I thought it would be interesting to once in a while share historic photographs that were taken in Sierra County, and then to describe them. To start out, I am sharing the following photograph, courtesy of the California Historical Society in San Francisco, which depicts a view of Downieville in December of 1861, looking south down Commercial Street. This is one of the earliest known photos of Downieville.
At first glance, one may notice a temporary footbridge erected across what is now the Downie River. This photo was taken after the flood of December 1861, which took out the Jersey Bridge (along with several others along the Yuba River, including the bridges at Goodyear’s Bar, Foster’s Bar, and Bullard’s Bar). The Sacramento Union reported that Downieville flooded on December 7th and 8th, with seven inches of rain on the 8th, and 12.5 inches of rain on the 9th. This mass accumulation of rain lent to the Great Flood of 1862 (which took place in December 1861 and January 1862), which was the largest flood in recorded history in the states of California, Oregon, and Nevada.
While casually browsing through some old newspapers not long ago, I came across a remarkable photo that is said to depict Madam Romargi, the keeper of the infamous roadhouse known as the Sierra-Nevada House. For those of you not familiar with the story of Madam Romargi and her wayside inn, you can find my series on it online. The place was said to be “sinister, undesirable, and rugged” and “was known as the resort of the worst band of desperadoes in the country” according to early newspapers. It is written that everyone passing by the Sierra-Nevada House “was expected to stop and patronize their bar. Indeed they found it safer to do so. If Madam Romargi was not pleased with anyone, she would take a shot at him – a ‘gentle’ reminder to do better by them” and that “several miners, who had been known to be ‘headed’ for this place, rather well supplied with ‘dust’ or coin, had mysteriously ‘disappeared,’ but probably, having no relatives, nothing was ever done about it.” Madam Romargi was known to carry “in the folds of her dress, an ancient dagger and also a fully-loaded six-shooter.” So considering the fear people had of Jane Romargi, how did someone manage to capture her on camera?
Along the former trail that leads to the High Commission Mine near Downieville, an iron cross stands alone, marking the final resting place of Henry Dalgas, a native of Denmark who died in Downieville on August 29, 1860. Unfortunately, I have never found any records on Henry Dalgas – how old was he when he passed away? What did he do in Downieville? Did he have any remaining family members? These questions remain unanswered.
The Dethroning of a Sierra County Forest Monarch by Tom Gilfoy
There used to be a big ole sugar pine sitting high up on a ridge overlooking the North Fork of the Yuba River. Although a real giant, it probably appeared even larger than it really was because it was so much bigger than all the other trees around it. The Forest Service must have thought this old forest monarch was something special too as it put up a sign designating it, “King’s Sugar Pine.”
It’s hard to tell someone exactly where the old tree was located as there is no well known landmark in the area that can be used as a starting point for directions. About the closest thing to it is the old shut-down Brandy City Cal-Ida mill on the hill above Indian Valley, but the old mill is still miles away.
It was clear back in 1949 that I and a couple of my friends first stumbled on this beautiful old tree. It was while we were exploring the area in an old Model A Ford and traveling along a logging road between the Brandy City mill and Saddleback Mountain. We were rattling along the bumpy road at the old A’s max speed, say about 25 mph, when we came around a bend and BANG, there it stood in all its magnificent glory. I mean, it really leaped out and caught your eye. That’s when I took the picture accompanying this story. If you look closely you can see the Forest Service sign in the lower left of the picture. The two characters wrapped part way around the tree are my partner Mitch Steffensen and Wagon Train Bill Seely.