Mrs. Evoy Robbed

Shasta Courier 21 May 1853

On Wednesday, May 25, 1853, Mrs. Bridget M. Evoy was traveling by Hall & Crandall stagecoach from Shasta to Marysville. When the stage stopped at Dry Creek House she discovered that the gold she was carrying in a carpetbag was missing.

This was no small amount of gold dust. She had $1800 in two purses and both were missing. This is the equivalent of $51,800 today.

Although Mrs. Evoy was described by the Shasta Courier as “an old lady of about 70 years of age,” she was no frail and vulnerable female. She was a 61-year-old widow, long accustomed to faring for herself. and a shrewd businesswoman. At the age of 58 she led her family to California, riding horseback from St. Louis, Missouri. By 1853 she owned property in Marysville, Yuba City, and the mining community of Briggsville in Shasta County, where she ran a boarding house.

She had just sold a piece of real estate in Briggsville, and was taking the proceeds, together with money earned from running “California House,” to the bank in Marysville.

According to an article in the Shasta Courier, when she discovered her loss, she immediately informed the other passengers. Among the passengers were two men, Colonel John H. Harper, a former state senator from Trinity, and a man named Cummings. The the northbound stage arrived and all the passengers got out to be searched.

One of the passengers, Colonel Harper of Trinity, threw off his cloak at once, and requested that he might be searched. Another passenger [Cummings] immediately picked up the cloak, and took out of the side pocket a purse of gold with the name of the lady marked on it. On further search they found another purse in his coat pocket containing upwards of a thousand dollars.

The stagecoach returned to Neal’s Ranch, and the next day Col. Harper had a hearing before Justice Thomas S. Wright and was detained in the Hamilton jail to await trial.

To give you an idea where these places are located, Neal’s Ranch was about 10 miles south of Rancho Chico. Neal Road and the landfill are located there today. Dry Creek House was located ten miles south of Neal’s Ranch, about where Sohnrey’s Family Foods is located today on Hwy. 99.

Next time: The Trial of Col. Harper

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“Send a Basket by the Stage”

Mrs. Bridget M. Evoy was an enterprising woman of the Gold Rush. She came to California with her family on the Lassen Trail in 1849. She earned her gold by successfully running a hotel or boarding house called the “California House” in Briggsville.

Briggsville has completely disappeared into the dust of time, but it was located near the flourishing mining town of Shasta in Shasta County. Mrs. Evoy appears on the 1852 California census. She gave her age as 46 years old. But her tombstone says she was born in 1791 in County Wexford, Ireland, so in 1852 she was at least 60 years old. But why should a lady have to answer an intrusive question like that?

I learned about Mrs. Evoy from a descendant of hers, Mr. Craig Harwood, who contacted me in the hope that I could help him to find out more about the family’s experience coming to California. I can’t say that I was much help, but we did find that we each had a tidbit of information about Mrs. Evoy and her connection to John Bidwell.

On June 11th, 1853 Mrs. Evoy wrote to Bidwell asking him to send her a basket of vegetables.

John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

Major Bidwell– Sir I send a basket by the stage driver and you will please send me such vegetables as you furnish Mrs. Myres, and also on the same terms, or I will settle with you when I go down. Respectfully yours, B.M. Evoy

Fresh vegetables were not easy to come by in Gold Rush California, but Major Bidwell had a thriving garden. In the back of an old ledger he kept a record of what was planted when for the year 1853. In April and May he (or his crew) had planted peas, onions, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, parsnips, cucumbers, beets, corn and melons. There is even an entry for one of his best customers, Mrs. B.M. Evoy.

California State Library

Prompt service, as you can see. She wrote her letter on the 11th and sent it with the stage driver. On the 12th, 18 pounds of assorted vegetables and 9 pounds of peas were on their way back to her. It looks like peas were 20 cents a pound, which sounds cheap enough now but was probably high for the time. All prices in California were high.

I hope the miners she cooked for appreciated the fine fresh vegetables she served.

Next time: Mrs. Evoy’s adventure on the stagecoach

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Sierra or Sierras? You Decide

A painting that looks like a photo, The Sierra Nevada from the Head of the Carson River, by Albert Bierstadt

I had to sympathize with the writer of this item on SFGate about the argument over whether to say “the Sierra” or “the Sierras” when referring to the mountain range between California and Nevada. (SFGate is the online media outlet of the San Francisco Chronicle.) The author, Freda Moon, is a travel journalist who wrote “a breezy little story” about traveling from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe in which she referred to the mountains as “the Sierras.”

