California History

DESERT WARFARE TRAINING CENTER

In early 1942, after the U.S. was drawn into World War II in Europe, the War Department believed the first place to confront the enemy would be in North Africa. U.S. Army Major General George Smith Patton Jr. selected 18,000 square miles of California’s Mojave Desert as a training ground for realistic war games under climatic and geographic conditions similar to Libya to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps.

Patton established the Desert Training Center in March 1942 and administrative headquarters at Camp Young, named for Lieutenant General S.B.M. Young, the first Army Chief of Staff.

Eventually, more than one million troops in eight armored divisions and thirteen infantry divisions trained in eleven sub-camps in the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA) making it the world’s largest military installation in size and population.
Desert Training Center Map

Tent city camps contained field artillery units, tanks and repair shops, hospitals, aviation facilities and anti-aircraft units. The population of 191,620 included officers, flight personnel, nurses and hospital attendants, and enlisted personnel.

Temperatures ranged from below freezing to 120 degrees in the shade. Sand found its way into eyes, food, water, clothing, bedrolls, tents, weapons, and engines. Elevation ranged from the desert floor to 7,000 feet above sea level.

Within one month after arrival, every man had to be able to run one mile in 10 minutes wearing a full back pack and carrying a rifle. Water was rationed at one canteen a day. Standard field rations and salt tablets were issued. Diesel fuel poured on the ground around living areas discouraged rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas. Troops called the Mojave “a desert designed in hell” and “the place God forgot.”

Patton lived with his troops in the same primitive conditions. Within 23 days he conducted 13 tactical exercises, including some with two nights in the desert. His contributions to the training and discipline at the camps included piloting his own plane as he crisscrossed the maneuver area giving orders by radio to the tank crews below.

In a very important sense, many battles of WW II were won on the Mojave Desert during those maneuvers.

In late July 1942, Patton was ordered to Washington to plan, then sent overseas to lead, “Operation Torch”, the Allied assault on North Africa in November that resulted in a decisive Allied victory.

On April 30, 1944, the Army closed the CAMA and abandoned the camps. Access to most camps, some of which now include private lands, is limited to four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Accessible sites in Riverside County:
General George S. Patton Memorial Military Museum
At Chiriaco Summit 30 miles east from Indio on I-10

Skeletons of Camp Young sign

Camp Young Headquarters Desert Training Center, California Historic Landmark 985
I-10 exit Cottonwood Springs Road N 0.3 mi;
E on dirt road 8 miles

Patton Museum Tanks   Patton Museum Tank

Camp Coxcomb Desert Training Center, California Historic Landmark 985
I-10 exit Desert Center N 16.8 miles on Hwy. 177
(9.8 mi S of Hwy 62)

Blythe Airfield constructed in1942 as the Army Air Force Base to train heavy bomber crews. Four squadrons of the 390th bombardment group B-17s joined the 8th Air Force in England and completed 301 bombing missions over Europe between August 1942 and May 1945.

I-10 exit Mesa Verde North to Blythe Airfield; plaque placed by Billy Holcomb Chapter E Clampus Vitus and Riverside County Board of Supervisors in front of FBO building.

San Bernardino County sites:
Camp Clipper
E-bound I-40 at Fenner Rest Area
Camp Granite
2.4 mi E of Hwy 177 on Hwy 62
Iron Mountain Divisional Camp
0.2 mi E of Camp Granite plaque on Hwy 62

ADDITIONAL TRAVEL ENCOUNTERS

Years ago Lee and I traveled the equivalent of driving between the west and east coasts about 19 times to verify locations (adding GPS for remote sites) of more than 3,300 historical plaques in California for a guidebook. We encountered wildfires, earthquakes, wild critters, unusual accommodations and roads, a few of which I detailed previously. Some human confrontations appeared more frightening than those of natural disasters or wild animals.

A friend who grew up during the 1940s in Compton, California, warned us five decades later not to stop at red lights in Compton at risk of being robbed. We planned to drive through questionable neighborhoods between eight and ten in the morning because it seemed unlikely undesirables would be active that early.

In another Los Angeles community, we parked behind a city bus stop in front of a cemetery. Lee was in the process of dismantling his camera after shooting a photo. A black woman tapped on my passenger window and pointed to her bent arm. I immediately pressed the button to lock all doors. A black man stood at Lee’s window.
“Let’s go!” I said.
“Wait until I put this lens away.”
“No! Let’s go now! I’ll explain later.”

