Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Many Lives of Fanny Sweet (Part Four)

The Conclusion 

By now we have reached the 1860's.  Between 1860 and 1880, Fanny basically flew under the radar. Other than the slanderous newspaper articles written about her in 1862, and her novel of a response to those newspaper articles, there really isn't much in the way of documentation showing what she was up to during that time period. 

By 1880, fifty-four year old Fanny (who listed herself as being forty-five) pops up in the census in New Orleans, but now she is working as a domestic for William R. Mills. The census recorder misspelled her name was Fannie Seyman, thus the reason it was hard to locate. At some point during her employment to Mr. Mills, Fanny must have won his heart, or he won hers. Either way, the two were married and it appears the pair were actually happy with the union.

Mills was a prominent attorney in New Orleans and his last client, Myra Clark Gaines retained him to represent her in her infamous lawsuit (originally known as the longest running lawsuit in the history of the United States) which proved to be the biggest payoff in Mill's life. Sadly, he never got a chance to truly enjoy the wealth he received from that one case, and so on July 17, 1891, William R. Mills passed away, leaving all his fortune to his "beloved wife."

Between 1891 and 1893, Fanny continued to live in excess but developed permanent blindness by 1893, and her paranoia became even more severe. By this time she was worried that everyone wanted money from her, and that if she had anyone living with her that they would rob her. Because of this fear of everyone possibly wanting to rob her, she became a hermit in her own home, refusing to allow outsiders to come inside to help her. She would occasionally send for a doctor, an attorney or notary, especially when it came to her wills. Prior to her death she had written up several wills but revoked them all just before her death. The last will was to leave many friends and attorneys her estate, as well as a large portion going to an orphanage (which I believe might have been where William G. Stephen's children might have ended up at). 

Another interesting tidbit of her revoked will was a clause for anyone she had listed to inherit money from her. Her demand was that they must all attend her funeral and visit her grave regularly, also visiting every All Saint's Day or their inheritance would be stopped and the money given to St. Joseph's Church instead. 

With all the money she had at her disposal: $45,000 of US Government Bonds, over $60,000 in real estate, and much more including a $450 check found under her pillow, Fanny refused to have anyone help her or purchase food for her. Towards the end she fell ill and being all alone and too weak to send for help, she fell to the floor of her room and remained there, virtually starving to death. Eventually a neighbor of hers worried about her and decided to go inside the house, where she discovered her emaciated body, rotting away.

It was a very sad end for Fanny....but, was it really the end? 

Well, as far as her life was concerned, yes, she was dead, but her story was far from over.

Fanny Mills or Rachel Brown?

Given the highly publicized account of her sudden death and her past 'infamy' with the newspapers years prior, the media had a field day with Fanny's story once again rehashing the past, all without her able to defend herself this time.

Since Fanny had passed away and her wills had been previously revoked, she died intestate. This gave the State of Louisiana the green light to try to lay claim on her property, but they didn't expect people to come out of the woodwork claiming to be heirs of hers.

There were people from all over the country trying to claim they were related to Fanny, but it was Charles Clinton Brown and niece Rosanna McVey Fuller who helped solve the biggest mystery of all: Who was Fanny Mills (Fanny Sweet, Fanny Hinkley, Fanny Smith, etc)? 

It took two years of litigation to sort this mess out. From witness statements, investigating long lost letters and documents and even cross-examining witnesses who committed perjury in court, this case certainly gained attention from the press. During one part of the court battle, J.F. Moliere and J.A. Peale testified, claiming they met Fanny on her crossing over from England to the US on the ship Waterloo, trying to contradict the story that C.C. Brown had given to court. When the ship's passenger list was obtained, neither Fanny nor Moliere or Peale were listed on it. Needless to say their testimony was thrown out.

After C.C. Brown testified and established his professional background, and that his character was untarnished, he went on to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fanny was in fact Rachel Brown of Ohio, and that she was his elder sister. His testimony as well as his niece's sealed the fate of Fanny's estate. (Read C.C. Brown's Interview here)

The icing on the cake was the smoking gun evidence Rosanna McVey Fuller brought to court, one daguerreotype photo of Fanny and a pair of earrings she actually produced to the court. The photo showed Fanny wearing the same exact earrings. The question then was how did Rosanna acquire them? She testified that her aunt Fanny had given them to her. Judge Fred D. King closed the case and ruled in favor of C.C. Brown and Rosanna McVey Fuller. In all Fanny's estate was estimated to be worth around $100,000.  (Read Brown Wins His Suit here)

Fanny's Legacy

Over the years Fanny's story has been slandered terribly. Yes, she lied about her background from the very beginning, but you have to ask yourself, why? Was she lying to hide her past because of embarrassment? Did she wish to forget her reality and instead chose to create this fantasy in which she was the star? Regardless of why she started to lie about her past and strove so hard to conceal her true identity, many of the rumors or flat out accusations made against her were simply unfounded. Again, just because she lied about some things doesn't mean everything she said was a lie. 

And if people wish to believe all the horrible things spread about her, why do they choose to forget the good that was documented about her? What about the thousands of dollars that was said to have been donated by Fanny during the Civil War to help the injured and sick on the battlefields? What about the monies she gave to people in New Orleans who reached out to her in times of crisis, needing some financial help. She was adamant that she never turned a person away no matter what. 

For the record, we will never know in exact detail all the truths about Fanny's life. We have what the newspapers liked to sensationalize about her and then what she wrote about herself.  As I wrote in the first part of this story, "there are always two sides to every story," and I feel we owe it to Fanny to at least give her that platform here to share her side of the story and allow us to come to our own conclusions after reading it.

Rachel Brown, aka Fanny Hinkley-Mills was laid to rest at the St. Louis Cemetery # 3 in New Orleans in January of 1896, at the age of 70. Whether you believe Fanny's personal account or the elaborate and scandalous rumors spread about her by the newspapers of the time, Fanny deserves our respect in death that was not afforded to her in life.

