Community Profiles

Criminal Annals, Part 72 – Lynchings at Drytown and Mud Springs

Continuing with the early copies of Sacramento’s first daily newspaper, “The Daily Union,” we go first to the April 30, 1851 edition where there is a story about a murder in the area south of Shingle Springs.

“MURDER. – An account was given us yesterday of the finding of the body of a man who was murdered about two miles from Mock’s trading post in the Big Cañon, about seven miles south-east of the Shingle Machine on the Weber Creek road. The body when found was partially covered with leaves and dirt, and upon examination several marks of violence were discovered. The head had been cut off and the skull split with an axe, which was found buried at a short distance. In the camp near by were found some mining tools, blankets, two pairs of new boots and a double barreled shot gun. From the accounts and papers left by the deceased, his name was supposed to be Linch or Length, and from the language and character of the writing it is inferred that he was an illiterate German or Swiss. From appearance he was supposed to have been a young man, about twenty-five years of age. It is also thought from the memoranda found that he had been messing with a person named Daniel Matz, who probably was the murderer. The body, after examination, was decently buried.”

Note: The exact location of Mock’s Trading Post is unknown. We do know that Big Canyon Creek flows from just south of the town of El Dorado to the Cosumnes River and that the Oro Fino, or Big Canyon gold mine is located near Big Canyon Creek, about four miles south of Shingle Springs.

In the January 15, 1852 edition of the Daily Union is a story regarding another “lynching,” this time in Drytown, which at the time was right on the El Dorado-Calaveras county border (Amador County was not created until 1854).

“LYNCHING. – Three Sydney ducks went into Drytown a few days ago, and having plead poverty, were taken by one of the the residents to his house., where they were accommodated with lodging and their meals. The ungrateful dogs on leaving, the next morning, stole a number of articles from their host, which they sold in the village. Upon the theft being discovered, the rascals were overhauled, tied up, and given each, as his well-merited punishment, five (!) lashes. On being let go, the manner in which they thrust their tongues into their cheeks, indicated very plainly that the whipping was not felt, much less cared for, by them.”
Note: It was very common in those years to offer food and lodging to anyone who asked. During the winter, when mining was difficult due to high water, miners would often walk long distances to visit friends, stopping along the way at stranger’s cabins, where they were fed and housed for the night.

Sydney Ducks was the name given to many of the Australians who arrived during the Gold Rush. Because Australia had become the place where the British sent their criminals, once the United States had gained its independence, Australians were all suspect. Their alleged crimes were the catalyst for the formation of San Francisco’s Vigilance Committee of 1851. In reality, a majority of the Australians who arrived in California were not British criminals, but farmers, laborers or sailors, many of whom had left Ireland for Australia during the “Potato Famine” of the 1840s.

In the June 7, 1852 edition there is a very short story regarding a lynching at Mud Springs as the result of a problem between some Indians and Chinese.

“LYNCHING AT MUD SPRINGS. – On Friday last, a party of Chinese and Indians got into a difficulty, at Mud Springs., El Dorado County. In the fracas, one of the Chinese was killed by one of the Indians. The Americans there then arrested the Indian, and turned him over to the Chinese, who hung him on the spot.”

Note: Although the townsite of El Dorado was one of the first mining camps in the County, it was not always known by this very appropriate name meaning “The Gilded One.” Up until 1855 it was called Mud Springs because the thousands of immigrants traveling through there heading westward towards Shingle Springs and Sacramento and southward towards the southern mines, watered their livestock at the once clear springs that flowed, muddying the surrounding land and the water itself. To distinguish these springs from those much clearer, two miles further up the immigrant trail at Diamond Springs, the immigrants simply referred to this place as Mud Springs and the name stuck.

In the same edition of the Daily Union is an interesting story regarding a sermon preached in Sacramento, the subject of which pretty well relates to the problems of the times.

