the house in great disorder, with bloodstains everywhere, showing unmistakable signs of a death struggle.
“A posse was quickly organized. They first went to Jack’s cabin, where they found everything just as had been reported, and, in addition, that the cabin had been ransacked from pillar to post, presumably in search of hidden gold. No trace of Jack was to be seen, but there were fresh tracks of a horse plainly visible. Suddenly one of the men shouted that he had found bloodstains and signs of a body having been dragged in the direction of a near-by shaft. A man was quickly lowered into the shaft and there on the bottom, were found the bodies of Jack and his dog, both showing signs of having been beaten and stabbed.
“Suspicion pointed toward Jose, and it was to his cabin that the posse quickly rode. They found the door partly open and evidences of a hasty departure, with all the food, utensils, bedding and clothing gone. When the sad news of the finding of the dead body of her lover and the evidence against Jose was imparted, as gently as possible, to Rosita, a look of hate came into her eyes, she clenched her fist and gasped, ‘It was Jose, who murdered my lover. His death must be avenged.’
“She was asked if she had any idea where Jose might have gone, after committing the atrocities. ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘I think I know where he went. One day we were out riding and he told me that he had discovered a secret cave, which he believed had once been a hide-out for Murietta. I begged him to show it to me, so together we rode over into the rough country, about an hour’s ride from here. It was surely a secret cave for you had to be right at its entrance before seeing it. Jose told me then that if he ever got into trouble, he would hide out in this cave. I know where the cave is and I will go there alone and avenge the death of my poor lover.’
“They tried every means to dissuade her but she was determined. Next morning, she and her father started for the cave. She carried a six-shooter, which Jack had given her and had taught her how to use. They soon came to a dense thicket of chaparral, in close proximity to the cave. She dismounted and told her father to stay with the horses, while she went alone to meet Jose face to face. She worked her way through the brush until she came to the mouth of the cave. It showed signs of being occupied. She called, ‘Jose, Jose.’ From within the cave, came a voice, ‘My Rosita, my darling!’, and Jose came hurriedly toward her. Her face sneered with contempt, she raised her gun and fired, and Jose fell dead, at her feet. After thus avenging the death of her lover, she entered a convent, where she spent the rest of her life.”
“That certainly was a thrilling and beautiful love story but very sad. Old-timer, would you mind telling why this town was first named Santa Cruz?” He replied, “That is something I can only guess at. Perhaps the Mission Fathers intended to establish a mission here to take care of the Indians, but, if they did, they soon found out that it would be a hopeless task. In any event, Santa Cruz became Indian Gulch.”
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Tom Bichard, pioneer miner and philosopher.
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