Fanny's Final Words

In ending, I felt the best words would be Fanny's own words from the ending of her auto-biographical response to the slanderous accusations made against her back in 1862. I felt her own words were not only fitting but also give us a chance to let Fanny finally speak once and for all on her own behalf.

"And now she has nothing to add to this already lengthy card, unless that it is from no desire to obtain further notoriety, that she has published it. But falsehoods had been circulated of such skillful framing and circumstantial account, that she was forced, in justice to herself, to expose them in all the  nakedness of their monstrosity. Having done so in a manner, as she believes, to satisfy the  most prejudiced critic, she prays from the public only peace and quiet, and freedom from molestation.

For the wrong that has been done to her, either from malice or thoughtfulness, she forgives, if she cannot forget; and she will pray that those who wronged her may be forgiven by a power on high for all the anguish they have unjustly caused her, as well as for the shame they have heaped upon the dead, who cannot answer them, and upon the little orphans who may yet, in after years, be doomed to a bitter knowledge of all that was spoken concerning their parent.

One day all mortals have to stand before the bar of the Almighty Judge, and the sins of their earthly career will be exposed as they are, without worldly position or influence to screen them, and without malice to exaggerate. Until that dread day, the writer hopes not to be dragged before the public in a false light, and to have to repel charges for which she may seek in vain for a foundation. And such is the fervent prayer of FANNY MARIA HINKLEY. ---" Southwestern (1/8/1862)

Photo: c/o Alicia Borges

(Copyright 2018 - J'aime Rubio,

Some of my many sources:
New Orleans Daily Crescent, July 15, 1861
U.S. Census Record, 1880
Cincinatti City Directory 1843
The Times Picayune, June 22, 1861
The Times Picayune, April 28, 1899
True Delta, December 8, 1861
The South Western, January 1, 1862
The South Western, January 8, 1862
Los Angeles Herald  December 15, 1897
Sacramento Daily Union  February 3, 1896
Sacramento Daily Union December 7, 1854
Sacramento Daily Union  June 1, 1896
The Wichita Daily Eagle  December 31, 1899
Omaha Daily Bee,  January 2, 1897
The Record Union, June 1, 1896
The Record Union, January 15, 1896
The Evening Bulletin June 20, 1896
Rock Island Argus  June 26, 1896
The Scranton Tribune  December 26, 1896
The Record Union  February 1, 1896
The Record Union  May 5, 1899
The Southern Reporter, Volume 24: (Containing all the decisions of the Supreme Courts of Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi – September 28, 1898- March 15, 1899
The Southern Reporter, Volume 26 : (Containing all the decisions of the Supreme Courts of Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi – July 5, 1899-February 21, 1900)
Louisiana Reports: Cases Argued and Determined, Supreme Court of Louisiana. Volume 52, 1900.
Louisiana Annual Reports, Volume 50, No. 12,386 – December 13, 1897
U.S. Supreme Court, Louisiana, No. 13,206 – November 20, 1899 (Hon. Fred D. King, presiding).
The Green Bag, Volume 18 – 1906
Sacramento’s Gold Rush Saloons: El Dorado in a Shot Glass – By Special Collections of the Sacramento Library
& various other records, including census records.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tragedy In Jackson - Amador County

What I imagine Albina might have looked like....
I stumbled upon this story several years ago but didn't take the time to write about it until recently. Although the tragedy itself took place back in 1918, just outside of Jackson, California, the real story started eleven years earlier.

It was in the fall of 1907, when Albina "Bina" Bargala fell in love with John "Jack" Keyes, of Plymouth. She was Spanish and Chilean while Keyes was Irish and Canadian.

It is never mentioned exactly where Albina lived in Amador County, except for census records that list her father being in Township #3. That township spanned a wide area which included the Clinton area, Pine Grove, Volcano, Shakeridge, and Pioneer area all the way up towards Kirkwood. It appeared that the couple were smitten for one another despite the fact she was only 15, and Keyes was 28.  Albina ran away several times to be with Keyes, which upset her family. Maybe the couple thought their love story was exciting, almost like Romeo and Juliet sneaking off to see one another, but lovesick Keyes only found himself facing charges of kidnapping by Albina's father, Francisco.

While still in jail on the kidnapping charges, Albina's father brought Albina to the county jail on January 16, 1908, and allowed his daughter to marry John Keyes.  Charges were dismissed and the couple left the jail as man and wife, headed back to his home in Plymouth. It was not long until Albina realized that John and his family were not on the 'up and up' in the county. In fact, by September of that same year, she found herself pregnant and all alone when John and his brother, Edward were arrested for burglary and sent up to San Quentin on a 5 year stint. As luck would have it, while the two brothers were incarcerated together, they got off on good behavior and both were paroled early. John on September 1, 1910 and Edward in 1911.

Keyes' Mug Shot 1910
While John was in prison Albina had moved back in with her father and raised their first child, Johnny by herself. John had issues with a hot temper and it seemed that the couple fought quite often over the years according to the newspapers. By 1918, the couple had been married nearly eight years and on March 6 of that year they welcomed a new baby girl, Marie into their family. Albina told the staff at the hospital that she feared her husband terribly and that she was afraid to go home with him after the birth of their daughter, but she went anyway. This would prove to be a fatal mistake for both her and her daughter.

The Tragedy -- August 29, 1918

"Brutal Husband Kills Wife And Child With Axe-

One of the most brutal murders it has been our duty to record occurred yesterday sometime before noon at the Head place*, about two miles up the ridge from the Summit House, when Jack Keyes with the blunt side of an axe crushed the skull of his wife, Bina Keyes, aged 24, and then inflicted a fatal blow with the same instrument on the forehead of their 6 month old daughter, Marie Keyes. 

The first known of the crime was about 8:30 last night, when Keyes came to the County Hospital in Jackson and asked Superintendent Murphy for some poison.  Murphy asked what he wanted it for, and Keyes replied that his had killed his wife and baby with an axe. Murphy told him it was hard to get poison but Mr. Dodd, the nurse, would take him down town for some, and while they walked away from the building Murphy quickly called up the Sheriff, who met Keyes shortly after this side of the hospital. Keyes told the Sheriff he had killed his wife and baby because a lady told him his wife was an anarchist. The Sheriff placed Keyes in jail and went to the scene of the murder.