Groups of men knelt in circles playing games on street corners in Watts. We were forced to stop for a freight train crossing. Later, we narrowly avoided being boxed in at a dead-end alley.

Many historical plaques are in seedy sections of older cities. Parking is limited. Lee dropped me off to search for a plaque while he drove around the block to pick me up later. I felt uneasy when he was out of sight. I sensed black men wondering what that skinny, old white woman is doin’ in our neighborhood. I learned to walk confidently carrying a clipboard and to look like I knew where I was going even if I didn’t. Strangers avoided me because the clipboard gave the impression I was an official investigator of some kind. When Lee, with a camera strapped around his neck, accompanied me, we were mistaken for newspeople and given a wide berth by those who chose to avoid publicity.

No plaque was visible in front of a former mountain stage stop, now a bikers’ bar because of the 50 or more motorcycles parked outside. I gathered courage and my clipboard and entered the noisy saloon. As soon as I stepped inside, the room fell silent. All eyes looked at me.
Oh, oh. Now what did I get myself into?
The bartender ignored me until I shoved my clipboard in front of him and said, “I’m looking for this historical plaque that’s supposed to be on the front of your building.”
Relieved that I was not checking on permits or code violations, he showed me where the plaque hung before moving it to storage for building remodeling.
Noise and customers returned to normal.
Task accomplished.

Sunday morning we drove through a northern California Historic District Neighborhood of attractive Victorian homes. Red and orange autumn leaves fell from the trees lining the street.

Lee parked at the curb and I crossed the empty street to check the historical sign. A car stopped two car lengths behind Lee and honked the horn. I turned to see if it honked at Lee. A man dashed out of the house to the car as if his ride arrived. Three additional cars, one after another, stopped and honked.
I thought a lot of people in that house are waiting for rides.
When I returned to the car, Lee said, “I hope you’re finished because we’re getting out of here now.”
Another car stopped behind us and honked. Lee drove away before I fastened my seat belt.
“What’s your rush?” I asked.
“They’re dealing drugs behind us, exchanging little white envelopes and currency.”

In central California, we stopped at a roadside rest beside the San Joaquin River. Two men watering the grass chatted with each other and stared at us, the only visitors. When they turned, we saw “Prisoner” printed on the backs of their shirts. They entered the women’s restroom.
We drove to the other end of the park where a dozen men (also prisoners) leaned on their rakes and shovels and stared at us. Only one sheriff’s officer was visibly in charge. He also closely watched us. Time for us to find another picnic spot.

We left the main highway to search for a plaque and drove six miles on a dirt road that turned to a soft, sandy trail in the desert. Lee was ready to turn back when I saw a few trees ahead.
“Wait. That must be it!”
It was. It was also the campsite of two long-haired, bearded, unfriendly-looking men whose rifles were within easy reach. A large, black dog ran out barking at us.
Lee drove slowly by the monument while I tried to verify it.
The brass plaque was riddled with bullet holes as if it were used for target practice. At least it remained. Plaques in the gold country are pried off and turned in as scrap metal.

One human behavior that continues to haunt me was that of pioneer Robert Semple, president of California’s First Constitutional Convention in Monterey in1849. He arrived in California with the L.W. Hastings Party in 1845, was a member of the Bear Flag Party in 1846 and established the first newspaper published in California, The Californian, in Monterey. His marriage to Frances Cooper was the first wedding in Benicia, which he helped found in 1847, and in 1848 he established the first ferry across Carquinez Straits. In 1854 he was presumed dead at age 48 after a fall while horseback riding on his ranch in Colusa County where he was buried. When his coffin was removed from the ranch for re-burial in Williams Cemetery, it was discovered that his 6’8” body had turned halfway and there were scratch marks inside the coffin lid.

ARBOR DAY

Arbor Day observance dates in the United States vary every spring depending upon the climate for tree planting.

Sunriver, Oregon, is the only unincorporated community in the United States to receive its 36th year award as a Tree City.

Trees provide shelter, homes, and nourishment for humans and wildlife. Trees improve air quality.

