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Yosemite Indians and Other Sketches (1936) by Mrs. H. J. Taylor

Chapter 6: Building of Coulterville Road


I n the summer of 1930, Virgilio Bruschi, 905 20th Street, San Diego, was a visitor at the Yosemite Museum. He has lived in San Diego many years and for twelve years was a member of the Common Council. His devotion to the city’s welfare made him a highly respected and beloved citizen. Mr. Bruschi’s early life was spent in Coulterville, and he has related to me some of his experiences, especially in connection with the construction of the Coulterville road, the first to be built into the Valley.

In 1853, Mr. Bruschi’s father, Francis Bruschi, opened a general store in Coulterville, then called Bandarita (Little Flag). Here Virgilio was born in 1858, the second of a family of twelve children, all born in Coulterville. The population of Coulterville, the second biggest mining camp in Mariposa County at that time, was about five thousand. Virgilio worked with his father as a packer. Everything used in the Valley was packed in over one of three trails, namely: by way of Crane Flat, a second by Bull Creek, Jenkins Hill, and the Merced River; the third from Mariposa by way of the South Fork. McCann’s Station at the junction of the South Fork and the Merced consisted of a store and a saloon.

In 1868, Virgilio Bruschi, with his uncle, Peter Castagnetto, a gardener, made his first trip into the Valley. Castagnetto at that time supplied all the vegetables for A. G. Black’s and Leidig’s hotels. Potatoes sold for ten cents a pound; lettuce fifteen to twenty cents a head; flour thirty pounds for six dollars. About 1868, Johnny Hennessey started a vegetable garden near El Portal, which helped greatly in supplying the hotels and also caused prices to drop.

In 1872, Dr. McClain obtained from the Government a concession to make a toll road from Coulterville via Bower Cave, Hazel Green, Myers Ranch, and the Cascades into the Valley. It was completed in 1874 without any serious accident. Francis Bruschi was agent for the Giant Powder Company, and Virgilio, aged 16, packed in all the powder that McClain used for blasting in the construction of this road. His train consisted of from four to eight mules, each carrying four powder boxes of fifty pounds per box. From Coulterville to the Valley was a trip of two days. The first night was usually spent at Crane Flat or Ferguson Mine. Crane Flat was a sheep camp where often as many as 25,000 sheep were gathered. They lambed either on the plains or along the coast.

A tollkeeper was stationed at the Cascades. Toll for a single mule was twenty-five cents; a pack mule, loaded, was fifty cents. In order to beat the toll, Virgilio Bruschi put all the aparejo on two mules just before he reached the toll gate. Thus he paid the fifty-cent toll on only two mules. The single mules went in for twenty-five cents. Boston, the tollkeeper, was killed for plunder by two Indians named Zip and Tom who were sent to San Quentin for the murder.

Virgilio Bruschi, accompanied by his brother Fred, packed in the goods of the German cabinet-maker, Adolph Sinning. On this trip there were nine mules in the train. When they came to Ferguson Mine, the mule loaded with Sinning’s tools and goods pushed the mule behind him, and both mules fell off the trail. It took half a day to get them up from the rocks. No bones were broken, but one mule was so badly injured that he was in the stable for two months. Sinning made glove and jewel boxes, canes, little tables and novelties, all showing the work of an expert craftsman. Hutchings speaks of him as a genius, a skilled workman with an artist’s instinct. The wood used in his work was selected from the Valley and vicinity.

Mr. Bruschi had another experience on the trail. This time his mule train was loaded with general supplies. One mule carried two kegs of nails, each keg weighing one hundred pounds. This mule was knocked off the trail at the Cascades near where Hutchings was later killed. The mule fell on his back among the rocks. The kegs were smashed; the nails flew in every direction; the mule, with his feet straight up in the air, lay pinned and helpless. It took several hours to free him, but, once on the trail, he seemed none the worse for the experience.

Packing had its risks. One experience impressed itself indelibly on Virgilio Bruschi’s mind. Mrs. A. G. Black, wife of the hotel keeper, wanted a parlor stove. The mule carrying it was pushed off the trail and fell upon the rocks. The cast-iron stove was broken to pieces. “I’ll never forget that,” said Mr. Bruschi, “because I had to pay for it. It cost me just $18.50.”

Mr. Bruschi also told of a big Indian celebration in 1875. To this powwow came approximately fifteen hundred Digger Indians from Bull Creek, Coulterville, Greeley Hill, Big Creek, and Sonora. There were songs, dances, games, and races. “Everything in the Valley was to come and go as you please and this included the Indians, ” said Mr. Bruschi.

The first shoemaker in Yosemite was Beaus Umboldi, who made mostly boots. Francis Bruschi also made boots at twenty dollars a pair and guaranteed them for one year.

“Everything in the Valley was open to camp where you pleased, put a store any spot you chose, fish anywhere and all you wanted. The Indians often sold twenty-five to thirty fish for twenty-five cents,” said Mr. Bruschi.

On being asked about gold nuggets, Mr. Bruschi replied: “The largest nugget I ever saw weighed twenty-four pounds. The first mint in California was at Montofee. Here the octagonal fifty-pound slug was made which bore the stamp of California.”

Mr. Bruschi is glad that he had a part in Yosemite’s earliest development, and he appreciates the opportunities and comforts that the Government has provided for the tourist. “And there is no other place like it,” says Mr. Bruschi.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management