When asked why he killed the child, Keyes said he figured the baby was an anarchist also. He said he struck his wife several times with the axe before the fatal blow crushed her skull. After the murder Keyes washed the bodies, dressed and covered them. He sat around the house during the afternoon, until the time he came to Jackson.

Keyes showed absolutely no signs of being intoxicated, as testified to by both Superintendent Murphy and Sheriff Lucot at the inquest held here today by Coroner Dolores A. Potter.

During the inquest Keyes, angered at the removal of a stove poker from his reach, sprang from his chair and attacked Deputy Sheriff Ford. Instantly a dozen men were on the job and a well-directed blow on the murderer's neck by Telephone Manager Watts, a juryman, floored the belligerent.

When asked if he had anything to say, Keyes said he wanted to be hanged. Other than that he made no further statement. Keyes has been in trouble before. It is said he and his wife quarreled frequently. She feared to return to him from the County Hospital, where the baby was born on March 6 of this year." ---Amador Ledger (8/30/1918)

Keyes' Mug Shot 1918-1919
Soon after the murders, Keyes was sent down to the Stockton State Hospital for "observation" to check is mental state, at that time he was declared insane and ordered to remain there until his mind was able to comprehend the actions he made and face the consequences by the justice system. He remained there for over a year receiving treatment but by May of 1919, he managed to escape the hospital but was later apprehended.

After further examination, the doctors at the State Hospital felt he was within the mental capacity to stand trial, and so they sent him back up the County Jail in Jackson to face the murder charges of killing his wife and baby girl the year prior. On November 13th he pleaded guilty and by the time the November 21, 1919 edition of the local paper came out, he had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Amador Ledger (11/14/1919)

Amador Ledger (11/21/1919)

Keyes went to San Quentin State Prison on November 20, 1919 but he was only there for about a week before he was transferred to Folsom Prison on November 28, 1919. There he remained until 1920 when prison records show he was transferred to the Napa State Hospital to carry out the remainder of his life. The 1930 and 1940 census' show him as a patient or inmate there at the hospital in Napa. I could not locate any death record of his, so I have to assume he passed away while at the State Hospital and he is more than likely buried out in the field behind the hospital, among the many thousands of unmarked graves.

Mother and Child....

When going back to research this story I felt so sad for Albina and baby Marie. For one, Albina was still a young woman stuck in an abusive marriage during the early part of the 20th Century. Remember this was a time when leaving your husband was taboo.

My heart is broken for baby Marie, knowing she didn't even live to see her first birthday. John Keyes was mentally sick to do what he did, and I wonder how he came to be that way in the first place. Some things we will never find answers to though. Besides the heartache for the loss of these two innocent lives, I also wanted to learn what became of their older son Johnny, but I found no information on what happened to him. More than likely his grandfather raised him, at least I hope so. 

If you head out to the Cemetery in Jackson it is nearly impossible to locate Albina's grave, but one contributor on Find-a-grave, Steve Jones managed to do it. I have since contacted him about finding the exact location, and I hope that soon I can have some sort of small marker with a stake for the ground designed in the future to mark the spot where Albina and baby Marie are buried. Everyone deserves to be remembered, and they have been forgotten for far too long.

According to one researcher, this is the spot where Albina and Marie are said to be buried
in an unmarked grave. Hopefully in the future I will be able to definitely state exactly where in
this general area they both are buried, and perhaps maybe (with the cemetery board's help) we can
obtain permission to get some sort of memorial plaque for them both. 

Rest in Peace, Albina and will never be forgotten again.

(Copyright 2018 - J'aime Rubio,

Amador Ledger: August 30, 1918; May 30, 1919; November 14, 1919, November 21, 1919
Sac Union: November 15, 1919
Bakersfield Californian: May 27, 1919
Census Records: 1910;1920;1930;1940
Amador County Marriage Records, 1910.

Note: The "Head Place" as noted in the newspaper is the Head Ranch which was located off of Ridge Road and was once owned by James Head. After his death, his wife Mary Ann Gardner inherited the ranch. Mary Ann was the mother of the infamous Emma Le Doux, who murdered her husband Albert McVicar in Stockton and stuffed his body in a trunk and left it at the train depot in 1906. According to records, Keyes was a laborer, so more than likely this family lived on the ranch of the Head family.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Euphemia Hill and the Forgotten Hill Ranch - Calaveras County

"From first glance at the beautiful shore of Lake Camanche, located on the borders of Amador and in Calaveras Counties, you would never guess that at one time a town stood in its place. In fact, there were other settlements such as Lancha Plana, Poverty Bar, and Limerick, which was later renamed Camanche, before the man made reservoir was completed in 1963.

Said to have been one of the biggest ranches in the area, the Hill Ranch spanned between 500 to 1,000 acres, and was run by a woman by the name of Euphemia Hill.  Widowed at the age of 31,  Euphemia picked up where her husband left off and carried on managing the ranch, all the while raising three minor children on her own.  The story of how she became a widow is an interesting and complicated one to say the least.

According to historical accounts passed down through the years, Euphemia’s husband, Hugh L.W. Hill, who went by his middle name, “Lawson,” suspected Euphemia of cheating on him with Marion Tate.  At the time, Marion was working and living at the Hill Ranch. The 1860 Census showed 35 year old Tate as one of the members of the Hill household, with his occupation listed as “farm laborer.”

Apparently Euphemia was not happy with her marriage to Lawson so she filed for a divorce on May 12, 1861, the very same day he died.  Although it was said to have been a neighbor who took Euphemia to the courthouse to petition for divorce, Lawson was adamant that it was Tate who influenced her to leave.  In a drunken stupor, an armed Lawson Hill confronted Tate and a shootout ensued.  After the dust cleared, Lawson was dead and Marion Tate was the last man standing. 