The ballad of Johnny Appleseed sparked my interest as a young girl in the benefit of trees. Born John Chapman, May 11, 1768, on a Springfield, Massachusetts farm, he decided to become an “apple missionary” after visiting his uncle in Olean, New York. At age 20, he gathered seeds from cider mills and traveled 40 years planting apple nurseries in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, southern Michigan, and Illinois. Indians called him a great medicine man because he planted healing herbs. Johnny Appleseed Chapman lived 75 years and is buried at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Gravenstein apple orchard, Sebastopol, California

Gravenstein Apple Orchard, Sebastopol, California

Notable trees in California include:

  • A Mediterranean sweet orange, planted in 1856, known as Oroville’s (Butte County) Mother Orange Tree;
  • Riverside is the home of the first navel orange tree planted in 1873;
  • Santa Barbara’s 1877 Moreton Bay fig tree shades 10,000 people under its spread;
  • An 1890 macadamia nut tree in Placentia (Orange County) is the oldest of its kind in California.

In addition to the land of fruits and nuts, California is home to the world’s oldest, tallest, and largest trees.

The community of Live Oak in Sutter County is the namesake of the oak planted there in 1776.

Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane in Los Angeles County is lined with 135 deodar cedars planted in 1885.

The coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, grows naturally only in a narrow strip along the Pacific coast. It is the tallest living thing in the world with a 367-foot height, 12-inch thick bark, 5-foot diameter branches and a 22-foot diameter base. It may survive 2,000 years.

Redwood National Park, Humboldt County

Redwood National Park, Humboldt County

The giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, also known as the Sierra redwood and the Big Tree, grows naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. It is the largest living thing in the world with a 275-foot height, bark up to 31 inches thick, branches to 8 feet diameter, and bases to 40 feet diameter. It may survive 3,200 years.

The General Grant tree, a giant sequoia measuring 40 feet across, in Kings Canyon National Park, was designated “The Nation’s Christmas Tree” on April 28, 1926. Every year since, a yuletide celebration is held there the second Sunday in December.

Mark Twain Stump, Big Stump Basin, Sequoia National Park

Mark Twain Stump, Big Stump Basin, Sequoia National Park

The world’s oldest living thing, the bristlecone pine, Pinus aristata, continues to survive for more than 4,600 years in the White Mountains in Inyo County.

In 1788, Johnny Appleseed carried a bag of apple seeds slung over one shoulder. In 1971, Stuart Roosa, Apollo 14 Command Module Pilot, filled a metal canister in his personal travel kit with 500 seeds from Douglas fir, pine, redwood, sweetgum, and sycamore trees to orbit around the Moon. Roosa, a former smoke jumper, was contacted by Ed Cliff, Chief of the Forest Service at that time, for an experiment to learn how seeds would survive zero gravity, radiation, and other perils of traveling beyond Earth.

Nearly all the seeds germinated after the flight. The Forest Service planted 420 seedlings alongside their earth-bound counterparts and found no difference between the two. “Moon” trees  donated to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration in1976 survive in 20 states. Only two states, California and Oregon, received a moon tree that happened to be their state tree.

California’s coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) grows in Sacramento’s Capitol Park;  Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo; Friendly Plaza, Monterey; Tilden Park, Berkeley; and Humboldt State University, Arcata.

Oregon’s Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) grows at the Capitol building in Salem; Oregon State University, Peavy Hall, Corvallis; U.S. Veterans Hospital, Roseburg; and University of Oregon, Eugene. (The Douglas fir/moon tree planted in 1976 was moved in 1980 to Erb Memorial Union.)

Life, like the land, is barren without trees.

GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT…

and Spring is the best time to look. Heavy rains and snow melt wash gold down from the hills to settle in swollen streambeds and rivers.

According to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, gold was present in hard rock when the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Molten rock and hot water solutions carry gold up through cracks in the earth’s crust. Geologists believe more gold remains deep down in bedrock than all of the gold previously mined in California.

The most popular and productive surface gold mining areas in California are the rivers and tributaries on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada below 5,000-feet elevation: especially theYuba, Feather and American rivers. In northern California, the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers have been productive along with the Kern River, Placerita and San Gabriel Canyons in southern California.

Ask at gold country visitor centers, museums, and rock shops for directions to local recreation areas that allow gold panning either for free or a fee. Do not trespass or prospect on private property.