Like you do. But a number of readers took her to task, and not all of them were polite about it.

It’s a question I have wondered about myself. When writing a book or a blog post about pioneers coming over the mountains into California, I have puzzled over how to refer to the mountains. Is it simply Sierra Nevada? Is calling them the Sierras okay? Since I often write for children, should I clarify by writing “the Sierra Nevada range” or “the Sierra Nevada mountains”? Even though that is redundant? Do kids know what a “range” is in this context? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

The word “sierra” in Spanish is already plural and means a range or chain of mountains. No need to add an “s”. Ms. Moon goes deep into the pros and cons. She consulted historians and grammarians. She asked Paul Brians, retired Professor of English at Washington State University and the author of “Common Errors in English Usage.” He concluded that “Some object to the familiar abbreviation ‘Sierras,’ but this form, like ‘Rockies’ and ‘Smokies’ is too well-established to be considered erroneous.”

My own conclusion is that if you are just chatting with your friend about going hiking in the Sierras, that’s fine. But if you are writing formally, and don’t want snarky comments from language purists, go with Sierra Nevada. But not just Sierra, because that might be mistaken for the Sierra Madre in Mexico or the Sierra de Cordoba in Argentina.

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The Stars and Stripes Forever

My idea of a fabulous 4th of July includes eating a hamburger, corn on the cob, and watermelon, singing the Star Spangled Banner, watching fireworks, and listening to a live band play The Stars and Stripes Forever.

I would like to hear The Declaration of Independence read aloud too, but I haven’t heard that on the 4th in decades.

I may not get all those wonderful things this year, but at least I can watch and listen to the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus play and sing the Stars and Stripes Forever.

Did you know that John Philip Sousa not only wrote the march, but he wrote lyrics for it too? And I don’t mean “Be kind to your web-footed friends,” as fun as that is. I mean real patriotic lyrics.

I didn’t know that until quite recently. Here they are:

First strain
Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Second strain
𝄆 Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation. 𝄇

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let tyrants remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let tyrants remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

The “first strain” must be very tricky to sing at the pace the march is usually played. The Army chorus in this video sing the “Trio” and “Grandioso” which really function as the chorus of the piece.

And if you want something thoroughly silly, you can watch a rendition from the Muppet Show, with Sam the Eagle, the Swedish chef, Beaker, Bobo, Animal, a bewigged penguin, and some chickens.

Hurrah for the flag of the free! Long may it wave. Have a fabulous Independence Day!

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A Chico Fourth of July — Centennial Version

Weekly Butte Record 1 July 1876

Our celebrations of Independence Day are pretty tame compared to the way they enjoyed the Fourth in Chico in 1876. Here’s the July 4th entry from Bidwell’s diary in 1876:

Tues. July 4
Warm, very – no wind. = Bells rang & cannon & anvils roared all last night – Celebration went off well – good oration by Rev. Mr Dickerman – Fireworks & ball in evening. = Lost our greyhound, Roamer = Haynes had watermelons ripe in town. =

The celebration was announced in the newspaper a few days before the event. Citizens were urged to decorate their buildings with “evergreens, flags, and appropriate emblems.”

The Butte Record published a report of the proceedings the following Saturday. Everybody turned out for the “patriotic exercises”. Here is an excerpt about the parade and the speeches:

The Pavilion, where the parade concluded and the speeches were given, stood on Broadway between 4th and 5th.

An oration by a public figure was a must. That would be followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence and a lengthy patriotic poem, which the Record printed in full. It was a day-long event, and as Bidwell notes, it started the night before, and went on well into the evening of the 4th with fireworks and dancing.

Watermelons were a feature, then as now. Roamer the greyhound was frightened by all the noise. He was found a few days later seven miles away at Hog Springs, on the Humboldt Road.

Bells ringing and cannon firing were a popular way to mark Independence Day.  But what’s this about “anvils roared?” How do they do that?


If you didn’t have a cannon (or even if you did), “firing the anvil” was a great way to generate noise and excitement in the 19th century. All you needed were two anvils and some black powder, which you could get from your friendly neighborhood blacksmith. Here’s what you do:

(I don’t recommend trying this at home, even if you do happen to have an anvil. It’s very dangerous.)

Take one anvil and turn it upside down. On the underside is a hollow about the size of a brick. Pour in some gunpowder and place a fuse or a trail of gunpowder. Then place the other anvil right side up on top. When you light off the gunpowder, you will get a terrific explosion and the top anvil will fly at least a hundred feet in the air. It will come down too, so clear the deck.