“The Rev. Mr. Benton preached a discourse on Sunday morning on Gambling, Horse-Racing, Licentiousness, Fighting, and pretty much all the rest of the evils with which society in California is contaminated. The Rev. clergyman is a man who speaks boldly the word of God whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.”



Criminal Annals, Part 46 – From the Book

The book often referred to as “The History of El Dorado County,” is actually titled, “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men & Pioneers.” It was originally published in 1883 by a San Francisco architect and writer named Paolo Sioli. It was reprinted by the “Amador Ledger Dispatch” in the 1960s and in 1998 by the El Dorado County Friends of the Library as a part of the sesquicentennial of the discovery of gold in Coloma. This last reprinting included an index that had been prepared and published by Dorothy Martin Bayless in 1981.

Unlike later publications that relied entirely on second-hand information, Sioli’s work was published only thirty-five years after the first documented discovery of gold by James Wilson Marshall in the tailrace of the mill at Coloma. Thus, many pioneers of El Dorado County, and all of California for that matter, were still alive to relate their experiences, which he intermixed with articles from the “Mountain Democrat” and other newspapers of the era.

Undoubtedly those who had experienced the rough and tumble times of the early days were anxious to record their accomplishments. They must have known by 1883 that they had been a part of something truly extraordinary, something which had altered the shape of the country and the world, and had brought change to hundreds of thousands of lives.
Chapter 30 of Sioli’s book is specifically devoted to the Criminal Annals of El Dorado County.


“The record of crimes committed inside the borderlines of El Dorado county, commencing from the earliest times, has become quite a volume of history in itself. The enormous influx of adventurous men of different nationalities to this very spot of land, the New El Dorado, undoubtedly had brought a good many daring and desperate characters, who had come for gain, in the easiest and least troublesome manner, but for gain under all eventualities. There were others whose intention had been to make an honest living and they started in accordingly; but the weakness of mind and body, together with the bad examples they frequently saw, led them astray, to make a fortune in an easier way than with pick and shovel. So we find as early as 1848 and 1849 already organized bands of desperadoes, with signs, passwords and grips, with chiefs and lieutenants, who would lay in wait in and around the mining camps. The people endeavoring to put a stop to those crimes were often enough compelled to take the law in their own hands, as may be seen out of the case which originated the sobriquet of Hangtown for the village of Placerville.

“Such summary execution had the effect at least to intimidate the rogues, and put a restriction to the commitment of crimes for some time. This, however, did not last very long, for no sooner those outlaws observed that the watchfulness of the people gave way, and smaller crimes passed by unpunished, then they threw off their fear, raising up their heads and growing bolder than before. The result was another hanging of a desperado by the name of Richard Crone, going by the name of ‘Irish Dick,’ a mere boy, after his looks, at Placerville in October, 1850. He had crossed the plains from St Louis in 1849, as a cook, but took to gambling as a profession and always was ready for shooting and fight. He used to keep a monte game in the El Dorado saloon, located at the site of the present Cary House, and one night a quarrel ensued there between two men. Crone jumped up from his game and stabbing the one, he almost instantly killed him. After the act he deliberately wiped the blood from his knife and left the saloon; but after a long search was found hidden at Coffey’s [a saloon owned by one John Coffey], on Sacramento street, where he was arrested. The murdered man had a brother mining at Chili Bar, and on account that those two hundred and more gamblers had always got the best of the miners, when the latter came to town, which was almost ruled by that class of men, the miners made up their minds that this business had to be stopped right there, and to the number of several hundreds came into town determined that Dick should die; in which determination the better people in town concurred with them. Dick was taken from the officers of the law and tried by two Justices of the Peace, one was Dud. Humphrey, the other Wallace, in the presence of the excited thousands. While here on trial the spectators seemed to get impatient, but with the coldest blood Dick remarked to them : ‘Have patience, gentlemen ; I will give you soon a fair lay out.’ The verdict was guilty; he was speedily taken by the crowd to a large oak tree, near where is now the Presbyterian parsonage [near today’s Episcopal Church on the north side of today’s Highway 50], in spite of the officers, Bill Rogers, Sheriff, and Alex. Hunter and John Clark, Constables, who fought desperately but powerless for the possession of the prisoner, the multitude being determined to see justice done and not to be trifled with, as often before. The prisoner was placed under the tree with rope around his neck, he then begged the privilege of climbing the tree to leap down from the fatal branch, but this was denied him, and he was jerked up by strong and willing hands.”