We knew they were mining gold and earning a good living where property is fenced so no one can see in or over the fence, and every few feet are signs “Private Property”, “Keep Out”, “This Means You”, and “Trespassers Will Be Shot”. As the road ascended, we looked down to the Klamath River and watched wet-suited dredgers at work.

We inquired at a southern California lodge about the location of a historical plaque on their property. It was in the area where member visitors paid to camp and pan for gold. They denied us admittance so we knew they were accumulating gold.

One small mountain community in Sierra County posted no signs. We saw no one and heard no activity, but we felt eyes watching us as we turned around at the dead end of town. Cabins dotted the hillside. Each served as an entrance tunnel to a mine dug behind it. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when those townsfolk gather ‘round the pot-bellied stove in the general store and swap tales.

CLASSIFIED MILITARY BASES

It required several attempts for us to gain access to Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base in San Diego County, California. Civilians are denied entrance during any “world conflict” or “police action”. In other words, war.

During one narrow window when our country was not involved in a war, we joined the line of vehicles at the main gate at Oceanside. All the vehicles ahead of us were waved through. The guard directed us to “Pull out, park over there, and register inside.”

We explained that we wanted to see four historical points of interest dating from 1769 to 1864 within the boundaries of Camp Pendleton for our book in progress. We presented a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance to receive a self-guiding tour pass.

“Stay on the main road, and do not drive on dirt roads,” the young man ordered.

We thought it humorous to see “Troop Crossing” and “Tank Crossing” signs until sprinting troops and fast-rolling tanks suddenly appeared on the dirt roads intersecting the main road.

With our self-guiding map, it was easy to locate the El Camino Real bell, the 1798 Santa Margarita Ranch House (now private quarters), Las Flores Asistencia (1823), Las Flores Adobe (1864), and La Cristianita (1769).

La Cristianita

La Cristianita

During another narrow window when our country was not involved in a “police action”, we approached the main gate at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California, with trepidation. Beale is the home of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird. It is unlikely we’ll be allowed on this base.

Ours was the only vehicle in sight for miles. I gathered our vehicle registration and proof of insurance ready to hand over. We explained to the young guard at the gate that we wanted to see three historical sites for our book in progress. With a salute, he waved us through. No questions. No permits. He must have thought we were someone else.

We saw no people anywhere. Jet aircraft sat on the flightline like ghostly big birds. Everything looked frozen in time. A security vehicle approached.

Uh, oh. Now we’ll have to leave, I thought.

It cruised by ignoring us.

We learned from experience to ask for directions at a firehouse and stopped at the nearest one. Firefighters know the location of everything and the best way to get there. This was no exception.

The officer in charge welcomed us in through a large room where men napped in lounge chairs. He supplied us with maps detailing the sites we sought. He must have thought we were someone else.

We considered ourselves fortunate to have easily found the Museum of the Forgotten Warriors, the World War II German Prisoner of War cell blocks, and A Gathering of Eagles 1963 film site.

Two days later, after exploring the area outside the base, we planned to drive the shortcut through the middle of the base instead of the circuitous route around to the other side.

“Sorry, sir,” a different guard said. “You’ll have to turn around here.”

BORDER TRAFFIC

Around the bend and down the grade of two-lane Highway 188, two Tecates sit on either side of the narrow river bordering California and Mexico. Trucks, semi and pickup, horns blaring, race every which way including straight down the middle of the street churning dust and dirt while drivers shake fists at on-coming traffic.

“We’re looking for Thing Road,” I said.
“I’m looking out for these crazy drivers,” Lee said.
“Thing Road! Here it is! Stop!”
“I can’t stop here. I’ll park over there.”

Highway 188 and Thing Road, in the center of California’s Tecate, is the perfect spot for the historical plaque commemorating Rancho Tecate’s pioneer era of Indian and bandit raids and smuggling Chinese and liquor. But nothing was there.

Across the way, a chain-link fence surrounded two modular trailers housing the Border Patrol. No sign posted Keep Out. The gate was open.
“Park in there,” I said. “I’ll ask here.”
I walked up the steps and through the open door. “Hello! Anyone here? Hello, hello!”
I walked down the hallway and peered into rooms clicking and buzzing with electronic equipment.