You can find some examples of anvil firing on YouTube, like this one.

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Slavery in California

This well-known photograph shows a black miner in the California goldfields. It was taken at Auburn Ravine in 1852, but the man’s name is unknown. Was he free or was he enslaved? Did he strike it rich? Was the gold his to keep or did a slaveholder claim it?

With the discovery of gold in 1848, prospectors poured into California. Southern slaveholders saw an opportunity to prosper by working slaves in the goldfields. Free Negroes also came to California, and by the census of 1852 there were approximately 2200 African Americans in California, the majority being enslaved persons. They came overland, working as teamsters (as Alvin Coffey did), and cooks and servants. They came by ship, as sailors and accompanying Southern gold-seekers, like George Washington Dennis.

Some were able to earn the money to buy their freedom, as G.W. Dennis did by working in a gambling house. Others fled and were protected by sympathetic friends. Alvin Coffey noted that “If I’d run away, there’d have been plenty to hide me and protect me.” But Alvin knew that if he ran he would lose any chance of returning to Missouri and rescuing his family.

Were slaves ever sold in California? Undoubtedly they were, but evidence can be hard to find. In his book California’s Black Pioneers, Kenneth G. Goode quotes a notice that appeared in a Sacramento newspaper, the Democratic State Journal in 1852. That paper is not available online, but here is part of the text:

NEGRO FOR SALE — On Saturday the 26th inst., I will sell at public auction a Negro Man, he having agreed to said sale in preference to being sent home. I value him at $300, but if any or all of his abolition brethren wish to show that they have the first honorable principle about them, they can have an opportunity of releasing said Negro from bondage by calling on the subscriber, and the Southern House, precious to that time and paying $100.

Goode, California’s Black Pioneers, p. 60

His “abolition brethren” did indeed come up with the $100 to buy the freedom of their friend, showing that they had more “honorable principles” than the seller.

Another advertisement appeared in the Sacramento Transcript:

Sacramento Transcript 1 April 1850

Note in this case that the buyer is not actually purchasing the girl, but her indenture, which will be in force for two years. One hopes she was released at the end of that period, if not before.

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A Cartoon Expedition to California

Comic books have been around longer than you might think, and the California Gold Rush of 1849 proved to be a gold mine (so to speak) for satiric artists. One of the most entertaining is called Outline History of an Expedition to California, Containing the Fate of the All You Can Get Mining Association by an author-illustrator calling himself XOX. The title page illustration bears the name S.F. Baker at the lower right, so perhaps that was his name.

It has a great title page — very Gorey-esque.

Yale University Library

The story concerns a young New England merchant named Jonathan Swapwell who gets gold fever and joins a company of would-be miners headed for California. The mining association splits up into three groups: one goes by way of Cape Horn, one goes the Panama route, and one travels overland, giving the artist the opportunity to depict the perils of each. Which route Jonathan takes isn’t clear, but he ends up in California and makes a living selling good to miners.

Yale University Library

Jonathan overhears a plan to rob his store, so he and his partner Pat (a cartoon Irishman) pack up their gold and go to San Francisco to catch the next steamer home. Meanwhile, the men who took the Panama route are still waiting for a boat on the Pacific side of the Isthmus.

Yale University Library

The comic strip tale is bookended by two panels that frame the story. The opening panel shows Death and the Devil laying a trap in California to lure men to their deaths.

Yale University Library

The closing panel shows the two filling the large cavity left in the land with the bones of the deceased.

Yale University Library

You can view the entire book courtesy of Yale University Library.

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I Went to Hell and So Can You

Bumpass Hell, that is, in Lassen National Volcanic Park. With grandchildren visiting from Wisconsin, and temperatures over 100 degrees in the valley, a trip to Hell turned out to be cooler than staying at home. The trail to Bumpass Hell is a 3-mile round trip, most of it pretty level, until the descent into the infernal regions.

Jeff in Hell

The story of how Bumpass Hell got its name is pretty well known. Kendall V. Bumpass, local cowboy, hunter, and guide, discovered the geothermal basin near Lassen Peak and scalded his leg when he broke through the crust over a hot pool. I wondered: What more could I find out about the unfortunate Mr. Bumpass?

I figured the incident would have been reported in the papers so I turned to the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Searching on the name Bumpass in the Red Bluff newspapers, I found a few references, but nothing about his famous accident. It turns out to be there, but the quality of the image is so poor that OCR can’t turn it into readable, searchable text. Searching by date ( Exploring Lassen County’s Past pin-pointed the incident to September 1865) I found the article.