The Society for the Preservation of West Calaveras History’s website index sources note that Marion Tate was acquitted of the murder of Lawson Hill on May 13, 1861, so it appears that his actions were accepted as  self-defense. Unfortunately, one Hill family descendant would disagree with the story entirely. According to an article from the Stockton Record, kindly provided to me by Danielle Ballard at the Calaveras Historical Society, there’s been some misconceptions about Hill’s death down through the years. 

Pleasant Hill III, the great nephew of Euphemia and Lawson Hill, was interviewed for the newspaper many years ago claiming that Lawson was murdered by Tate and that the inquest showed that Tate approached Lawson when the incident occurred. He was adamant that the newspapers had made Lawson look like the bad guy, when really he was the victim in the story.  Pleasant Hill also mentioned that Lawson’s murder occurred right when he was just starting a hog ranch on his property. He was only 35 years old and still in the prime of life.

Lawson is buried at the small and forgotten Pioneer Cemetery  on the south side of Highway 12, about two miles east of San Andreas.  His headstone battered and broken by time and the elements, now lays flat up against the hill and centered in a newer concrete foundation, no doubt to keep the stone from sliding down.

Although Lawson’s chapter in life was over, that was not the case for his former wife, Euphemia. By the mid 1870s, Euphemia had lost two of her sons. In 1874, Jesse passed away at the age of 25 years, while John died one year later at the age of 19.  Both young men were originally buried at the Dorsey-Holman-Ostermann Cemetery in Camanche.  As time went on, Euphemia kept busy, entering into a contract with businessman Giovanni N. Milco of Stockton in the 1870s. Cultivation of a natural insecticide made from dried Chrysanthemum (Pyrethrum) flowers began on her ranch. It was then marketed as “Milco’s Buhach, Universal Insect Exterminator.”

In 1910, Euphemia Hill passed away at the age of 81 years. She was laid to rest on the Hill Ranch in a private cemetery. Her last remaining son, Irving died in 1932, and he also was buried beside his mother in the family cemetery. By the early 1960s, when Camanche was deserted and plans to fill the area in with water to create a reservoir had started, the Hill family was exhumed from their original burial spots and reinterred at the historic Lodi Memorial Cemetery in Lodi, California.  What once was the Hill Ranch now lies at the bottom of Lake Camanche, forgotten and buried in a watery grave.

An interesting point I would like to share is that there is also a newer, separate marker at the Lodi Memorial Cemetery for Lawson Hill with his same birth year and death year, right next to Euphemia’s marker. I spoke with Isabel at the Lodi Memorial Cemetery who pulled the old archived records and the mystery deepened. Their notes state date of death as being January 1, 1861, and burial on October 25, 1861, which we know to be incorrect dates. She said there was no official record of him being buried at the cemetery.

It would have been impossible for Lawson to have been buried in that section at the Lodi Cemetery at the time of his death.  The section where these plots are located is not part of the old historic section, so there would not have been anyone buried there at that time in 1861. Even the marker itself is newer, and had to have been added around the same time Euphemia and her sons were reinterred there in the 1960s, as the cemetery staff stated.  Lawson Hill’s original grave, where I believe he is still buried, still rests on the steep hill at the Pioneer Cemetery off Highway 12.  He is literally a man with two graves.  

In the recent years, the Calaveras Enterprise mentioned that the old television series, “The Big Valley,” which first aired in 1965, starring actress Barbara Stanwyck, was based on Euphemia and the Hill Ranch at Camanche.  The article forwarded to me from Danielle Ballard at the Calaveras Historical Society  also mentions this story reiterated by Pleasant Hill during his interview for the Stockton Record years before.

If you are ever in the small vineyard town of Lodi, California, please stop by the Historic Lodi Cemetery and pay your respects to Mrs. Hill, a true female pioneer of California’s old west. And please don’t forget stop by the grave of Lawson Hill, too, which ever one of the two that you choose to visit."----  From the book, "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered." (Chapter 11) - By J'aime Rubio, Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved. (ISBN-13: 978-1523981175)

 (Copyright 2016 - J'aime Rubio,

Photos: Copyright, J'aime Rubio
U.S. Census Records, 1860, 1870; Find-a-grave; Society for the Preservation of West Calaveras History, website index, #1736, P, Lawson Hill Inquest, May 13, 1861, Acquittal of Marion Tate, (; Pacific Rural Press, July 23, 1892; Lodi Memorial Cemetery, Burial Records; California Death Index, 1905-1939; California Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953; “Euphemia A. Hill, Rancher of Calaveras County, CA.”- Women of the Old West blog; “The Forgotten Cemetery– Pioneer Cemetery Established 1851”- Charity Maness, Calaveras Enterprise, February 10, 2015; “Memories Alive at Lode Cemetery”-  Kathy Geiszler, The Stockton Record (archived news clipping), courtesy of Danielle Ballard, Calaveras Historical Society.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

History of the Hotel Léger - Mokelumne Hill

Mokelumne Hill is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, between Jackson and San Andreas.  During the Gold Rush, Mokelumne Hill or "Moke Hill" as I have always called it, was a booming mining town surrounded by many other mining camps in the area. In this particular blog, I will be sharing with you the history of the Hotel Léger, and also debunking some of the "rumors" that have been circulating about this historic hotel for the past several decades. In a future blog I will go further in depth into the history of town of Mokelumne Hill itself, and some of its other intriguing tales.

To start, the Hotel Léger was founded and built by George Léger. But that wasn't the hotel's original name. In fact, this hotel has had several names over the years from the Hotel de France, Union Hotel, Grand Hotel, and of course its namesake, the Hotel Léger

The Léger Family

George William Léger was of French ancestry, although he wasn't a native of France. According to the 1860 Census he was born in Hesse-Cassel, a small state within Germany. During the time in which George was born, Hesse-Cassel was occupied by French troops and was actually considered to be a "French satelite state." I imagine that George's mother was probably a German woman who married one of the French soldiers who was stationed there and that is how George came to be a Frenchman who was actually from Germany. 