“On Sunday, July 23d, 1854, an old man named William Shay was most brutally murdered at Greenwood valley, El Dorado county, by one Samuel Allen. From the testimony adduced before the coroner’s inquest it appeared that Shay was engaged in watering his garden, when Allen came up to him, knocked him down and stamping on him until he was quite dead; after this he pounded Shay’s head with stones until it was literally crushed to a jelly. After the perpetration of this fiendish murder Allen attempted to escape, but was arrested by an eyewitness of the scene, Antonio Dias, and taken before Justice Stoddard for examination, who ordered him to jail to await his trial. An officer started with Allen for Coloma, but had not proceeded far when he was overtaken by a large and excited crowd, who forcibly took the prisoner from his custody. An hour afterwards the dead body of the guilty man was hanging from the same oak limb, in the town of Greenwood, that had been used already on a similar occasion a few years ago, a solemn warning to malefactors. The aroused vengeance of the outraged community was not to be appeased with less than inflicting the most extreme punishment on the guilty.”



Placerville’s Living Christmas Tree


Corner of Bedford and Main c. 1925. Tom Moyle’s saloon has become a church.

Each year the City of Placerville installs lights on the tall redwood tree that stands on the northeast corner of Bedford Avenue and Main Streets, next to a building that was the post office and then the the District Attorney’s office. Over the years this tree has been damaged by wind and weather several times and even had its top cut off because the fire department’s equipment could not reach above that height to decorate, but it gallantly survives. It has apparently been at this location for 70 or more years, but how it got there is somewhat a mystery.

The story starts just before Christmas in 1918 when the American Forestry Association began to encourage the use of living trees for community Christmas trees, instead of the normal routine of cutting down a large tree each year for that purpose. Over the next few years the campaign began to gain supporters and in December of 1924 the Association donated a 35-foot, nursery grown Norway Spruce to President Calvin Coolidge.

The donated tree was planted in Sherman Plaza, south of the Treasury Building and close to the east entrance of the White House. On December 24, 1924 President Calvin Coolidge, known to be a man of few words, stood before a microphone and said, “I accept this tree and I will now light it.” He then flipped a switch and 1,200 red, amber and green incandescent lights, installed by the Society for Electrical Development and the Electric League of Washington, brightly lit up the tree. This was the first use of a living tree as our “National Community Christmas Tree.”

In 1926 the late Charles E. Lee, then secretary of the Sanger (CA) Chamber of Commerce, wrote President Calvin Coolidge requesting that the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park be officially designated as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.” Lee had visited the majestic 267 foot tall sequoia in 1924 and when standing in front of it heard a little girl exclaim, “What a wonderful Christmas Tree it would be.”

Remembering the little girl’s comments, the next year he organized a Christmas program in front of the General Grant Tree at noon on Christmas Day.

Excited by the success of the program, he and the president of the Sanger Chamber, Mr. R. J. Senior, came up with the idea of an annual Christmas ceremony at the tree. To give it more significance is why Lee wrote President Coolidge and on April 28, 1926 the General Grant tree was officially designated the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.”

As time went on, more and more places around the nation, and especially in California, began to plant and use living trees as community Christmas trees and in a December 1, 1928 article in the “Placerville Republican and Nugget,” Placerville Fire Chief O. N. Hirst announced his intention to ask the Placerville City Council for permission to plant a living Christmas tree on the Moyle lot, which is where the present tree stands. In the event this permission was granted, he indicated that the Shakespeare Club, Parent Teachers’ Association, Lions’ Club, 20-30 Club, American Legion and other local organizations would be asked to assist in financing the decorations and lighting of the tree.

