Gold Country History

Algernon: The Official Seal of El Dorado County

A few years ago it was discovered that the County of El Dorado had been mistakenly using the Official Seal of the Superior Court as its own. After much consternation, it was decided to adopt a new seal, a modification of one previously created by a local artist for a book on the county.

One evening I thought about the issue, and, with the kind assistance of several glasses of local wine, I came up with a fable, which I submitted to the local newspaper under the name Norm DePlume.

I made sure that they knew it was a fable and that they would not use my real name, however, after passing through several hands, it ended up being published as a true story, and with my real name.

Needless to say, a number of local historians called, first to ask where in the records the story had been found and, secondly, if it was true. All in all, it was a fun week or two.

Why Did They Call It Hangtown? – Part 8

In Part 7, two writers introduced us to a person named Richard Crone, who was also known as Irish Dick, Bloody Dick and a few other names. Apparently he was hanged from the famous tree a couple of years after the famous first three.

In “A Vulcan Among the Argonauts – being vivid excerpts from those most original and amusing memoirs of John Carr, Blacksmith,” edited by Robin Lampson and published in San Francisco in 1936, there is a very interesting story on this hanging and Placerville in the early 1850s.

“We found Hangtown, or what is now called Placerville, to be two rows of houses with a street between them, The houses were built principally of shakes, with posts driven into the ground on which to nail the shakes. There were about fifty or sixty of these houses in the place when we arrived there (August 9, 1850), the largest four of which were run as gambling houses, and were in full operation at that time. All sorts of games were in full blast, such as monte, faro, lansquenet and French monte, sometimes called three-card monte.

Why Did They Call It Hangtown? – Part 7

Finishing up with stories about the famous hanging that changed the name of Placerville, then Old Dry Diggings, to Hangtown, we look at two books, a history book entitled “The Argonauts of California,” by C. W. Haskins, published in 1890, and “John Studebaker – An American Dream,” a biography written by Edwin Corle, published in 1948. Each of these books gives their own peculiar version of the first hanging and then introduces later hangings from the same tree.

Haskins writes, “The first persons hung in California subsequent to the gold discovery, were two Mexicans and an American. They were hung for horse stealing and robbery during the fall of ‘48, in Hangtown, and it was from this fact that the mining camp derived its name, and although the camp has enjoyed the unenviable reputation of being the place where many murderers and horse-thieves have been kindly laid to rest by the citizens, in committees of the whole, yet only one other individual was ever hung by the citizens of the place, and that was Irish Dick, a young gambler, who was executed in the fall of ‘50 for murder. A jury, composed of miners, was chosen; he was granted a fair trial, found guilty and sentenced to be hung from the old oak tree which stood upon the side of the hill across the creek, at 2 p.m. of the same day. He requested permission to leap from the limb of the tree, head foremost; but this favor, of course, could not be granted since it did not conform to the law, and would be a very barbarous proceeding, as well as a bad precedent to establish, for in some parts of the country the trees were very small.”

Why Did They Call It Hangtown? – Part 6

Still continuing with stories about the famous hanging that changed the name of Placerville, then Old Dry Diggings, to Hangtown, we now look at the version provided by the well-respected Theodore H. Hittell in his “History of California,” Volume I, printed in San Francisco in 1885. Like most later histories it draws on earlier publications for information.

“The names adopted by the miners for their camps and mining locations were usually taken from the names of the first settlers or from the names of the places from which they came or were of those slang names, already mentioned, which seem to have been chosen on the part of the unbridled adventurers as a sort of protest against the restraints of respectability. In some cases, however, the name of a place was taken from some circumstance connected with it foundation or growth; and unfrequently a name, and sometimes a change of name, of itself indicated more or less of the history of the settlement.