According to records, George was born sometime in 1815. It has always been said that he came to the U.S. in his mid-thirties, and that he settled in at Mokelumne Hill around 1851. The San Joaquin Valley as well as the Sierras had a large population of French, even in the early days when the French trappers arrived (long before actual settlements). During the Gold Rush, many Frenchmen came to "Moke Hill" as well as Germans, Scots, Irishmen, Chinese, Mexicans, Chileans and even Australians heading for California along with so many others.

It is interesting to note that the biggest rush I have found during my research about Moke Hill happened between the Spring of 1851 and the Summer of 1851. Soon after a huge portion of miners headed up to San Andreas to their newly discovered diggings. Still, many miners kept at it in Moke Hill and the population of the little mining camp continued to grow exponentially. This was around the time that George Léger set up his tent-like wooden and canvas hostelry on the corner of Main and Lafayette streets. At some point the hotel was built up, but was only a one story structure in the beginning.  

On August 21, 1854 around 3:05 a.m. a fire broke out in John Ward's restaurant on  Main Street. The fire swept through the main part of town from Franklin to Ravine, through Front street, Center street to Washington, to the bridge over the ravine and Lafayette streets. The only structures saved in town were Parker's stable, four houses, Hawkins store, Magnolia Hotel and about seven small buildings in total.

Of the structures lost, Léger's hotel was one of them (Union Hotel). Others included: Morris & Peyton, Root & Co., Cadwaller & Co., Halsey & Bro., S. Forman, Strouz Fountain House, United States Hotel, Dudley's Restaurant, Ford's Restaurant, Sturges & Co., Dr. Soyer, Wells Fargo & Co., Adams & Co., and the post office. 

Within a year the hotel was rebuilt once again.

George & Louisa's Marriage Record

On May 26, 1856, George Léger married Louisa Wilkin by Justice of the Peace, B.H. Williams. The three witnesses who signed on behalf of the marriage were Henry Krat, Henry Anhiser and Henry Mayer. 

The couple were to have three children: Albert Henry (1856-1886), Matilda (1858-1937) and Louisa (1860-?).

Their daughter, Louisa's birthdate was November 26, 1860 which sadly coincides with the death of her mother, Louisa Wilkin Léger, who apparently died the next day of complications after childbirth. Louisa was buried in the Mokelumne Hill Protestant Cemetery. Her headstone reads (as translated in English): 

"Here beloved wife and mother, Louisa Leger (born Wilkin), born on 25 of November, 1833, died on 27 of November, 1860, missing and grieved."

The loss of his wife must have hit him very hard, as it appears he never remarried. He continued to raise his children who all grew up into adulthood. Albert Henry Léger was listed as a registered voter on May 21, 1877 (aged 21 years). By April 21, 1886 though, Albert passed away for reasons I could not find; However, he did not die in the hotel or even in Calaveras County for that matter. He passed away in Fresno County and his body was brought to Mokelumne Hill to be buried at the cemetery where his parents are buried.

Matilda grew up and married William Todd in 1879. According to Wendy Cook on Find-a-grave, Matilda married twice and died in 1937 in Seattle, Washington. As far as Louisa, I could only find her mentioned on one document, the 1880 census where she is listed as running the hotel. They erroneously listed her age as 17 and year of birth as 1863, however we know she was actually 20 years old and was born 1860. 

According to Maureen Love-Allen Elliott on the "Motherlode Memories" Facebook page, she found Louisa listed in the 1885 census in Washington. At the time she was married to David Edwards, who was also a hotel keeper. Amador County Marriage Records also note that Louisa married David Bartlett Edwards on February 3, 1881 in Jackson, Amador County, which was only two years after her father's death. They apparently moved to Washington a short time later.

It appears the two separated and divorced, since Mr. Edwards is later listed being remarried to Ida Buck. Maureen believes she remarried to a George Wilson, in Ballard, Washington. The first document I could find of this marriage shows only that she listed her name as "Lou Edwards" but there was no listing of her maiden name or her parent's names on that particular document.  Maureen provided me with a second document where it does in fact state that Louisa's parent's were George Leger and Louisa Wilken, so we now know she did remarry. By the 1930 census in Washington, Mr. Wilson is listed as a widower, so she must have passed on sometime before.

I have since found a grave for a Louisa L. Edwards (not Wilson), born in 1860, who passed away in 1918. She was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. But it is highly unlikely she would have been buried using her first married name (Edwards) and not the second one (Wilson), so I am currently at a standstill in regards to locating Louisa's grave.

The county seat moved to San Andreas in 1866, which meant the courthouse would no longer be used, but the jail was still in use until March of 1868. Once the new county jail was built elsewhere and inmates were moved out, it was then that George wanted to purchase the empty courthouse located on the corner of Lafayette and Court Streets (now China Gulch). He then used the old courthouse as an addition to his hotel. In 1874, there was another fire that swept through Mokelumne Hill. The hotel burned again, but the part of the hotel that was stone (the former courthouse) survived the fire. The last rebuild of the hotel was the final one, and the hotel stands now just as it was in 1875. On April 26, 1875, George held a grand reopening of the hotel which included a Grand Ball. It was a big 'to-do' around those parts, and all of the county's most important residents attended.

Over the years the hotel ownership has passed through many hands. Here is a small list of previous owners of the past, which I am certain isn't complete but here you go:

George Léger
Louisa Léger (daughter)
George Muths
Kaufmann Hexter
John McLean
Nevil Magee
Myron Greve
Charles Pfeiffer
An Attorney from San Francisco (name unknown)
Bob Rosenthall
Alice & Roger Cannon
Ron & Joyce Miller

George's Death

Contrary to the majority of people's opinions, written theories, and adamant statements in books, online or even on television shows, George Léger was NOT murdered. I really wish people would stop spreading that fabricated and completely false story. It is not only a disrespect to the history of the hotel but a personal insult to Mr. Leger himself. 

According to the Calaveras Chronicle, Mr. Léger had been ill for two days and passed away suddenly. He was mentioned as being the "oldest, most esteemed fellow townsmen." The Sacramento Daily Union stated: "George W. Leger, Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, a prominent Odd Fellow, and one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Calaveras County, died here this afternoon."

