Monday, April 17, 2017

The Astounding Carizzo Plain

Last weekend we joined our Central Valley Hiking Meet-up Group for a trip over to the Carizzo Plain National Monument in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. I hate to even tell you because there's a good chance the flowers are starting to die back but if you have the ability to jump in your car and go today you will not be disappointed!

 The Carrizo Plain is a large enclosed grassland plain, approximately 50 miles long and up to 15 miles across. It contains the 246,812-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument, and it is the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It includes Painted Rock which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012 it was further designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archeological value. The San Andreas Fault cuts along the length of the plain.

There she be. Big, bad San Andreas fault. Right lower corner, goes diagonally up and slightly to the left. Waaaay off in the distance at upper left corner is Soda Lake which is full of water right now but normally full of alkali.
State Route 166 passes the south entrance to the Carrizo Plain, and State Route 58 crosses through the northern portion. Connecting them is the narrow Soda Lake Road, the only road that goes through the plain. It can become impassable during or soon after a rain since the middle portion of it is gravel.

It almost hurts your eyes. The color is so intense.
The hills are alive. With the sound of COLOR.
I'm telling you. If you can drop everything. DO. And go.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

On The Trail of Joaquin Murrieta in Western Fresno County

Fresno and Madera counties are really big. On the east we go all the way up into the Sierra Nevada at Yosemite, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. In the west we go past I-5 and up into the coast range. In this western part we find an interesting story about the infamous Joaquin Murrieta. And it was there in the western part of Fresno County near Cantua Creek that Murrieta supposedly met his maker.

A really good book
I became fascinated with Murrieta after I read a book by Isabel Allende called "Daughter of Fortune" in which there was a fictional character,  Joaquin Andieta. In the story we find that Andieta, originally from Chile, moves to the Gold Rush to escape disappointment in love and to prove to his love his true worth. In America he changes his name to Murrieta and becomes a bandit after tragedy strikes. I didn't think much of it until I discovered Murrieta was a real person. I wanted to know more. Then I found out that Murrieta had stayed for a while in Hornitos, California and soon after that he had met his end in western Fresno county near Cantua Creek also known as Arroyo Cantua. Now I was on a quest to experience the history first hand.

Interesting parallels exist between Murrieta and Jesse James. In both cases close relatives formed the core of the outlaw gang. Both bands were spawned in the economic and political upheaval of a society disrupted by war. The gangs were sheltered and protected by citizens who were threatened by the new economic and social order. Strangely, in both cases, it was also newspapermen who built these outlaws into sympathic victims of an unjust society.

We know from church records that Joaquin was born in the Mexican state of Sonora in 1830 to Joaquin and Rosalia Murrieta. His mother had been previously married to a man named Carrillo. In later years Joaquin sometimes called himself Joaquin Carrillo, which led to much confusion and helped create a "many Joaquins" theory. The young Joaquin married Rosa Feliz in Mexico and they, along with Jesus Murrieta and Rosa's three brothers, went to California to strike it rich in the gold fields. Rosa's brother, Claudio Feliz, began gold mining near Sonora while Joaquin and his bride moved to Niles Canyon, then part of Contra Costa County. In these early years there is evidence that Joaquin worked as a vaquero near Oakley and Brentwood and as a mestenero  or mustang wrangler.
In 1850 when Joaquin was 21 they all traveled to the Sierra foothills. They set up a small farm and began to work a claim near Hangtown which is now known as Placerville. However, in the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miner's Tax was imposed in California and greedy neighbors tried to evict them by telling them that it was illegal for them to hold a claim. This is where fact and legend begins to blur.

Some say Joaquin and his wife were attacked by the other miners. The story is they beat him, lynched his brother and raped his wife. It was after this, the legend goes, that Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other similarly abused miners, who began to get revenge on those who had forced them from their claims. Bad stuff like this most certainly happened in the lawless mining camps so it's not a totally farfetched possibility. Who knows for sure what actually happened?

The man himself
On the more factual side we find from court records and newspaper accounts that the beginning of Murrieta's life of crime began when he joined up with the Feliz gang. Rosa's brother Claudio Feliz was the leader of one of the most vicious bands of outlaws to have ever preyed upon the Anglo, Oriental and Hispanic inhabitants of California. 

The first known attack by Claudio Feliz's gang occurred in Contra Costa County at the John Marsh Rancho during the night of December 5, 1850. Ten days later the ranch of Digby Smith near San Jose was hit. The banditos were moving south. In February Feliz struck again at the rancho of a native Californio, Anastacio Chabolla, two miles from San Jose. This time his intended victims were on guard and the well-armed vaqueros fought off the outlaws. Feliz's band of killers escaped to the Sierra foothills where they committed numerous robberies and murders. 

