Cory’s Historical Corner

By Cory Peterman

It’s Been a Good Run…

If I counted correctly, I have written 132 articles for my “Historical Corner” since I first started writing for the Sierra County Prospect and The Mountain Messenger a few years ago. The first eleven articles were written during the summer of 2018, when The Mountain Messenger was still under the proprietorship of Don Russell. At the end of that summer, I put my series on hold and did not write anything the entire next year, as I found myself quite busy finishing my last few months of architecture school at Cal Poly, getting married, moving to the Bay Area, and starting a job at a high-end residential architecture firm. However, I once again started writing my weekly historical articles upon the takeover of The Mountain Messenger by Carl Butz in January 2020. Since then, I have written an additional 121 articles. Since I’ve been living in Italy for two years, and since my wife and I have our first baby on the way, I find myself once again in a position to put my articles on hold for an indefinite amount of time. So, instead of presenting an article on Sierra County History, I invite my readers to take a look at the history of “Cory’s Historical Corner” and some of my favorite historical discoveries.

Firstly, Liz Fisher can be given the credit for giving me the motivation for starting a weekly column in June 2018, though my fascination with Sierra County history began at a very young age and resulted in my volunteering for the Sierra County Historical Society and at the Downieville Museum as a teenager. My very first articles focused on the historic buildings of Sierra County and their construction dates. However, soon after, I moved on to more fascinating subjects (well, at least in my opinion) like crimes, accidents, and murder trials.

Over time, many interesting historic figures have appeared in my articles, starting with Larry Lord Motherwell, a likely serial killer whose spree was put to an end when he was found guilty by the Sierra County court for the murder of Pearl Putney. Another fascinating character was a woman known as “Madame” Romargi, who ran a wayside inn in the latter half of the 1800s that was rumored to be one of the most dangerous spots in California at the time. I was especially ecstatic when I came across an basically unknown old photo of her in my research.

One of my favorite series to write about was entitled “Richard Phelan and the Gold Ridge Mine.” One headline regarding the Gold Ridge Mine read “The Awful Curse of Gold – Fifteen Violent Deaths Due to Contest for Possession – Murder Has Marked the Spot From First Year of Its Discovery.” Richard Phelan didn’t find himself in very many fortunate situations during his life as well, spending several years in San Quentin after killing two men (later being pardoned after having been declared that he acted in self-defense) and immediately afterwards being accused of robbing the Selby Smelting Works – I recommend revisiting this series if you have not yet read it.

Another interesting trial I wrote about was the Patterson-Dutra murder trial, when a Sierra County woman was falsely accused of having an affair on her husband and murdering him, though a body was never found and he turned up alive and well later in Arizona. Unfortunately, there are many misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist events that mark Sierra County’s history.

Relating to this, I had the opportunity to provide the history of the namesake of the former Jim Crow Road before the Board of Supervisors voted to change the name of the road to Crow City Road last year. I’ve written several articles on the treatment of the minority groups of Sierra County, especially the Chinese and Blacks, and provided some clarifications on the hanging of a young Mexican woman, most commonly-known as Josefa Segovia, in Downieville in 1851. What a long way Sierra County has come… learning from our history is a never-ending process.

I was also delighted to share the histories of some families that have lived in Sierra County for generations, and stories of my own ancestors (six generations of my family have lived in Sierra County). I am also more than thankful for the Sierra County residents and out-of-county readers of the Sierra County Prospect and The Mountain Messenger that provided me queries and ideas for subjects to write about – your help was greatly appreciated when I was running out of ideas or when I was on a deadline! Other times, locals put me into contact with people looking into the history of Sierra County. In one such instance, I became aware of the connection of a place known as Twist’s Flat to Alexandre Dumas, who immortalized the place in his novel The Journal of Madame Giovanni.

Fortunately, I was able to use my writing platform to straighten out some misconceptions of Sierra County history, whether it be the construction date of a building, or fact-checking legends such as the supposed 5,009-ounce gold specimen known as the Finney Nugget.

All in all, it’s been a good run. I don’t know when I’ll return to writing history articles for the Sierra County Prospect and The Mountain Messenger, but in the meantime, I am available by email at to answer any of my readers’ history questions to the best of my abilities. I hope my readers enjoyed my articles over the last few years – here’s to more in the future!

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