K.V. Bumpass

According to Exploring Lassen County’s Past,

On September 10, 1864, Pierson Reading and Kendall Vanderhook Bumpass filed a claim there for “all the minerals there for mining purposes.”

During that first trip, Bumpass stepped through the crust and burned his foot, but he seems to have recovered sufficiently to continue his activities. He named the place Hell after this experience.

The following year, Watson Chalmers, editor of the Red Bluff Independent, went on an exploration in the mountains, which he reported about over several weekly issues of the Independent. He hired Kendall V. Bumpass to guide him and his companion to Lassen Peak and his namesake Hell.

Returning from the adventures of Feather River, and the natural curiosities of Willow Lake, we prepared for an ascent to the top of Lassen Butte, and the region rejoicing in the name of Bumpass Hell. . . . we took up the line of march with Mr. K. V. Bumpass as guide, an old and experienced mountaineer, whose services we had secured to conduct us to the infernal regions.

Mr. Chalmers couldn’t resist a classical reference, and quotes Virgil’s line facilis descensus averno, “the descent to Hell is easy.”

Passing up a mountain to the left of the lake {Lake Helen} and crossing a ridge, we came upon the evidences of a near approach to the sulphur regions. A small stream of hot sulphur water flowed beneath as we clambered along the precipitous side of the mountain. The sulphur water seemed to be destructive to all vegetation, nothing growing on the sides of the mountain save a few spots of grass. The whole vicinity seems unfit for the habitation of living animals, a few grouse alone disturbed the solitude which were quickly bagged by the hunters for supper. The scene of desolation became more dreary as we went up and clouds of steam met our gaze. At last the trail leads up a very steep point of the mountain, perfectly white, looking like a bed of chalk or plaster Paris. On turning the ridge, all the wonders of Hell were suddenly before us. Were it not for the fearful noise, I should suggest a camp meeting upon that spot.

Geothermal activity at Bumpass Hell today is no longer noisy. Chalmers joked that this vision of Hell would be a fitting backdrop for a religious revival.

Riding round the East end of the basin to the North side we tied our horses and prepared to go down for a close inspection. Casting our eyes to the North end we see a large pool of hot water boiling up in the air in many places; adjacent to this pool are several boiling springs of the blackest, nastiest mud that ever was made into pies by school boy urchins. The mud springs, of which there were a large number, were about three or four feet in diameter perfectly circular, the surface of the mud being about four feet below the surface of the basin. Casting in a large rock the mud flew into the air and the spring resumed its regular boilings. Stepping carefully between the spring to the middle of the basin and we came up in the entrance to the headquarters of hell itself. From a large opening in the side of the basin and the edge of the mountain, there went forth a volume of steam with a roar perfectly terrific. Our curiosity overcame all fear of danger and heedless of the warnings of our guide we crowded along a little ridge about a foot in width crumbled away on either side into a pool of boiling water, and with distended necks we gazed into the roaring cavern. The noise perfectly resembles that made by the steamboat at the levee blowing off steam. Every place we stepped was hot, everything we touched was hot.

Bumpass Hell has calmed down quite a bit since 1865. There is still steam and bubbling mudpots, but no mud boiling up into the air or steamboat-like roars. Just as they were about to leave, K.V. Bumpass had his accident.

As we were about to depart from the place, our guide, after cautioning us to be careful where we stepped, that the surface was treacherous, suddenly concluded with Virgil that the “descent to Hell was easy,” for stepping upon a slight inequality in the ground he broke through the crust and plunged his leg into the boiling mud beneath, which clinging to his limb burned him severely. If our guide had been a profane man I think he would have cursed a little; as it was, I think his silence was owing to his inability to do the subject justice . . . A bank of snow lay conveniently near, and taking a handkerchief and binding up the scalded limb with snow and [?] our guide, after planning out our future route, returned to the lake to his camp.

Red Bluff Independent 18 October 1865

Searching the newspaper didn’t turn up any following report on his condition, although it could well be there. Mr. Bumpass had to have his injured leg amputated, but he remained active until his death in 1885 at the age of 76.

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The Bear Flag and John Bidwell

A romanticized illustration of the raising of the Bear Flag

What did John Bidwell think of the Bear Flag Revolt and the famous Bear Flag raised at Sonoma? Not much, if you asked him, and more than one person did ask.