The Amador Ledger said this of their beloved pioneer: 

Amador Ledger (3/15/1879)

Obviously the paper had the wrong information about his native nationality, because it was his wife Louisa who was from Prussia, but other than that, his obituary was right on the money. This is an important piece of information that should be remembered as we get into this subject matter a little further on in this blog. 

George is buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Mokelumne Hill with his wife.

Debunking Local Legends and Lore

So if George Léger was not murdered in his hotel, then why on earth would this story have come about in the first place? I have my suspicions of just who may have started the rumors and why.  You see, I have been digging up as much as I could on the hotel's history and it wasn't until the 1980's when the rumor of George being murdered appeared on paper. Along with the story came some very unsavory accusations about George himself, claiming he was a "ladies man"which was unwarranted. 

According to a syndicated article that appeared in the Desert Sun (as well as many other newspapers all over the country) dated December 1, 1987, then owners of the hotel, Ron and Joyce Miller were quoted saying that George "was quite the womanizer" and that he was "murdered outside his room in 1881."  They were interviewed a couple of more times in 1987 reiterating the whole haunted aspect, again being very adamant that George was a "ladies man" and that the woman who haunts the hotel is probably one of his "old flames." 

The Millers obviously wanted to capitalize on their investment and bring in tourists with the interest in an historic and "haunted" hotel. Unfortunately, they didn't do their homework on the history of the hotel or they would have known George didn't die in 1881 and wasn't murdered. It is plain to see that they sensationalized the hotel's history to gain publicity which worked, and unfortunately, it worked too well, since their tall tales of the Hotel Léger's history has become one of those urban legends that have spun out of control. Now every book, every tv show and most writers and investigators repeat the same old yarn without actually doing the legwork to see it was completely fabricated.

There is absolutely no evidence or documentation whatsoever that has ever mentioned George Léger being a womanizer or sleeping around with women in town. In fact, he was one of the most respected men in town, as well as the county. Had he gained such a soiled reputation as that, surely there would have been something mentioned over the years, but instead, these accusations only popped up in the mid to late 80's which is a red flag that it was completely made up.

So, for the record, George Léger was NOT a womanizer, he did NOT sleep around with all the women in town, and he was NOT murdered by a jealous husband or any other person for that matter. He died from illness at the hotel, where he lived. 

So what about the other "ghost stories"? 

Again, the first ever mention in a newspaper claiming the hotel being haunted was in 1987, by the Millers. Although they claimed that the previous owners had told them it was haunted, the Millers were the first to publicize that there was an apparition of a woman seen going back and forth upstairs, or a boy sitting in a chair who played with a toy wagon. 
George W. Léger

The Millers also claimed that George was around, and that they, as well as their son, had seen him, too. The former owners before the Miller's, the Cannon's purchased the hotel back in 1971, after they read an ad in the Wall Street Journal for the old hotel. Alice and her husband Roger Cannon, who was a traveling appraiser for the forest service, purchased the hotel and moved their six children there in the beginning of 1971. They never mentioned the hotel being haunted in their interview for the paper, but instead they seemed delighted to have such a gem to restore. 

Prior to the Cannon's owning the hotel, I have found a newspaper article that stated an attorney from San Francisco had purchased it in 1960, with the mindset that he would restore it back to its former Gold Rush days. He planned to bring in authentic items to give it that old west flavor. By 1961, the hotel was planned to become a permanent museum to exhibit 19th century masterpieces of California paintings, but it appears that plan fell through.

And even earlier than that, the Greve family had owned the hotel for well over five decades, making them the family with the longest running ownership of the hotel. So as I dug further and further back into the hotel's previous owners, it was obvious to see that the slanderous story about George being a womanizer, or that he was murdered, along with the "ghost stories" seems to have all started in the 1980s, with the arrival of the Miller family. Again, it is possible that a local or locals could have told the Millers of this story and they just took it at face value instead of researching it themselves. Still, it appears the Miller family were the first to get publicity for it, by sharing their "ghost stories" which ultimately put the hotel on the map for paranormal investigators.

Old Jail Cells/Dungeon

What about the rumors of the "dungeon" under the hotel? The courthouse and adjoining jail were on the first level of the stone building which was constructed on the hill (corner of Lafayette and Court Street, now China Gulch). 

While researching the murder of B.R.C. Johnson back in 1866, just prior to the courthouse being moved to San Andreas, two of the three murderers were arrested and being held at the jail cells in Mokelumne Hill awaiting execution. On a stormy night, those two inmates made a daring escape from the jail.  According to records the convicted killers, John Ferguson and Jesus Miranda, along with another inmate Brian Fallon, made their escape by cutting their way out of their cells from the ceiling which was composed of boards without covering. The men managed to break free from their shackles, pile buckets on top of one another along with an old chair and Ferguson reached the ceiling and cut his way out with a sharp pointed instrument (the newspapers assumed it was a three-cornered file).

While cutting away, the other inmates made noise such as singing, clanking chains and dancing to distract the jailer from hearing Ferguson breaking the boards apart. The man working in the front room, Joe Douglass, was unaware of what was going on just behind him and when he took his break to get some dinner, the prisoners made their escape. At one point it appeared as if the men had contemplated murdering Douglass at first, since they would have had to climb over a partition into the front room where Douglass was working but he had left for dinner so his life was spared. 

Ferguson discovered a ventilation system during their escape, so they decided to crawl out of the building through there, and jumped down to the back jail-yard fencing area near the hangman's tree, and eventually made their way out of town.  They were eventually captured and they met their fate at the hangman's tree which once stood in the back property of the courthouse (more than likely near the pool of the hotel today). The point of this story is that the jail cell areas were on the first floor of the building, near the front room. In fact, it said the jail area and the front room were only separated from a "partition." It wasn't dungeon-like, it was just a jail. (To read the entire story it can be found here: "The Murder of B.R.C. Johnson" )  As the years went on, the basement area would later be used as a storeroom and wine cellar for the hotel.