It was in 1851 that Joaquin, along with Reyes Feliz, who was Claudio's brother,  joined the gang and began learning the killer's trade. Feliz was never shy about robbing and murdering whoever he happened upon. His victims were mostly Chinese, Anglos and even one unfortunate Black person. As pressure from the law mounted, Joaquin left the Feliz gang for the safety of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, in September 1851, Feliz raided the Kottinger ranch in Pleasanton but was thwarted. Then Feliz made a fatal mistake by leaving the wrong robbery victim alive. This was a Hispanic man named Agapito who told on him immediately. In California, the old Hispanic families were politically powerful and deadly serious about enforcing the law. By robbing a fellow Hispanic, Feliz lost the protection of his fellow countrymen and his gang was quickly cornered. During the ensuing gun battle Claudio Feliz was shot to pieces and killed.

Leadership of the remaining members passed to Murrieta. Claudio's brother, Reyes, joined Joaquin in Los Angeles. Soon after that Joaquin and Reyes were  implicated in the shooting death of one Gen. Joshua Bean, a major general in the state militia. The vigilante posse arrested Reyes but Joaquin escaped and abandoned Reyes to his fate while he hightailed it to the gold camps. Reyes was subsequently executed and shortly afterwards in January 1853 there began the short, bloody crime spree that was to make the name of Joaquin Murrieta infamous throughout California.

Because they tended to be unarmed and powerless which made them docile, Chinese miners were a favorite target of Joaquin's gang. There also appears to have been racial hatred associated with many of these crimes. Many Chinese were killed; apparently just for the pleasure it gave the outlaws. Protected by the large Hispanic population, Joaquin and his gang killed 22 men in two months, most of them Chinese. By now Joaquin's face was too well known in the mining camps for his personal safety. Three months after they started their campaign in March 1853 the gang vanished into the wilderness of the remote western San Joaquin Valley that was to become Fresno County.

Los Tres Piedras is high above the Valley floor

The area as seen on a map
The posse hunting for Joaquin was led by Harry Love, a California ranger, bounty hunter and mercenary.  They had no success until they captured Jesus Feliz, the youngest and last remaining Feliz brother. The place where Joaquin and his bunch hid out was near a large rocky outcropping called Los Tres Piedras near Cantua Creek. It is now identified on some maps as Joaquin's Rock. This is a large rock formation at the top of  the mountains above I-5. The Three Rocks are relatively easy to see from the valley when you are looking southwesterly as you drive south on I-5. But if you're coming up from LA on I-5 you will miss it unless you turn around and look back behind you. It might as well be Tora Bora. Finding a bandit way up there where they can see forever and see you coming would make this an excellent stronghold.

Modern day Cantua Creek as seen from Coalinga/Mendota road. Tres Piedras in the distance.
So it took an informant to bring the bandits down and it happened to be that Jesus Feliz told the posse where the Murrieta gang's hideout was. Some have speculated that he may have blamed Joaquin for abandoning his older brother, Reyes. Based on the information from, Harry Love's California rangers captured the gang on July 25, 1853 and killed 2 of them during a running gunfight near today's intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 33 just south of Panoche Pass and north of Coalinga at Cantua Creek. Out in the valley there is a little village called Cantua Creek so don't get it confused with the actual creek that flows down out of the area where Joaquin and his bandit gang hid.

Sheriff Love cut off the head of the captured bandit and preserved it in a bottle of alcohol. In the days before DNA, fingerprints or mug shots, this was the most practical means of proving identification. The head was carried through the mining camps where Murrieta's face was well known. There was nearly universal agreement that it was, in fact, Joaquin. The preserved head was on display in San Francisco until 1906 when it was destroyed in the great earthquake and fire.

Soon after the grisly remains went on display reports started to come in that Murrieta was seen in various places in California alive and well. In August 1853, an anonymous Los Angeles-based man wrote to the San Francisco Alta California Daily that Love and his Rangers murdered some innocent mustang catcher and bribed people to swear out affidavits.

The myths began to form. Twenty six years later in 1879 a woman came forward who claimed to be Murrieta's sister. She stated emphatically that the displayed head was not her brother's because it did not have the characteristic scar. At around the same time, numerous sightings were reported of Murrieta as an old man. These were never confirmed. 

