January 29 (1890, 1979, 2003)
Gold, Snow, and Open Space

[Below, an excerpt regarding this date in 1890, during a fierce winter in this part of the Sierras.  May H. Southern was a telegraph operator for the Southern Pacific railroad]
The Hard Winter of 1889-1890
By May H. Southern

January 29. General Superintendent Fillmore gave out the following summary of railroad situation:

Few trains blockaded between Blue Canyon and Shady Run; 1800 men with picks and shovels cutting away snow banks twelve to fifteen feet high; snow on sheds at Summit and Tunnel 13 from 50 to 250 feet deep and in isolated places 500 feet. Three hundred men between Sims and Edgewood with provisions scarce between these points. 3500 men employed extra, of these 2500 men on Central Pacific Railroad. Estimates its loss since trouble began fourteen days ago at $75,000 a day or over $1,000,000 to January 29th.

January 1[sic February]. Seventeen days blockade lifted in the Sierra; Emigrant Gap out of food, great suffering; 500 loaded freight cars snowed in on sidings, great damage, buildings crushed, lives lost, damage still growing.

Sacramento Valley flooded. Coast towns under water. Persons suffering for food; death rate high from pneumonia and la grippe. Business at complete standstill.

At Tunnel 9 between Sims and Delta, probably biggest slide that ever swooped down mountain side filled tunnel and river; north end of tunnel buried one hundred feet.

[Read the entire document here. ]

1/29/79 [...]  jon and i have been gold mining a couple of times, to canyon creek below the big waterfall, and to squires canyon below blue devil diggings. we've found good color at both, but the concentration is such that dredging would appear to be the only economic way to make a living. actually, i panned out my first nugget ~ about this big: °

and what else is news? wonderful spring-like weather for a week ~ a few inches of snow yesterday—clear today and i plan to x-c ski with mom and rich. thursday kelley and i plan to ski.


i had a burn pile get away from me in a wind and burn about 50'x200' ~ CDF came out and knocked it down. big smoke.

gold mining is hard work.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

[An unfinished essay, last modified January, 29, 2003]

Trails and Open Space
Past, Present, Future
Russell Towle

The 21st century is upon us, California’s population is growing, and even as the subdivisions and shopping centers spread ever farther, we residents of the Dutch Flat area still may think that our little neck of the woods will remain as beautiful as always

However, there is much at risk. Consider the historic trails in our area—and by “our area,” I mean, roughly, everything between Colfax on the west and the Sierra crest on the east. Even as early as 1953, public access to these old public trails had become an issue, as gates were locked and “no trespassing” signs went up. The Placer County Board of Supervisors then passed an ordinance which declared sixty of these trails to be “county roads” and set forth penalties, including fines and jail time, for blocking any one of these trails. The trail list included, for instance, the Fords Bar Trail, from Gold Run to Iowa Hill; the Green Valley Trail; and the Stevens Trail.

It is notable that Republican business leader and equestrian Wendell Robie was the driving force behind the 1953 ordinance.

Complaints from property owners followed immediately, under the great banner of “property rights,” and within a year, the ordinance was rescinded, and another substituted, which mentioned no trail in particular, but declared all public trails to be “county roads,” and provided the same penalties for their closure. Seldom if ever has Placer County attempted to enforce this weakened ordinance.

The problem remains. Although Tahoe National Forest (TNF) seems enormous, there is much in the way of private lands within the Forest boundary. Most of this private land goes back to President Lincoln’s grants to the Central Pacific Railroad; now these tens of thousands of acres are largely owned by a single lumber company, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). Other private lands go back to patented mining claims, old homesteads, and to lands claimed or purchased in conjunction with the water rights and infrastructure for the various mining ditches, which served the hydraulic mines at Dutch Flat, Gold Run, and elsewhere.

The net result is that it is hard to find a historic trail which does not, at some point, traverse private land.

Quite a furor about property rights arises whenever the subject of public access to these old trails is brought up, or whenever there is an effort, however feeble, to protect the wonderful scenery and open space of Placer County through zoning restrictions of some kind. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that, when these homesteads were filed, these mining claims patented, and these hundreds of square miles given to the railroads in California, the Federal government did not have legal title to these lands. These lands had been stolen from their original owners, the Native Californians, hereabouts known as the Nisenan Maidu.

It is an interesting tidbit of California history that, in the early days of statehood, this theft was faced squarely. It was frankly conceded that neither the State of California nor the Federal government had any legal title to California lands. The only remedy was to negotiate a settlement with the Indians, and in 1851 and 1852 a series of treaties were signed (the Barbour Treaties), in which, in exchange for fairly generous reservations, the Indians relinquished all their title on everything else. For instance, in Placer and Nevada counties, Chief Weimar affixed his sign to a treaty in which the Nisenan Maidu gave up their ancestral homeland, in exchange for a reservation which encompassed, roughly, the lands between Bear River on the south, the South Yuba River on the north, the Sacramento Valley on the west, and Chicago Park on the east.

The Barbour Treaties were sent to the U.S. Senate in 1852 for ratification. Now, it so happens that the Indians of California were dying in large numbers at that time, from diseases brought in with the Gold Rush, and the Senate, duly considering the larger picture, placed the Barbour Treaties in a secret sealed archive, which was not discovered until around 1903.

By 1903, the destruction of the California Indians had been completed, for all intents and purposes, so very little was made of the discovery. Some few people were nagged by uncertainty, however, and in the late 1930s, as I understand it, the impoverished and poorly-educated remnants of the Native Californians were induced to relinquish all claims to title.  ...

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