A uniformed officer appeared. “How did you get in?” he asked.
“Through the open door,” I said and quickly showed him the printout of the plaque I was looking for before he could usher me outside.
He had never seen it. He directed me to the store owner at the end of the street. “If anyone knows where it is, he does. He’s been here the longest.”

When we drove out of the Border Patrol parking lot, Mexican drivers who previously honked and shook their fists at us, gave us a wide berth and the right-of-way.

Lee parked in front of the store at the end of the street. An attractive young woman led me into the owner’s office. The well-dressed man wore impressive jewelry and exuded wealth and power as he sat behind an ornate desk. Two muscular men stood beside his desk. Paintings graced the wood-paneled walls of the large office. The “boss” motioned for me to sit in plush furniture.

This is something out of a movie, I thought. What am I doing here?

The “boss” confessed he had never seen the plaque. Neither had his assistants.

Alert to Squibob Chapter E Clampus Vitus: The plaque you dedicated on October 4, 1980, near junction of Highway 188 and Thing Road, in Tecate, California, has vanished.

 * * *

 A white Border Patrol truck followed us in our black Bronco on the road along the California-Mexico border. Maybe not the same vehicle because it kept a distance sometimes disappearing from view. Their white truck and our black truck were the only vehicles on the road that afternoon. From San Ysidro to Border Field State Park at the Pacific Ocean, a different Border Patrol vehicle followed closely.

Signs in the irrigation ditch beside the road warned of danger from contaminated water.

We pulled into the empty parking lot at the end of Monument Road. The Border Patrol vehicle stopped at the other end of the lot.

Mexican men sat shoulder to shoulder on the low rock wall around the parking lot. They all stared at us with the same pleading expression.

Curled barbed wire on top of a chain-link fence separated California from Mexico. Beyond the open field on the other side of the fence, the Tijuana bull fighting arena loomed in the distance. The fence continued into the Pacific Ocean past the low tide mark. A few women and children waded around the fence to enter California. The Border Patrol officer met them on the beach, spoke in Spanish, and motioned for them to go back. They obediently turned around and traced their steps.

While we checked the 1851 boundary marker of the SW corner of the U.S.A and the NW corner of Mexico, the Border Patrol vehicle drove away.

At home weeks later we read about rampant drug and human smuggling through both Tecates. Some things never change.

Caution Sign Along I5 in San Diego, CA

I-5 In San Diego

 

U.S.A.-Mexico Boundary Monument

U.S.A.-Mexico Boundary Monument

PETROGLYPH and PICTOGRAPH ROCK ART

Petroglyphs are prehistoric images chiseled with stone and bone tools onto rock surfaces.

Pictographs are prehistoric images painted with dyes made from plants and mineral pigments mixed with water.

Many are found in California but few are easily accessible. Most require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a GPS device to locate. Desert trails are either soft sand where you feel you are losing control or a hard washboard surface where you feel your insides rattling and hear your teeth chattering. Some roads have high centers strewn with boulders and chuckholes. Chaparral and mesquite scratch paint on vehicles. If you feel adventurous, check out the following:

In Riverside County, the Pictograph Maze Stone near Hemet, California Historic Landmark 557. Hwy 74, Florida Avenue exit N on California Avenue, 2.7 miles to gate at Maze Stone Park; walk 0.3 mile to end of road.

Petroglyphs at Corn Springs in the Mojave Desert. I-10 exit to Corn Springs Road; turn W, then E, 6.8 miles S on dirt Corn Springs Road. Petroglyphs at Corn Springs in the Mojave Desert.

In Inyo County, ask at Bishop Chamber of Commerce for directions to petroglyphs.

petroglyphs outside Bishop in Inyo County

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Petroglyphs in Bishop, California

Use caution through the narrow, one way, no turn-around Titus Canyon (Leadfield) in Death Valley. You don’t want to be trapped in a flash flood.

Petroglyphs Sign in Titus Canyon, California

The Maturango Museum at Ridgecrest in Kern County offers rock art tours. Las Flores Avenue at China Lake Blvd.

Chumash Painted Cave is a California State Historic Park in Santa Barbara County.Hwy 54, 2.5 miles S of San Marcos Pass; E on Painted Cave Road 1.9 miles on steep, narrow winding road. Caves on north hillside above road. Off-road parking space for one vehicle.Caution: No trailers or motorhomes.