His legend grew the most when the first  account of his life appeared in a book by John Rollin Ridge called  "The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta". Ridge portrayed Murrieta as a folk hero who had turned to a life of crime because of the injustices he suffered. According to Ridge, Joaquin was a dashing, romantic figure who swore to avenge the atrocities committed upon his family. To his Mexican compatriots he was generous and kind, giving much of his ill gotten gains to the poor, who in turn helped to shelter him from the law. Over the years, the Mexican outlaw began to be called the Robin Hood of El Dorado and take on a symbolized resistance of the Mexicans to the Anglo-American domination of California. His legend is even said to have inspired a Hollywood version. Yes, you know him as Don Diego de la Vega and the legend of Zorro.

In the end the legend of Joaquin lives on and we are left to speculate, enjoy a bit of California history and learn from it. Vive!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Ghosts of Hornitos

About 13 miles west of Mariposa and 31 miles east of Merced lies the small community of Hornitos. I originally got interested in Hornitos because I was researching the story of Joaquin Murietta who was one of California's most notorious bandits. I had read a novel by Isabel Allende called "Daughter of Fortune" where one of the characters could have been Senor Murrieta and it made me want to know more. I love going places where characters in novels might have lived and here was one right on my back yard.

Hornitos is Spanish for "little ovens". In the early days the Mexican inhabitants placed their dear departed in what looked like the little square ovens used for everyday baking. None of the oven shaped tombs exist today. They were made of adobe clay bricks and have long since disintegrated. They might have looked like this.
Little hornito-like tombs
Felicita Cruz, nacio 1857, fallecio 1976, only 19 years old.
The community was founded by Mexican miners in 1848 and when settlers were evicted from the nearby mining town of Quartzburg they came over to Hornitos. Most of those people were ruffians and ne'er-do-wells. They changed the character of Hornitos almost overnight. Instead of a sleepy little Hispanic village it quickly became rough and tumble. The streets were lined with fandango halls, bars, gambling dens, and more than a couple bawdy houses. A thriving Chinese section formed to the east of town and nearly 2,000 people lived there. Business was thriving as $40,000 in gold was shipped out on a daily basis. 
A portal in another time and place. Just step through.
The only way to keep up with the many people killed on  a daily basis in gunfights was to dump the bodies into a gully appropriately named Dead Man's Gulch. Famed Mexican bandit, Joaquin Murieta, frequented the fandango halls and was rumored to have been almost captured in the town in the 1850's.
The Pacific Saloon was built in 1851
There's someone haunting this house. Can you see them at the window?
Eventually the gold ran out and the people moved to other places in search of a livelihood. At its heyday in 1859 the population was around 15,000. But in 1932 the population dwindled to 60. Today the population is about 75 and Hornitos is considered one of the best preserved ghost towns in the Mother Lode country with ruins of an old Wells Fargo office, a Masonic Hall, an old jailhouse and even the store where Domenico Ghirardelli got his start before moving to San Francisco to get rich and famous making chocolate.
The ruins of Domenico Ghirardelli's store.
A General Store
Near the town square the ghosts of two prostitutes, who fought to the death with knives, can still be felt to this day some say. They say if you stand still in the town square and listen you can still hear the screams of the women as they fought and the cheers of the miners who stood around egging them on.Or maybe that's the neighbors.
Can you imagine being pulled through that tiny window?
The old jail house is haunted by a miner who died there. The brick structure still stands today and is about 12 feet by 12 feet with two 1 foot square windows. Accused of stealing a horse, the miner was incarcerated to await trial. Several drunk cowboys saw the miner in the jail and decided they were going to rescue him. They convinced the miner to tie a rope around his waist so they could pull him through the window to freedom. The miner did so and the cowboys pulled and pulled but couldn't get him through the small opening. They pulled so hard that they eventually broke his back. The miner later succumbed to his injuries and died.
This person lived and died just like the rest of us.
Another spirit, a young Mexican girl, haunts the local cemetery. She died during an epidemic and wasn't given a proper burial but instead was placed on top of the ground and covered with bricks and stones. Through the years tourists have taken the stones and bricks from her grave. From time to time she is seen searching the cemetery, looking for what no one knows. Maybe her bricks and stones.

Hornitos is rich in history. Both from the gold rush era and in ghost stories. It's a great day trip for those who like ghost towns and western lore.

The Stone Houses of Raymond

One of the things I like best about Real Estate is discovering new places. I like walking into an old house and pondering its history. Who were the people that lived here? What were their joys and sorrows? Did any tragedy befall them? What happiness and contentment did they find?

I like to imagine them in their daily life, walking around in the very spot I am walking now. What would we say to each other? What would be the fragrance in the air? What would we would hear? What would it feel like?