I like our state flag — I think it’s a handsome flag, and it reminds us of the history of California and how the Golden State came to be part of the Union. But the entire incident of the Bear Flag revolution, the Mexican War, and the creation of the flag is not as glorious and romantic as we might like to think. John Bidwell called it “an unjustifiable war.”

Bidwell mentions the flag briefly in “Fremont in the Conquest of California,” published in the Century Magazine in February 1891. Another version appeared shortly thereafter in the big midsummer edition (4 July 1891) of the popular San Francisco magazine The Wasp. His account from the Century is well known — it appears in Echoes of the Past and online at The Museum of the City of San Francisco.  The version he told the Wasp is fuller, but less well known.

With regard to the bear flag incident, which has been so much heralded in romance and history, there was no further basis than a spirit of amusement among a few of the men. In the plaza in front of the residence of Gen. Vallejo, in Sonoma, stood a flag-staff which that gentleman had used when he was Military Commander of California, previous to the time of Castro. The Mexican flag had not floated on it for several years or since the retirement of Vallejo from office. When Fremont’s vanguard of mountaineers took possession of Sonoma, after sending Gen. Vallejo and other as prisoners to Sutter’s Fort, it was suggested that some kind of a flag be made and put on the deserted pole. Some one suggested that the new flag should represent a bear rampant, with lifted paw in the act of crushing a coyote, but that was too much for the artistic ability of any one present, so the plan was simplified to a plain bear. This was simply for amusement and without any idea of selecting the emblem of an independent movement against the Mexican authorities.

One of the men was William Todd (since the war of the Rebellion I met Mr. Todd and learned from him that he was a nephew of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, and brought up in Abraham’s family), who found a small quantity of old reddish paint and with it attempted to make, on a piece of common brown cloth, the representation of a bear, and the same was run up on the flag-pole. The whole affair was ludicrous. Only a few men – two or three – possibly four or five at most – had anything to do with it, and certainly no officer or prominent men took any part. Mexicans looking at the flag were heard to say “coche,” a localism for pig or small hog. The flag was flying when Fremont was in Sonoma, but I doubt he ever noticed it or knew it was there, and this is all there was at the time to the bear flag incident, but it seemed to lend itself readily to romance, and in a short time was distorted and misrepresented until the story went out to the world that an independent movement on foot in California had formally adopted this flag as a standard.


Grizzly bear or pig — you decide.

So it was all just a lark. Making up a flag while waiting for the real war to happen. Or so John Bidwell says. He didn’t get to Sonoma until a few days after the Bear Flag had been run up the flagpole.

John Bidwell never saw the California state flag as we know it today. California didn’t have a state flag until 1911. (There is an excellent history of the Bear Flag at the virtual Bear Flag Museum.) The 1846 Bear Flag was the inspiration for the flag we know and love today, and I think John Bidwell would have liked the way it turned out.

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In Search of Alvin A. Coffey

Today my friend Josie and I went in search of Alvin Coffey‘s presence in Tehama County. I am working on a picture book biography of Coffey, an African American pioneer, and I wanted to see where he lived and where he is buried.

It was a beautiful day for a drive in the country. We drove along Paskenta Road, on the west side of Tehama County, until we came to Elder Creek. Alvin Coffey bought a farm here in 1872. He raised hay and turkeys, and a family of children, on the farm. It’s a lovely location — gently rolling land with a view of the Coast Range to the west and the foothills of the Cascades to the east. It’s summertime, so the grass is dry and the creek has barely any water in it, but in the spring I imagine the grass is lush, the flowers are blooming, and the creek is running with cold, clear water.

Alvin Coffey farm, from Paskenta Road.

I don’t know who the land belongs to now — not the Coffey family — and there is a gate, so I couldn’t get any closer. The old farmhouse is gone, but I still would have liked to get a closer look.

Elder Creek

We then drove into Red Bluff, to the Oak Hills Cemetery. The manager, Leland Owens, was very helpful. He not only looked up the location of the Coffey graves for us, but he led us to them.

The Coffey plot at Oak Hill Cemetery, Red Bluff

The middle marker is Alvin’s. Jeannette Molson tells me that there used to be a headstone, but that is gone, and there is only a marble marker flush with the soil to mark Alvin’s grave. His wife’s grave is to the left and their son John W. to the right. In the second row are the graves of sons Stephen Ware Coffey and Charles Oliver Coffey, and Charles’s wife Jennie Elenora (Scott) Coffey.

His wife Mahala has a headstone, with her maiden name – Mahala Tindall — engraved across the top.

Other Coffey family members are buried in this cemetery, including the youngest daughter, Ora Fina Coffey Williams.

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