 

 

SNOWSHOE THOMPSON

He was born John Albert Tostensen in Norway in 1827. Ten years later, his parents brought him to America to farm in Illinois. In 1851, “gold fever” lured the husky, six-foot blond to California where he panned enough gold to buy a small farm in the Sacramento valley and Americanized his name to Thompson.

In 1856, the 29-year-old outdoorsman answered a Sacramento ad to deliver mail in the Sierra Nevada. On his hand-carved, 25-pound oak, 7-1/2-foot skis (then called snowshoes), using a 12-foot pole for balance, he delivered mail across Ebbetts Pass, Carson Pass or Luther Pass. Alone, he defied blizzards, avalanches, grizzly bears, and timber wolves on his two to four round trips a month—three days for the 90-mile trip west; two days to return.

Snowshoe Thompson Monument at Boreal Ridge Ski Resort

Snowshoe Thompson carried out the first ore sample from Virginia City for assay in California, and the silver rush to the Comstock Lode began. He packed in during several trips, piece by piece, the printing press and type for Virginia City’s pioneer newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.

During the winter months, Snowshoe Thompson was the only contact with the outside world for the gold and silver camp miners between Genoa, Nevada, and Placerville, California. He carried as much as 100 pounds of supplies and mail on his back and rescued lost prospectors and snowbound travelers along the way.

The response to his request to the U.S. government for payment of $6,000 for his 20 years (1856-1876) of mail delivery service was a letter of thanks.

Snowshoe Thompson died May 15, 1876, in his Diamond Valley cabin in Alpine County.

Snowshoe Thompson Plaque at Cabin Site

See other tributes to “a man who matched the mountains” at Carson Pass in Alpine County, and Placerville and South Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County.

 

CALIFORNIA GOLD

Today California celebrates Gold Discovery Day with living history reenactments at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, El Dorado County, where James W. Marshall spotted gold flakes in the tailrace of John A. Sutter’s sawmill on the American River January 24, 1848.

gold discovery site
Although this discovery created the most publicity, it was not the first gold discovery in California. Gold was found in Placerita Canyon, Los Angeles County, March 9, 1842. In 1841, Juan Baptiste Ruelle found gold 30 miles northeast from Mission San Fernando. Prior to that, native Indians brought gold specimens to the Mission Padres.

Why were gold seekers to California called ‘49ers when the gold was discovered in ’48?

Marshall and Sutter kept their secret about six weeks before an employee leaked word. When news and proof arrived in San Francisco, Sam Brannan published it in his newspaper, The California Star, May 1848.

President James K. Polk announced the California gold discovery to Congress December 5, 1848.

The race for transportation to California began.

It was too late in the year for wagon trains to leave and avoid mountain snows during their six to eight month journey.

Ship passage to the Isthmus required a walk or burro ride to Panama if one survived danger and disease in the jungle.

The California was the first ship to sail around Cape Horn, take on passengers at Panama, and dock in San Francisco February 28, 1849, delivering the first ‘49ers.

James W. Marshall's Cabin

 

 

 

E Clampus Vitus

Ask any Latin scholar to translate E Clampus Vitus. The response is either a puzzled look or a hearty laugh.

E Clampus Vitus is a non-profit fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of history and good times of the American West. Clampers commemorate Western and mining history sites, incidents and people that might otherwise be overlooked by placing more than a thousand plaques and monuments in California and a handful scattered in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Plaque dedication at 1851 site of Humbug, Siskiyou County, California, August 1988

Plaque dedication at 1851 site of Humbug, Siskiyou County, California, August 1988

Like its name, members are fun-loving, practical jokers although California chapters were formed during the Gold Rush to offer comfort and aid to widows and orphans (mostly to widows).

Gold mining Clampers spoofed members of the more serious Masons, Elks and Oddfellows by wearing tin can lids cut into unusual shapes and sizes on their vests worn over red long johns.

The motto of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus is Credo Quia Absurdum (I believe because it is absurd).

Their constitution provides that all members are officers of equal indignity, including the Clamphotographer, Clamplaquero, Clamparchivist and top officials Clampatriarch and Sublime Noble Grand Humbug.

There are no records of early meetings because members drank so much that no one was ever in condition to keep minutes or able to recall the next day what happened. Their partying at plaque dedication “doin’s” earned them the reputation of a drinking historical society or a historical drinking society.