On the way to Yosemite one day we passed through a little town called Raymond. I had heard that there was a granite quarry there and that was the big industry of the area. Driving north in the rain on road 600 we saw the quarry and numerous stone foundations and then actual houses, a church and an old burned out store. The very first sunny day we had we went back to visit the local museum and there we discovered the whole story and more. 

The Raymond Museum is in the preserved house of Charles Miller. It's in private hands now and the owners Lynn Northrop and her husband are a wealth of information. Charles Miller was the young agent sent there to establish the town. He lived there only 7 years from 1886 to 1893 and then he succumbed to pneumonia. Raymond itself was named after a travel agent for the Raymond & Whitcomb Travel Agency in Boston but who had hotels in Pasadena. These entrepreneurs decided to develop Raymond as a more reliable route for visitors to Yosemite. Visitors took a train from Madera and then went by stagecoach to Yosemite itself. Even Teddy Roosevelt made a stop in Raymond. At its peak about 3,000 people lived in the area.

The museum is open on Sunday.
The area is beautiful. You find rolling hills and open pastures just right for horses and it's not far from Madera being only about a half hour drive north on paved road. There is also Oakhurst which is a bustling little town with all the amenities you might need about 30 minutes farther up on road 600 and Hwy 41. Lynn says one of the nicest things about the area is that you can ride year round. The ground is mostly decomposed granite and it drains super fast.

On the way to Knowles and the quarry.
This is what remains of Dapelo's Store, the Parthenon of Raymond.
St. Anne's Catholic church still holds mass every Sunday morning.
What's left of Peter Bisson's house.
The quarry off in the distance.
An interesting point to note was the actual acquisition of the quarry site. The site was originally purchased by a man by the name of Luke David who got it very reluctantly. All he wanted was the spring and a certain piece of creek bottom. To get the spring and creek he had to take what he deemed was a worthless pile of rock.  It  is now conceded by granite men, taking into consideration accessibility, quality, quantity and ease of working, to be the largest and best building granite in the world. The Post Office in San Francisco, for example, is built of Raymond granite. The stone is called "Sierra White".
This is one of a pair of stone lions that grace the entrance to the quarry.
There are a lot of properties for sale around the Raymond area. If you're interested in checking them out just drop us a line or give us a call.

My Brilliant Career

I entitle this post "My Brilliant Career" after a 1979 movie starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill. This movie made a big impression on me as I always identified with headstrong women who made their own way.

Good girls rarely make history

The main character Sybil is a headstrong, free-spirited girl growing up in late 19th century Australia. She dreams of a better life and doesn't apply herself to her work on a country farm. (that is so me) Most of the time you see her playing piano. She plays "Scenes From Childhood" by Robert Schumann. Not knowing what to do, her parents send her to live with her grandmother in hopes that the grandmother will teach her proper manners and behavior. She is soon courted by two local men whom she ignores and then a well-to-do childhood friend Harry and she actually starts to like him.

Eventually Sybil gets punished for her inability to "toe the line" and gets sent away to be a governess on a poor farm where she makes a moderate success teaching the children to read by reading from the newspapers that line the wall of the shack. When she returns to Grandmama, Harry comes back ready to woo and wed but Sybil would rather stay unmarried and be a writer. She senses that she will be tied down by marriage even though she really likes the guy. She is torn but she goes with the writing. Remember this is 19th century and you're going to have to be very rebellious to break with convention. And she does. She says Harry can you wait for a couple years until I get my novel done? That's the end.

Here's the beginning....

My Brilliant Career

At a time when everybody is contemplating retirement I'm doing nothing of the sort. I made bad choices when I was young (I admit it)  and I didn't save up enough money to retire on. So Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work I go at age 66. Marty and I thought about what we could do as "old" people that didn't entail sitting chained to a desk and we came up with real estate. We can work as hard as we need or want to, pretty much in the hours we need or want to. And make a little money so we're not relying on Social Security which I might add doesn't really provide security. But it is a help. Only a little help.  Not a main gig by a long shot.

Marty likes Farm and Ranch and I like Single Family Homes. As "geezers" we can help people sell a home or make a good investment in purchasing a home.

Buying a home is a lot better than renting. That's a given. Now we make suggestions for how people can stop pouring money down the toilet and make an investment in their future.

This blog is going to be about all things related to real estate. I'll have essays about interesting neighborhoods. There's one I have in mind about the Stone Houses of Raymond, California. I'll also have stories about home renovation and smart creative financing and all sorts of other related topics that I find interesting. So I know you will, too.

I can also answer questions and/or write about your questions.

So here goes. The Good Ship Renee Lucille launches!

Old Fashioned Values - New Fangled Technology