In Lake County, men searched in the heavens and dug in the ground for discovery and for wealth. Gold and quicksilver were discovered in California in the 1850s, but nobody thought overly much about the Chinese. They worked in the Lake County Cinnabar mines, and they worked hard.
The main hotel in Kelseyville was typical of the undisguised prejudice against Chinese. The name, ‘Uncle Sam Hotel’ was in recognition of the establishment’s location near Mt. Konocti, which was, at one time, was called Uncle Sam Mountain. A prominent sign in the front of the establishment made their prejudice known: UNCLE SAM HOTEL Good Hunting and Fishing Close Proximity to the Hotel Table Always Supplied with the Best the Market Affords NO CHINESE EMPLOYED
Thank goodness the ladies today are not under the same courtship pressures as they were in the 1880s. The playing field between men and women is more level. In Victorian times it was a matter of social survival for a woman of 1900 to look beautiful without showing any of the signs of powder and paint make-up. How did they do it? An article by Marilyn Johnson of Lake County gives us some of the answers as to how the magic was wrought.
The ladies of Lake County were not only beautiful and charming, but they were also, in matters of personal grooming and personal conduct, a cut above the ladies of most other counties. In 1879 they outdid themselves, and the rules described next explain why. Do not suck the head of your parasol. To follow that unladylike habit will make one to question whether you have breakfasted. To suck it is not lady-like. And, let me tell you, it is excessively unbecoming.
More than three dozen sailboats, steamboats, and gasoline-powered boats were built and moved across Clear Lake on their various journeys and duties during the 1800s. From 1856 until nearly to the present time, some ships and their builders took part in adventures that are worth the retelling in this brief history of Lake County.
On the day of her launching, the watching crowd was uncertain whether the solid Teakwood Golden Dragon would float… or would it even survive her launching. As the Golden Dragon slid into the waters of Clear lake, the audible gasp of relieved tension that came from the assembled citizens was a testament to her success. During the next hour, as the Golden Dragon showed off and skimmed upon Clear Lake’s water, she behaved as though she had swum there all her life.
After the smoke and sounds of the bloody Civil War died away, there was peace. Yet, for some, the prejudice and hatred remained. Long after the Civil War ended, there was bitterness and prejudice between people of different political parties; Democrat and the Klan-like bands of marauders and vigilantes rode by night to enforce their ideas of right and wrong and punish those who held views about slavery, race, morality, and religion different from their own. These avenging night riders were descendants of the Civil War Northern Knights of the Golden Circle, or as they were called by others, The Circle of Honor or The Knights of the mighty Host. One of the most violent was the White Caps.
Riche’s young wife, Helen, angry at the sudden rude intrusion and manner, rushed to one of the men and tried to pull the mask from his face. At the same time, seeing her intent, her husband grabbed at her, moving to protect his wife. One of the masked men reached her first. He pushed her to the floor, and at that same instant, a volley of gunfire erupted in the room. “There were eight or ten shots, or maybe more,” Riche said later. ”I tried to pull Helen away from the man that was holding her down. That was when I saw Helen was wounded. She had been shot, and her side was bleeding.” Riche always kept two pistols in his bedroom under his pillow. He also had a rifle. Unfortunately, getting to that weapon at that moment was no longer possible. His Winchester 44 was behind the front door of the saloon, and the masked men were in the way. “I pushed Helen’s body under a little raised part of the bar. I hoped to take her into the kitchen for safety while I went to the bedroom for my pistol.”
Helen Riche was a fighter. Somehow, during the melee, instead of remaining where she was on the floor, she crawled to the front door and managed to grab the Winchester from behind the door. Before she could throw the rifle to her husband, one of the men saw what she had done and took the Winchester out of her hand, throwing the weapon out of reach. Making no further move, Mrs. Riche lay on the floor bleeding. Fred Bennett, the bartender, had disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Mr. Riche alone to deal with the situation. Riche stated, “I thought the best thing I could do was get right in the middle of them. That way, they could not shoot me without risking their own safety. I did, and they backed out of the room onto the porch. The last one in the room I kind of threw out. As I did, I heard more shots outside on the porch by the door.”