In 1973, Clampers heaved overboard the Big Meadows plaque into Lake Almanor before anyone wrote down the wording. No one remembers what it said.

A plaque marking the 1851 site of Humboldt City is submerged in Humboldt Bay about thirty feet offshore from Point Buhne.

To commemorate Chinese navigator Hee Li, who discovered California about 450 A.D., a plaque was jettisoned into the Pacific Ocean thirty miles west from Monterey May 11,1994.

Clampers parade at Sausalito, California, March 27, 1999

Clampers parade at Sausalito, California, March 27, 1999

Anno Dumbellicus
(In the Year of the Dumbell)

 

Happy Birthday California!

Happy 165th Birthday, California! On September 9, 1850, California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state.

Prior to the Stars and Stripes, nine flags flew over California: Spain, England, Russia, Argentina, Empire of Mexico, Republic of Mexico, Californians, The Fremont Flag, and California Republic.

Monterey was the capital of Alta California under Spain and Mexico. San Jose became the first capital in 1850 followed by Vallejo (twice), Benicia, and Sacramento (twice and current).

Ten Alta California governors were appointed by Spain and ten appointed by Mexico. Six American military governors oversaw California between July 1846 and December 1849 before Peter H. Burnett was elected the first American civil governor.

 

California History

My great grandmother, Ida Ella Roberts Jones, was a member of the exclusive Covered Wagon Babies’ Club organized in San Francisco at the Palace Hotel during California’s Diamond (75th) Jubilee in 1925.

She was born in a covered wagon June 5, 1861, at Sweetwater, Montana Territory (now Wyoming) after her parents left Missouri in a train of 60 ox-drawn wagons.

The family settled in Butte County, California. In 1883 she married Davis R. Jones of Cherokee and they established a cattle ranch at Pentz where they reared 10 children. Their first born was my grandmother Laura. (Davis Jones died at age 33 in 1916.)

The administration building of Butte College (California) stands on the site of their farmhouse.

The covered wagon baby, Ida Roberts Jones, died at age 89 on July 17, 1950. She is buried in an unmarked grave at Pioneer Cemetery in Cherokee, California.

Laura Jones Richards’ first born was my father, A.M. Richards Jr., who introduced me to California history. Eventually, I compiled and published A Traveler’s Guide to Historic California. This 800-page book includes an index and 183 photos.

WhatHistoric California sets my book apart from others is that it groups historical plaques in neighboring areas giving directions, addresses, and for remote sites, Global Positioning System (GPS) locations. I personally visited each site to verify its location.

Part I guides you to historical plaques in 58 counties and includes 138 maps and translation of Spanish place names.

Part II, an introduction to California history, offers a California quiz, state symbols, and chronological lists of flags flown over California, capitals and governors, explorers and expeditions; pueblos and missions; pioneer trails, major wagon train parties, profiles of prominent pioneers; gold discoveries and mining camps, and 1849 Constitutional Convention delegates.

 

Test Your Knowledge of California Geography:

Question: Where is the western-most point in the continental U.S.
Answer: Cape Mendocino, Humboldt County.

Question: In which county are both the lowest spot on this continent and the highest peak in the continental U.S.?
Answer: Inyo County. Badwater in Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level, and Mount Whitney, 14,495 feet.

Question: Name four California rivers that flow north.
Answer: Carmel, Eel, San Joaquin, and Truckee rivers.

Question: The world’s smallest mountain range is in California. Name it.
Answer: Sutter Buttes, Sutter County.

Question: Name the lowest pass in the Sierra Nevada.
Answer: Beckwourth Pass, 5,221 feet, Plumas County.

Question: Name the highest pass that a highway crosses the Sierra Nevada.
Answer: Tioga Pass, 9,941 feet, Mono/Tuolumne counties.

Question: Name the pass through which the oldest emigrant trail crossed the Sierra Nevada.
Answer: Sonora Pass, 9,624 feet, Mono/Tuolumne counties.

Question: In what county is Mount Shasta?
a. Shasta
b. Siskiyou
c. Trinity
Answer: B

Question: In what county is Mount Lassen?
a. Lassen
b. Plumas
c. Shasta
Answer: C

Question: Which California river and its branches has produced more gold since 1848 than any other river in the continental U.S.?
Answer: Yuba River.

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