I do not believe the basement was used as any form of torture chamber for the inmates as the episode of Ghost Adventures implied. During the time that it was used as a jail, the authorities held them, tried them, and if they were convicted, they were sent to prison or hanged. If they were acquitted or their cases dismissed, they were set free. 

Another point to make is about the alleged "tunnels" - Many times in the 1800's courthouses had tunnels where they would bring in criminals to be held until their trial or hearings. Instead of bringing the criminals in through the front of the courthouse where there would be an audience of people watching, they would sneak them in from another entrance or tunnel. A good example of this is the old courthouse in Auburn. There once was a tunnel that went across the street to the old "White House" and there are remnants of a closed up tunnel that can still be seen today. Again this was not uncommon. There is absolutely no proof that the tunnel was used for smuggling people, prostitution, or any other illegal activity and those types of assumptions or accusations are not based on facts, but instead on wild imaginations.

Who died in the Hotel (or on the property)?

Okay, so let's get down to the facts. Who do we have on record that actually died in the hotel?  It is more than likely that George's wife, Louisa died in the hotel, given the fact she died after childbirth and she lived in the hotel, so the doctor would have came to her to deliver her baby. So I think it is safe to say Louisa died at the hotel. We also know that George died in the hotel, given the fact that is documented. Another former resident, Mrs. Mae C. Suessdorf passed away at the hotel per the September 20, 1907 edition of the Amador Ledger which stated that she died very suddenly. She was only 34 years old. She was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and Daughters of Rebekah. Her father was a longstanding Justice of the Peace in Calaveras County, Patrick Kean.

Another death on the property was Owen Fallon, who was shot and killed by William Boyd, who mistook Fallon for an inmate who had escaped from the jail on February 25, 1868. Just a few weeks later the jail was closed, the inmates were moved and soon after George acquired the courthouse to become an addition to his hotel. Besides these four people I have listed, there are countless others who were hanged behind the courthouse at the hangman's tree. Convicted killers, John Ferguson and Jesus Miranda were just two out of many who met their fate at the end of the hangman's noose. 

True Accounts that took place on the property

Besides, deaths that took place on the property, I found the story of a cook who assaulted a waiter at the hotel in June of 1900. Henry Daigel (the cook) got into a heated argument with Walter Luke over the consistency of his mashed potatoes. It was then that the cook threw his cast iron frying pan hitting Luke in the head. He was charged with assault with intent to cause great bodily harm, but claimed he really didn't mean to hurt him. He lost his temper and threw the pan. The cook's son, who was a dishwasher at the hotel took his father's side and the case was dismissed. 

Just earlier that month in 1900, the storeroom which I believe was located in the basement of the hotel, was burglarized with large amounts of rice, tea, prunes and soap being the provisions stolen. The chambermaid who lived in the room adjacent to the storeroom claimed she heard nothing, and the burglars made their way out a door that opened to the back yard on Court Street (now China Gulch).

I am sure there are other stories out there just waiting to be resurrected from the archives, but so far I haven't found any really crazy ones. We know that there was gambling and prostitution at Mokelumne Hill because I have found it mentioned in several newspaper clippings, but none have ever mentioned the Hotel Léger. I will continue to keep searching for more history of this fantastic hotel dubbed the "Gem of the Mother Lode" and I will update this blog with any future findings.

In ending, this blog isn't to rain on anyone's parade in regards to their beliefs of the hotel's history or whether the hotel is haunted or not. That is not for me to say. Not all historic locations are haunted, but with the same token, there are lots of places that have "activity," too. This blog isn't to touch on that aspect, but instead this is my way of enlightening those who truly love this hotel and want to know the true history of it. Not just the fabricated or sensationalized stories, but the documented facts. The most important part about learning is growing, and sometimes we find out that what we were told, or read, or watched on a television show was not accurate. It is up to us whether we want to accept that or not. I just want to provide the most accurate information as possible so that those earnestly seeking the truth about this location, can read about it and appreciate it.

Happy History Hunting!
(Copyright 2018 - J'aime Rubio,

**All sources are available upon request**

Monday, June 25, 2018

Alida Ghirardelli - The Chocolate Heiress' Tragic Death

Artist sketch as seen in S.F. Call, August 17, 1909

     The Ghirardelli family had its share of tragedies,  one of which was the death of Domingo Ghirardelli's 
granddaughter, Alida Ghirardelli. The eldest daughter of Domingo Jr., and his wife Addie Cook Ghirardelli,  Alida was born on September 3, 1879, in San Francisco, California.  The heiress of such a prestigious and wealthy family, Alida had all the luxuries one could ask for in her young life. She went to the best schools, she enjoyed the company of high society and traveled abroad in her study of fine arts.  

According to the book, “Carmel-by-the-Sea, The Early Years,” by Alissandra Dramov, Alida studied her art with her aunt and uncle, artists Angela Ghirardelli Jorgensen and Christopher Jorgensen, first in San Francisco, and furthered her studies in Paris. From 1901 to 1906, Alida lived in Paris, mastering her craft. The talented young artist drew acclaim in her own right,  which is shown through newspapers and various periodicals, including the 1907 issue of “Western Woman,” which gave her praise for her painting titled “Interior of a Barn.”  The article mention reads, “it is the best thing this very promising young woman has done. Mechanically good, the composition, tone, color, make it a notable little canvas.”

The tragedy that took her life, occurred on August 16, 1909, off the coast of Carmel-by-the Sea.  Just a few months earlier, Alida had returned to Carmel, where her aunt and uncle Angela and Christopher Jorgensen were living.  At one time Alida was living with her aunt and uncle at their stone mansion which is now part of La Playa Hotel, but the month prior to Alida’s death, she was actually staying at the Pine Inn about a half mile away. The Inn was known for accommodating eccentric writers and artists who came to visit and stay in Carmel during the Bohemian era.  Alida was known for taking a daily swim in Carmel Bay and was just continuing with her normal routine when the tragic drowning occurred.  Eye witnesses claimed that she had swam past the breakers. It had appeared as if her intention was to let the current take her towards Point Lobos , but that suddenly her hands went reaching upwards, in desperation for aid.