The men in the posse stared at the bleeding corpse with interest. The dead man was dressed in what was meant as some sort of disguise. He looked like he had dressed for Halloween. His arms were covered in red sleeves, burlap sacks were sewn around his body and his legs, and there was a white paper mask over his face. Later, as they searched around the tavern grounds, the officers found more white masks made of flour sacks with holes cut for the eyes. Near the barn, sixty feet from the tavern, they discovered a small tin lard bucket filled with tar and a cat-o’-nine-tails whip lay next to the bucket.
Who were these ten men? They were not outlaws. They were ordinary citizens. The single thing they had in common was that they all worked for the mine. One man was part owner of the Bradford mine. Staley, one of those held for murder, had been an election officer at the Great Western Mine, one of the places selected for polling.
The plot thickened. It was common knowledge that Bennett had thrashed several of the raiders. They all hated him. Testimony was given to say that Blackburn wished to get ‘even’ with Bennett, and Blackburn was the man that originated the idea of the raid. Habishaw added, “There was never any intention to injure the Riche’s. The raid was aimed solely at Bennett. Blackburn said, ‘We’ll flog him well, give him a coat of tar and feathers, escort him to the County border, and order him never to set foot in Lake County again.’”
“Staley and I were living together in one of the Bullion Mine’s cabins. The following night we all took an oath. If anyone spoke of the raid, he must ‘pay with his life.’ During a third meeting, we put burnt cork blacking on our faces and put on the flour sack coats and masks. McGuyre, the leader, told us there must be no bloodshed. On the way over to Riche’s place, McGuyre called Staley and me. He said if ‘Bennett or the Riche’s abuse us, of course we must defend ourselves.” “When we were all on the porch, McGuyre gave us a signal with a whistle from an empty .44 shell casing, and we entered the tavern in a body. After the shooting was over, we all went out, and we all walked down the road. We repeated our oath to keep silent and returned to Bickard’s house… by different routes.”
Crimes, civil or criminal, in Lake County’s middle years, were as varied and interesting as they were in the great centers of the world. They ran the gamut from murder and robbery to fraud and con games. Nevertheless, this story of Lake County’s bankruptcy is nowhere as grand or important. It is a tale of simple thievery, followed by over-zealousness and carelessness, that caused the town to believe the County Treasury had been robbed… not once but twice. It is the story of how Lake County nearly went bankrupt and nearly repeated the catastrophe a second time.
The first three tales are told by a child, Polly Hargraves. Let me offer a word of warning. The third story of a Grizzly Bear will leave you hanging until next week. Like all the others, these three offer the reader a three-dimensional picture of what life was like a century and a half ago during the early years of Lake County’s history. They tell of events with a truer insight and understanding of our ancestor’s trials, perils, and their happier moments. Related by a young woman in her more personal way, they reveal more than cold facts of history.
We both shot at the bear again with our musket-loading rifles. At this, the bear reared up on its hind legs and made for us. We dropped our guns and ran for dear life. The bear was gaining, and we had good reason to run even faster. Before long, seeing the bear was winning, we climbed the nearest tree. The wounded bear came to our tree and stalked us with blood in its eye and jaws open for business. Lucky for us, the bear was badly wounded. Otherwise, he would have climbed the tree easy. That would have been the end of Dan and me.
In 1910, when our house was built, it was made of single-walled construction. I think it was called ‘Board and Bat’. The original section had two small rooms we used as bedrooms and a living room and a kitchen. My sisters and I slept in one bed between feather comforters. There were no closets in the house, no electricity, no running water, and no bathroom. My sisters and I bathed in a tub behind the kitchen stove. The water was brought in from the outside, and we heated it on the stove and took our bath, one at a time, in the same water. The toilet was a privy in the back yard, quite a distance from the house.
This tale is about a hunting accident. The accident was gory and grotesque. Despite the odds, the victim not only survived, but he also got better, went back to work, and lived for another thirty-five years. It was told by Art Fifield of Lakeport, and it happened in 1906. Men had to be tough in those days.
“Several of the cinnabar miners, each of which worked in different mines and did not know one another, reported seeing a Sasquatch. Each of the men gave a similar description of what they had seen and where they had spotted the creature. ‘They’re on Cobb Mountain and on Konocti. It looks like a big bear that walks upright. He smells terrible… like rotten meat or garbage. And they make terrible noises at night.'”