According to the same article the idea of a living community Christmas tree in Placerville was not new. A similar idea had been rejected by the Lions’ Club the previous year, and the 20-30 Club earlier in 1928, but it was hoped that with community support a living Christmas tree could be planted at this location. After all, it was pointed out, Grace Moyle had transferred this parcel of land to the city specifically for public use and that was exactly what was being proposed.

The City Council agreed to allow Hirst to plant the tree and on December 7, 1928 he announced in the Republican that the State of California had donated a seven foot “Giant of the Forest” to the City and that he would be going to Sacramento to pick it up. At the same time it was announced that the American Legion had endorsed the idea of the tree being planted at the designated site and strung with lights as the Community Christmas tree.

On the same day a story in the “Mountain Democrat” also indicated that a tree had been approved. It was not a redwood, but a 20 foot high fir tree that the volunteer firemen were going into the forest to get and plant in the Moyle lot. “We’ll have to move approximately a ton of dirt with the tree in the transplanting,” Hirst said. “It will take three or four days to get the tree out and it will be a real job to move it.” Apparently there was some confusion between the newspapers as to what tree the fire chief wanted to be the “Community Christmas tree.”

The December 12, 1928 issue of the Republican stated that the sequoia for the Moyle lot had been picked up in Sacramento and brought to Placerville. The details of the planting had not been worked out and would be announced shortly. The same article indicated that the Placerville Lions had pledged aid to the tree and the upcoming Christmas program at the site.

Everything seemed to be in order at this point and the Republican indicated that the sequoia would probably be planted before or during the Christmas program. When the program was held at the court house on December 20, 1928 the 20 foot fir tree was there and decorated, but there is no mention of the sequoia that the state had donated.

The January 9, 1929 edition of the Mountain Democrat adds a bit of clarity to this confusing issue with a story titled, “Sequoia Washingtoniana ‘Resident’ of Placerville.” It then goes on to say, “Miss Sequoia Washingtoniana has been a Placerville resident since Christmas Day. Her presence has been noted but it seemed that other matters assumed greater importance in our memory and Miss Sequoia Washingtoniana arrived unheralded. The redwood, gift of the state, was planted on the Moyle lot by Fire Chief O. N. Hirst.”

Now the story could stop there, but “Sequoia washingtoniana” is an old name for a Giant sequoia and, according to people who should know, the present tree is not a Giant sequoia, but a Coast Redwood “Sequoia sempervirens.”

Possibly earliest picture of the Christmas Tree

Adding new light to the mystery, in 1953 an article appeared in a still unidentified local newspaper. Authored by a Gene Macel, and titled “City Landmark Glows Again with Yule Spirit,” it placed the year of planting as 1926 and said that “the tiny redwood was planted by Mrs. Lena Rantz in memory of her husband, Dr. Stephen H. Rantz, a beloved country doctor…” The story then traces much of the history of the property from its original mining claim up through its purchase by Thomas Moyle.

Moyle owned a saloon on the property for many years and, according to the story, “There was an old wine cellar below where beer was stored and served ice-cold to customers.” The saloon was torn down after a group of citizens raised the money to buy the property with the intention of widening Bedford Avenue. The story then adds, “[Mayor] Albert Simons acquired title to the property for the City of Placerville on April 9, 1926 and the redwood tree was planted in the same year.”

The story then points out that in 1937 one Ernie Oppenheimer decided that the tree had acquired enough stature and beauty to deserve Christmas decorations. “Oppenheimer bought a good supply of lights and Andy Anderson and his helpers from the city hall, strung them that year and every year since.”

This 1953 story seems quite reasonable and confirms another story that appeared in the September 9, 1940 issue of the Mountain Democrat. It states, “[The City] Council voted $50 to be donated to the businessmen for Xmas decorations and voted to place an appropriate marker by the Dr. S. H. Ranzt memorial tree, planted a dozen years ago in the city park at the junction of Main and Bedford.”

As to the “appropriate marker,” there is neither a marker nor any indication there was ever a marker on or near the tree regarding Dr. Ranzt. There are other markers nearby, but nothing makes reference to the tree or Dr. Ranzt.

A few years ago the Placerville Department of Recreation was cleaning up around the tree and uncovered a loose plaque that stated, “Presented by the American Legion Auxiliary, 1934.” There seems to be no connection between this plaque and the tree and nothing in the park seems to be missing a plaque. However, there is the remains of a base of an old flagpole a dozen feet to the east of the tree where the plaque may have been placed.

Probably mid-1940s

If all this isn’t confusing enough, there are other stories around Placerville regarding the tree. One story is that the tree was planted by hotel owner Lloyd Raffetto and local government official John Winkleman in honor of the former Moyle’s saloon. Former El Dorado County Supervisor and county native, Joe Flynn, said that his mother, Alice Flynn, owned the Hangtown Café, near the hotel, and was involved with the planting, but often remarked that she thought it was planted too close to the building.

A second story is that the tree may be one of the small redwood trees that a member of the Blair family brought back from Santa Cruz where he and his new bride had spent their honeymoon. Apparently they were planted not only on the Blair property, but other places around Placerville.

There are no exact dates for the above stories, but they were in the correct era and could both be referring to the “Ranzt” tree, supposedly planted in 1926.

If today’s tree is the 1926 Ranzt Memorial Tree, the tree obtained by Fire Chief Hirst or another tree, nobody seems to know. But, as interesting as it is, it probably doesn’t matter. It is a magnificent tree and when lit each Christmas season, adds even more beauty to the city.

As a final note, if you are wondering what happened to the 20 foot fir tree planted for the 1928 Christmas ceremony and supposedly intended to be the “Community Christmas tree,” the May 21, 1929 issue of the Mountain Democrat clears that up. “Lost! One fir tree, which last Christmas served as a community Christmas tree, has disappeared from the Moyle lot. Who removed it? Nobody knows. However, the tree had died and ceased to be the beautiful city ornament it was intended to be, so that its removal constitutes somewhat the same improvement on the corner that was made when the tree was planted.”

American River Canyon, Part 7 – Lover’s Leap to the Summit

North American HouseBecause the present Highway 50 is north of the original route through Strawberry Valley, it bypasses three stations that were along the old road that passed between the two halves of Lover’s Leap: Baker’s Place, Devil’s Gap (Section House) and Slippery Ford House (Swan’s Upper Toll House).

Before two bridges (Twin Bridges) were built near Slippery Ford (also Slipperyford), travelers had to cross the river on an inclined, smooth granite surface. Many horses and mules lost their footing here and, along with wagons and their contents, were swept down the river and over the falls.

The list of Post Offices in El Dorado County includes one at Slippery Ford that existed from November 21, 1861 until January 13, 1911, with Powell Crosley serving as the first Postmaster. However, this Slippery Ford is reported to have been only 33 miles east of Placerville, 11 miles west of this Slippery Ford, which would place it near Kyburz (which received a Post Office on the day this one closed, January 13, 1911).

The eastern Slippery Ford was ultimately bypassed by the two bridges at Twin Bridges, and later, by the new bridge on the highway, a distance to the north. Twin Bridges received a Post Office on October 1, 1947, with Mrs. Lesta H. King as the first postmaster.

From Slippery Ford, the road steepens and continues uphill through Sayle’s Canyon, passing Hermit’s and reaching Sayle’s Flat House. At Sayle’s Flat is Camp Sacramento, which had a Post Office from June 17, 1929 until October 31, 1940, Pearl Chapell serving as the first Postmaster. From here, the road climbs past Van Sickle’s Station, Swan’s Toll House and Snowslide House to Phillips Station.