   It was then that two good Samaritans, Robert Mitchell and another man only known by the name Hitchcock, dragged a boat over from the shore near the Pine Inn and  launched it into the breakers. They“bent their backs to the oars,” but as the article mentions, “the feat was impossible.” Seconds after the two men had launched the row boat into the water, the waves heaved it upside down.  Hitchcock remained hanging onto the overturned boat, but Mitchell attempted to swim under the waters in search for Alida but eventually rose to the surface minutes later, having nearly drowned himself. 

       Alida’s aunt and uncle were vacationing in the Yosemite Valley at the time and were unaware of the tragedy that had just occurred on the shores near their estate. Her parents were notified within hours of the incident and made the trip from San Francisco in hopes her body would wash ashore.  The family, desperate to bring their daughter’s lifeless body back home to be buried, kept a vigil along the beach and other residents set up bonfires along the shore in aid to search for Alida.

        Reports showed that “the countryside, from end to end, is tramping along the beaches, hoping that each successive wave will return that for which they search, and the sea, satisfied with the sacrifice which it has taken unto itself, offers as its smallest consolation the inanimate form of its victim.” 

        It was said that Alida’s father, Domingo Ghirardelli Jr., sat on the beach all night, no doubt hoping and praying that the waves would bring his beloved daughter’s body in with the tide. It didn’t take long after the news got out about Alida’s tragic death for rumors to spread insinuating that her fatal drowning may not have been as accidental as previously thought.  Speculations swirled around various social circles, making its way to the San Francisco Call and Oakland Tribune, claiming that Alida may have purposely drowned herself over a broken heart. The Oakland Tribune dated August 29, 1909, stated, 

"It may be news to some of her friends, who heard the several rumors which followed her tragic death at Pacific Grove, that she had a hidden romance; that she had been in love with a well-known American of the United States in Paris. The young man was known to be in love with her and she with him. The smoothness of their love story was marred by the doubt of a parental consent on her part to a marriage. Their intimates in Paris knew the love story and knew that she came home to gain the needed, "God bless you, children," from her family."---

     As the article goes on it mentioned that the American with whom Alida allegedly fell in love, had proved unfaithful to his promise to marry her, and in turn, married another while she was away. It was speculated by the press that this was the reason she drowned herself. What is interesting to note is the fact that certain eye witnesses to her drowning came forward to mention that just two days prior to the fatal drowning, Alida had been pulled from the very same surf unconscious. Mrs. F.B. Signor, the keeper of the bathing pavilion on the beach stated that she "grew alarmed" after the first incident and trained her collie dog to swim after her, "fearing the accident which ultimately took place."

When asked for a statement for the press, Alida's brother, Edwin Ghirardelli declared, "It is folly to think that she committed suicide. All her letters to us radiated happiness and pleasure. She did not have a single care and no reason to take her life. How these rumors started I cannot imagine, but I wish to deny them emphatically. They are unjust to my sister and cruel in their origin."

Regardless of whether or not there was truth to the rumors, they still persisted for months, leaving many to wonder if there was some truth to their theories of why she died after all.  We will never know for sure, being that the young American suspected of leaving her for another was not named in the newspapers, leaving it an unverified rumor.

It took nearly a month before Alida’s body washed up on the coast within about 100 yards from where she had drowned.  The corpse was entangled in the kelp which kept it from washing ashore for so long. In every mention of her body being recovered, it is also brought out that her body was in an “unusual state of preservation” given the length of time it remained submerged in the sea.

 This was not the first story I discovered of a woman drowned off the Pacific Coast where her body washed ashore surprisingly intact and preserved.  I found the same oddity in my research on Agnes Jaycoax’s death as well.  It seems human remains at sea do not decompose at the same rate as human remains on land due to the fact that certain microbes and bacteria that break down the tissue are either not present or not able to reproduce at the same rate.  Also, the temperature of the water plays a part in the rate of decomposition. 

 Science shows that when a body is floating in water that is less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, by the third week it turns into what is known as “grave wax,”  or Adipocere, virtually a soapy fatty acid that preserves the body in almost a wax like state.  This may explain why both Alida’s body, and that of Agnes Jaycoax were found in such a state of preservation after having been lost at sea for a period of several days to nearly a month in Alida’s case.
Alida’s well preserved body was brought back to San Francisco and her funeral arrangements were made.  Initially, I assumed she would be at Mountain View Cemetery with her family, or at Cypress Lawn in Colma, where her parents and some of her other siblings are laid to rest but early on I hit a brick wall.  According to funeral records available, I was able to determine that Alida’s funeral did take place in the Chapel at Mountain View Cemetery and she was originally interred in the Ghirardelli family crypt on September 13, 1909.  The cost of the funeral expenses was $618.85, paid by her father. 
But researching who is interred at the Ghirardelli crypt today, there was no mention of Alida being there. Thanks to help from Nichelle Sevier who works in the archive vault at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California, the mystery was solved. She was able to pull archived records showing that years later the Ghirardelli’s moved Alida, Edwin, Esperanza “Hope” and another member of the family with the initials M. Ghirardelli from Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, and reintered their remains in the family plot at Cypress Lawn in Colma, California.
     What is most intriguing is the fact that Alida’s funeral record states that she was not cremated, but instead interred in a pine casket at Mountain View Cemetery,  yet records Ms. Sevier was kind enough to find and share with me indicate that when Alida’s remains were later moved to Cypress Lawn with her siblings, all were noted as having been cremated.

     Alida was not the only Ghirardelli grandchild who met such a dramatic and tragic ending. Edwin Ghirardelli, Alida’s younger brother, committed suicide in 1913, while their cousin Aurelia Mangini died at the Ghirardelli home in 1878. To read more about Alida, Edwin and Aurelia, please pick up a copy of "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," today on Amazon! 

From the book, "Stories of the Forgotten" by J'aime Rubio (ISBN-13:  978-1523981175)
Copyright 2018 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED