Thursday, November 16, 2023

Deaths at the Gate -- Jackson Gate, Amador County

Today, we are going to delve into a couple of the deaths that took place at the area known as Jackson Gate. Many years ago, I had stumbled across an old newspaper clipping mentioning that in the early days,  several people had died from cholera after drinking in the creek near the Gate after something had been contaminating it. As it turns out, when I went back recently to research that, I couldn't find the clipping, so as of right now, I am still trying to find that specific reference. When I do find it, that will be cited for reference with more details. For now, that is part of the lore at The Gate. 

Well, this memory of finding that clipping is what led me to the interest in learning more about the history of that specific spot known to locals as "The Gate," or Jackson Gate, and if anyone else had died in that general area. 

After more research, I found a couple of documented deaths, and so I wanted to share them with my readers.

One of the stories that I dug up during my research into the history of the old hangman's tree on Main Street in Jackson was the murder at Squaw Gulch.

In 1851, two Frenchmen were butchered in Squaw Gulch which was "near Jackson Gate." As the history of Amador County states "One was stabbed with a long bowie-knife thirteen times, dying immediately. The other, though cut five or six times, lived for several days." 

According to Larry Cenotto's research records, "Monsieur Pontanier and an unknown French "companion" on  May 20, 1852, were attacked while they slept in their tent in Squaw Gulch near the Gate." The men had been stabbed to death. The deaths of these two men was what led up to the formation of the Jackson Vigilance Committee. The committee offered a $300 reward to anyone who helped apprehend or deliver the murderer(s).

Initially, another man Gregorio Soberano was arrested while at a bistro in downtown Jackson, but he was later exonerated. Later on, another man was brought on charges. His name was Cheverino. He had been examined and sent to the "log jail," to be held until he could stand trial, but that night a mob of people (let me make this clear it was NOT the Vigilance Committee) broke into the jail and dragged Cheverino out to the oak tree on Main Street.

The first of two hangings took place around 8:30 p.m. on the evening of June 10th, 1852. He would be the 3rd execution by way of the hanging tree in Jackson. 

According to records, the rope was put around his neck and he was pulled up while his hands were free. So, he began clenching onto the rope around his neck, struggling to survive. This allegedly went on for about ten minutes before they dropped the rope, and tied his hands behind his back and then raised the rope again. It was said that Cheverino had admitted guilt in the murder of Pontanier.

His accomplice, Cruz Flores had been found out by chance when another Mexican, Mariano, who had been arrested for horse theft in Sacramento, implicated Cruz Flores, as the other man who murdered a Frenchman near Jackson Gate, or "The Gate."

Flores, the 4th man to be one of the Hanging Tree's executions, was hanged the next day on June 11th, 1852.

Another tragedy that took place near "The Gate" was the death of William Holder. His story is a little bit more detailed, as I was able to find a lot more about him than the last two mentioned above.

William Holder was born in England in 1855, and had immigrated to the United States in his early adulthood. By 1880, he was living in the home of William Bryant and family in Pine Grove, working as a blacksmith. By July 3, 1881 he married Frances "Fanny" Hawkins Younglove, who had just been divorced by her 1st husband Dwight Younglove, who appeared to have been habitual womanizer, getting married only to divorce shortly after. 

Perhaps William was Fanny's "knight in shining armor," and even though she had a young son from the previous union, it did not deter William from marrying her. Sadly, on February 22, 1884, Fanny passed away from what appears to have been a short illness, and was buried at the Ione Cemetery. She was originally from Missouri, and grew up in Lancha Plana, currently where Lake Camanche rests. 

Interestingly, it appears that William loved his wife so much, as he fought over the custody of his stepson, Albert, against Albert's father, Dwight Younglove, upon Fanny's passing. Per Fanny's will, she named William and her brother, Melville as executors of her estate, and requested that her young son to remain with her mother, Mary Ann.

Only 8 months after Fanny's death, it appears that William or "Billy" as locals called him, fell in love again, this time to Margaret "Maggie" Guerra. Maggie's mother was from Mexico while her father Deonisio Guerra was from Chile, and worked in the mines, as did her brothers Frank and Albert. 

Maggie and William married on October 22, 1884.

Maggie ran a local laundry business out of her home at 156 Main Street in Jackson, where she would wash and iron clothes for locals to make money. When she purchased her home in 1878 from then owner, George Stasal, she paid $450.00, which would have been equal to $14.323.17 today as a "real price" as measured by inflating the amount by the Consumer Price Index or (CPI.) 

For the record, there is no evidence of Maggie being a madam or prostitute as some people may have insinuated on other websites. I feel that is not only disrespectful to the memory of Maggie and her family, but is also very ignorant to make assumptions without having documentation to back up said claims. The records show Maggie was just a normal lady, living in Jackson, working in the laundry service business, and I have found nothing to suggest she was a "lady of the night."

William would go on to have a child with Maggie, a son, William Jr., who was born on November 21*, 1885. 

(*What is neat about this story, is that their son was born on my son's birthday, and their marriage took place on my father's birthday, so that was interesting.) 

Their newfound happiness would end in tragedy though, as young Billy died at the age of 2 years old on June 8, 1888. The couple would go on to have two more children, daughters Della and Amelia, born in 1888 and 1892.  These two would grow up into their adulthood.

The Amador Ledger shows that by 1893, William was selling wagons that he was manufacturing and advertising in the newspaper. 

Going back to the story.....

The death of William Holder took place Tuesday evening, January 12, 1909. According to the Amador Dispatch,  Holder had been found that following morning, "lying face downward in the sand and the mud of the north fork of Jackson Creek, the lower limbs partially in the water."

His boss, V.J. Chichizola, whom Holder was working as a blacksmith for, discovered his body that morning around 8 a.m.  He was found just west of the Chichizola store, across the road where the creek is located.  Upon examination by Coroner Potter, it was ascertained that Holder had been seen at Casazza's saloon the evening prior. Witnesses stated that he came to the bar around 8 p.m. already very inebriated, and although he stayed for about an hour he didn't drink any more while there. He left the bar around 9 p.m. and stumbled out of there on his way home to his small cabin across the creek just north of Teresa's Place. 

I am not 100% certain, but I think it is possible that William's drinking habits may have put a strain on his marriage at some point before Maggie's death in 1896, because I couldn't find any records of their dwelling together in the same home in the 1890's, plus they are not buried with one another, nor are they even at the same cemetery. She's in the Catholic Cemetery in a large plot, while William in a very small spot at the Jackson City Cemetery nearby.

At the time of his death in 1909, William was living in this little cabin near his job, while his two young daughters were being raised by Maggie's family.

The weather that night was very stormy and the creek had risen significantly. It was stated that "instead of using one of the foot bridges one some distance above and another below the blacksmith shop, Holder attempted to cross at a point near the cabin ass was his custom when the water was low." The article goes on to mention that Holder was "carried off his balance by the current, he had fallen into the muddy water from which he was unable to rise owing to the stupor of his condition, and was drowned."

So basically, he tried to cross the creek and it knocked him off his feet, and being as drunk as he was, he didn't have the strength or stamina to pull himself up and he drowned. The sand in his hair and the pockets of his clothes were evidence enough that the water had risen up higher than normal in the night, and sadly, Holder didn't make it.

Just to quell any suspicions of foul play -- the Coroner determined based on evidence that it was an "Accidental Drowning." Holder wasn't murdered and no one robbed him, in case anyone wants to make those assumptions.  There would be no reason to have killed him. He didn't have any enemies, and he didn't have anything of value on him, except the new shoes on his feet, which were found on his person when they discovered his body. In fact, he had just purchased those shoes that day at the Chichizola Store.  

Holder was known around Jackson, and everyone seemed to like him. Only on one documented occasion was he involved in anything that made the newspapers, and it really wasn't his fault. It appears that on the Fourth of July, 1907, during the festivities an Indian (native American), who was overly inebriated, assaulted William in public and they duked it out, which landed the Indian in jail. William walked away from the altercation with his hands clean, (meaning he didn't go to jail).  

Although he was known for his intemperate habits towards the end, he was spoke of as "unassuming, courteous, always cheerful, never boistress.... and was liked for his better qualities, while pitied for the degenerate condition to which his appetite dragged him."

It appears that in his early years he had been a very hard working man, and had even owned two shops, one of which included the wagon making business, and was considered a "prosperous business man," so it is very sad to see how he ended up.  With all of that potential, he allowed his bad habits and addictions to get the best of him, which ultimately led him to losing his family, his businesses, his prosperity and eventually his life.

He was buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Jackson in a small plot. Hopefully now he has the peace he struggled to find at the end of a bottle.

Photo: Courtesy of Steve Jones on Find-a-Grave

May William Holder rest in peace....

(Copyright 2023, J'aime Rubio, 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Three Men Killed In the Kennedy Mine - Peter Garcia, Sam Martinez & Liberto Mendes


No matter what I do, my work always seems to come full circle. Almost 11 years ago, I published my first historical non-fiction book, "Behind The Walls." based on the history of the Preston School of Industry (a.k.a. Preston Castle), little did I know that while researching for my 5th historical non-fiction book "Down Below: A History of Deaths at the Kennedy Mine," I would find stories that are intertwined with Preston in one way or another.
One such story is the horrific explosion at the Kennedy Mine that took place on February 13, 1932, when four miners: Peter Garcia, Sam Martinez, Liberto Mendez and Felix Achavan were victims of an unfortunate dynamite accident.

According to the Amador Dispatch, it was an explosion at the 4800 foot level of the mine that took place around 4 a.m. in the morning on Saturday, February 13, that caused the fatalities.

The miners were prepping the area for blasting, and while rounding the holes, they found that the water leaking down the walls of stope was preventing several of the fuses to ignite. So in order to fire the fuse, they had to re-cut them. Unfortunately, they re-cut them too short, and since they had about 46 fuses to fire, by the time they lit the last fuse, the first one went off.

According to the only surviving witness, Felix Achavan, the supervisor on duty overseeing their work, Peter Garcia, had warned them he thought it was time to go, and just as he spoke those words the explosion went off. Both Peter Garcia and Sam Martinez died instantly, while Liberto Mendes and Felix Achavan were rushed to the hospital at the Preston School of Industry, in Ione. Sadly, within hours of arriving to Preston, Liberto succumbed to his injuries. Felix stayed several days at the hospital but recovered.

The dead were brought to Daneri's Funeral home and the funerals for the miners were all held individually at St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery in Jackson. Sadly, none of the miners have marked graves, and you can only know they were buried there because of the newspaper clippings and cemetery records showing they were buried there.

Peter Garcia was only 39 years old and was a native of Spain. He had lived in Amador County for many years and was very much a beloved member of the community. Sam Martinez was only 23 years old at the time of his death, and was also a native of Spain. while Liberto Mendes was 36 years old and a native of Mexico.

You can visit their virtual graves here on Find-a-grave and leave them virtual messages and "flowers" here:

After recovering from his injuries, Felix was interviewed for the Coroner's Inquest and his story was published in the local newspaper which is posted below.

Amador Dispatch – 2/26/1932

“Lone Survivor Tells Story of Mine Accident—

At an inquest conducted on Monday evening by Coroner J.J. Daneri, Felix Achavan told the story of the recent accident at the Kennedy mine when three miners lost their lives and Achavan miraculously escaped a like fate.

According to the story told by the witness at the hearing, he was working in a stope on the 4800 foot level of the mine and with companions had prepared a round of 46 holes for blasting. He stated that after loading had been completed, he was assisted by Foreman Garcia in lighting the fuse. Samuel Martinez and Foreman Garcia standing by to give assistance that might be needed; that difficulty was experienced in lighting some of the fuse because of dampness from water that had dripped upon the fuse, making it necessary to again “spit” them, at operation causing considerable delay. Finally Garcia made the statement “we have been here too long, let’s get out” and barely had the word been uttered when an explosion occurred.

Mr. Achavan stated that all were thrown to the ground by the force of the explosion. His position on the opposite side of the stope from the first explosion afforded him a measure of protection and probably accounted for his escape from death. He expressed the belief that the others were in the direct path of the flying rocks rendering escape impossible. He immediately crawled from the scene. Peter Garcia and Samuel Martinez were killed instantly and Liberto Mendez died a few hours following his removal to the Preston Hospital. Achavan gave a vivid recitation of the experience but the recollection of the unfortunate accident was one that unnerved the man and caused him to leave the room sobbing. 

Following the hearing of the testimony the following verdict we rendered by the jury: “The cause of death was the discharge of powder when the deceased were delayed in their work by damp fuses while they were employed in blasting in the north drift of the 4800 foot level of the Kennedy mine near Jackson.”---

May these miners, and the rest of the 43 miners who have all lost their lives at the Kennedy Mine during its years of operation rest in peace, never forgotten. 


(Copyright 2023- J'aime Rubio,


Amador Dispatch – 2/26/1932

Amador Dispatch – 2/19/1932

Amador Ledger - 2/13/1932

Colusa Herald, 2/13/1932;

Healdsburg Tribune 2/13/1932

Saturday, February 11, 2023

GoFundMe Fundraiser To Replace Bathsheba Sherman's Headstone Reaches its Goal

This blog post is more of an update of sorts concerning my efforts to help the Burrillville Historical Society raise funds to replace Bathsheba Sherman's headstone. 

As of yesterday, February 10, 2023, we have now reached and surpassed our goal!!

I want to thank everyone that was involved in donating towards this cause and I want to list everyone by name at the bottom of this list. I cannot begin to thank everyone enough for this generosity of contributing to and in some cases just sharing the link. With everyone's help we have reached that goal and now Bathsheba will get the headstone she so deserves, so that she can now rest in peace alongside her family, as she had always done before the nightmare of vandalism plagued her poor stone, because of "The Conjuring."

I am not one to shy away from speaking my mind, even if it ruffles a few feathers, and I won't be tiptoeing around this either. Plain and simple, the film "The Conjuring" brought a lot of attention to Burrillville, the Old Arnold Estate on Roundtop Road but especially to the grave of Bathsheba Sherman located at the Riverside Cemetery in Harrisville. In turn, that bad publicity influenced others to deface and vandalize Bathsheba's final resting place because they believed the lies perpetuated in the movie. In turn television shows, YouTube & TikTok videos, blogs and countless other means of social media posts then began to spread like wildfire continuing to share this false history concerning Bathsheba, only further sullying her reputation and defaming her character posthumously. 

But we cannot lay all the blame on the movie or social media posts, we have to go all the way back to the people who first started the erroneous rumors concerning Bathsheba. Who were those people?  Well, someone plucked Bathsheba's name out of thin air and attached it to this sinister entity that the Perron's claimed was terrorizing them at their home. But who was the one who started it all? 

Whether you want to lay blame on the Perron family or the Warrens is not for me to say.  I cannot point the finger at one person and say for certain which one it was who started it. Did Lorraine Warren come up with the name while strolling by the cemetery? Or was it Carolyn who saw the name on a walk one day? We will never know, because we were not there. 

Bathsheba had nothing to do with the house in any way, and like I have proven in my blogs and my book, "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered," Bathsheba was never accused of any wrongdoing in her lifetime. She was not a witch, not a murderer, not a bad person. She did not hang herself on the property either, as the film portrays. Like I mentioned, the people who created the movie got their information from somewhere, and those people are to blame for the slander done to Bathsheba over the years. That is a fact. 

But one thing is for certain, there was no Mr. McKeachern and there were no rumors about Bathsheba prior to Earl Kenyon's passing, which was when the house was later sold to the Perron family.  You do the math. It's just plain common sense. The stories started AFTER Mr. Kenyon's death and subsequent selling of the Arnold farmhouse in the 1970's.

The unfortunate thing in all of this is that those people who continued to perpetuate the false narrative surrounding Bathsheba did nothing to right these wrongs over all of these years. They could have made an attempt to do so, they could have even started a fundraiser like I did, to help replace her headstone years ago. Still, nothing was done. 

As I stated in a previous blog, I had reached out to many people in "paranormal celebrity" circles in the past 2 years, and only a handful responded and only a very few donated, but those who did I am forever grateful for that. 

When I was first interested in helping Betty at the historical society I wanted to see if any groups such as the Masons, Odd Fellows and the Eagle or Boy Scouts would be interested in donating their time to restore her headstone. I reached out to all of those groups and never got a response. I reached out to a few stone workers asking if they would be willing to help with the stonework for her headstone and again, I received no reply.  The GoFundMe proved to be the only means to draw enough attention and response to promote this effort.

I am glad to announce that we have now reached our goal and the headstone will be replaced once and for all. The biggest donation that helped us meet the mark was made by the new owner of the Richardson-Arnold house on Roundtop Road, Jacqueline Nunez. Her very generous donation helped us reach and surpass the amount needed to fulfill this goal. I reached out to her yesterday and thanked her personally for doing that. She also made a post on Facebook to reiterate that Bathsheba had nothing to do with the house, she was NOT a witch and was NOT a murderer and for people to leave her grave alone. That was very much appreciated as well.

For the record, although I do not agree with Richardson-Arnold house (a.k.a. The Conjuring House) being a tourist attraction for ghost tours, I do appreciate Mrs. Nunez's help in righting a wrong that was done to Bathsheba. As one of my friends pointed out yesterday, "Just think, this whole time the Warrens Legacy Foundation, NESPR, Tony Spera or any of the Perrons could have done what she just did, but they chose not to."  And that is absolutely right. So, I truly appreciate the donation that Jacqueline made yesterday. 

Just think, out of all the people who have made a fortune off of this "Conjuring" franchise, be it through the film, books or televisions programs related to the home, out of all those people, only one person, who by the way is only recently affiliated with this property, chose to get involved. That speaks volumes about who is sincerely interested in setting the record straight, and who may "talk the talk," but their actions (or lack thereof) proved the opposite. Jacqueline's actions showed she actually cared enough about the situation to help us, help Bathsheba.

I have been promoting this fundraiser all over the internet since 2021, I have reached out to countless people within the paranormal field and in reality it was just regular people who took the time to donate and share to help Bathsheba. It wasn't a bunch of paranormal celebrities, it was just regular people who read about what happened and wanted to help any way that they could. And for that I am forever grateful.

I hope that moving forward this begins the new chapter, with the tide turning in favor of spreading the truth about Bathsheba far and wide, so that she will no longer be portrayed in a bad light. She was a decent human being and deserves to be respected in death, as she was in life. She deserves that much and so much more. 

Thank you to all who helped us make this happen!  -- J'aime Rubio, Author & Historian

Also: A BIG THANK YOU to Sandy Seoane at NRINOW News:

and THANK YOU to  Bella Pelletiere at The Valley Breeze:

(Copyright 2/11/2023,

Photo Credit: Kent Spottswood

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Claude Smith's Tragic Death at the Argonaut Mine

In all the years of living in and around Amador County, I have always been enamored by the history of both the Argonaut and Kennedy Mines. In previous blogs and even in my podcast, I have dedicated a lot of time and research into sharing the horrific details of the Argonaut Mine Disaster of 1922, but that wasn't the only time that the Argonaut miners had met with fatalities. In fact, there are several documented stories of deaths at the Argonaut.

In the past year, I have been spending much of my spare time working on my latest book, "Down Below: A History of Deaths at the Kennedy Mine," and so far I have discovered over 40 deaths during the years of operation at that mine that sits literally across the highway from the infamous Argonaut Mine. This book should be out in the next several months.

The Argonaut Mine also saw death, not just during the time of the mine disaster itself. One such story that comes to mind is the story of Claude Smith and Harvey Jones. I briefly mentioned it in my blog on the Argonaut and Kennedy Mine history back in 2017

Because their story is just as important to share with you as that of the other miners who perished in the Argonaut Mine Disaster, I am going to share it with you in greater detail today, so that Claude and Harvey's story will no longer be forgotten.

Claude Smith was born on June 10, 1902, while Harvey "Tex" Jones was born on September 16, 1879. Not a lot can be found about Claude's personal backstory, but we do know that both he and Tex worked in the mines, and that "Tex," was obviously from Texas. 

According to the Amador Dispatch, it states:

"A blast on the 5400 foot level of the Argonaut mine resulted in the death of Claude Smith and the serious injury of his companion, Harvey Jones, last Sunday morning at two o'clock. The men had completed their round of holes for blasting and Jones was engaged in igniting the fuse when the explosion took place.

Smith died instantly from the effects of the injuries that he received, his body being badly mangled. Jones, who was a short distance away, suffered fractured wrists, injuries of the chest, a dislocated knee cap, facial lacerations and the possible loss of an eye. In spite of his injuries he had the presence of mind to make his way to the station and summons assistance.

To do this he was compelled to climb a distance of about fifty feet, making his way in the darkness, his carbide lamp having been extinguished by the force of the explosion. Surprise is expressed at the ability of the man to accomplish the feat considering his physical condition."-- Amador Dispatch, 3/21/1930

Let's stop and think about this for a moment. The fact that Harvey had just survived a terrible blast from an explosion, with several severe wounds and injuries and yet he forced himself to climb up over 50 feet in complete darkness up a mine shaft speaks volumes on his will to live.

Another interesting thing about this story is that instead of being removed to the Jackson Hospital which was just down the road, they moved him all the way to Ione, which was 10 miles away, in order for him to be treated at the hospital at the Preston School of Industry

I have written two books on the history of the Preston School of Industry a.k.a. Preston Castle, and the only reason I can imagine they brought him there was because the local doctors in the county would often make their rounds to Preston on certain days of the week, which is possible that the local doctor was at Preston at the time of the accident and they brought Harvey there because of that reason. It is also possible that Preston's hospital had better equipment at that specific the time, in order to treat Harvey for his injuries. Due to the fact there are no documents that say either way, we are only left to speculate as to why he was brought there instead of the original hospital in Jackson.

Claude Smith's remains were brought to Daneri Mortuary where John Daneri performed the autopsy and prepared him for burial. An inquest was held on his death on the evening of Wednesday, March 19, where the verdict was reached that: 

"Claude Smith came to his death on March 16, 1930, by accidentally being blasted, while working in a cross-cut on the 5400 level of the Argonaut mine, near Jackson, California."-

Claude was only 27 years old at the time of his death, on March 16, 1930**.  His remains were brought back to Placer County where his wife lived, and he was buried at the Newcastle Cemetery, in Newcastle. 

(** Although his headstone states his date of death was March 15, and he went to work the nightshift the night of March 15th, it was actually at 2 a.m. on March 16th that his death occurred, and the coroner's inquest report reflects that.) 

Click here to visit his Find-a-Grave Memorial:

(C/O Little Orange In the Big Apple; Findagrave)

Because it was believed that the explosion was caused by a defective fuse resulting in Claude's death and Harvey's critical injuries, the Argonaut Mining Company filed a lawsuit against the Coast Manufacturing and Supply Company for $20,821.00 in damages.

According to the Dispatch, the Argonaut Mining Company settled with Claude's widow, for the amount of $5000, and also paid Harvey Jones the same amount for compensation for his injuries, however due to the fact it was determined that Harvey would be incapable of working for the rest of his life, the Argonaut Mining Company was to pay Harvey double, in the amount of $10,000 for additional compensation. 

Sadly, Harvey would never be able to recover enough to live a somewhat normal life, or to have any enjoyment in his newfound retirement paid to him by the mining company. Only two years after such a horrifying accident, Harvey would succumb to illness, passing away on Friday, February 12, 1932 at the Weimar Sanitarium in Weimar, California (near Auburn). 

This facility was originally for the treatment and care of patients with Tuberculosis, and only in 1957 was it opened as a complete medical facility and hospital, so it is the writers belief that Harvey had "miners phthisis" or silicosis, and more than likely succumbed to that that as opposed to the original injuries from the accident.

His remains were brought back to Amador County, where he had many friends within the community. His funeral was held at Daneri Mortuary on Wednesday, February 17, 1932 with Reverand Upton Partridge conducting the services.  He was later buried in Section 5 at the Jackson Public Cemetery in Jackson, but sadly, there is no marker for Mr. Jones. 

Click here to visit his Find-a-Grave Memorial:

In ending, may these two men never be forgotten, and may their stories be known to all who seek the history of the Argonaut mine. Although these two men didn't die in the infamous Argonaut Mine Disaster that has become so widely known in history, doesn't mean that their stories are less important to share with you. I roam cemeteries all over the state and I believe everyone of those graves, markers or not, have a story to tell. I have spent the last 17 years doing that, and it brings me such peace and complete joy knowing that those people who have been forgotten for so long are now being remembered. Their names that hadn't been spoken out loud in so many years, are being talked about now. To me, this is how we keep their memories alive. I am a firm believer that we have an obligation to preserve the past, and to remember those who came before us, and with that, I choose to share those stories of the forgotten with you so that they will be forgotten no more.

Thank you for reading!

(Copyright 2023- J'aime Rubio, 

Some of my Sources:

Amador Dispatch (3/21/1930; 5/30/1930) Healdsburg Tribune (3/17/1930); Blue Lake Advocate (3/22/1930) Findagrave Photos: (Little Orange In the Big Apple & Steve Jones); Family Search.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Argonaut Mine Disaster - Part 3

Going back to the first burials of the 46 miners discovered, those burials took place at the Protestant Cemetery (Jackson Public Cemetery, as well as at St. Patrick's Cemetery (The Catholic Cemetery), and lastly at St. Sava Serbian Cemetery. Of course, when Fessel was discovered a year later, he too, was brought to the Protestant Cemetery and interred there along with his fellow mining friends. 

Miners Buried in the Protestant Cemetery (Jackson City Public Cemetery):

Charles Fitzgerald, who is buried next to his best friend James Clayton, had been living a double life for some time. 

Apparently, he and his wife, Frances had been somewhat estranged for a period of time. They had two children, but at the time that he was working at the Argonaut, she had been staying in Oakland. She had their daughter, while he had their son. 

When news broke that Charles was among the trapped miners, Frances rushed to support the rescue effort and apparently when she arrived she was met by another woman who was claiming to also be Charles’ wife.  No, he wasn’t a bigamist, but he had been living with another woman, Emily Ludekins.

According to the San Francisco Call, Frances paid Emily a visit at her cottage near the Argonaut.  There was no record of what was exactly spoken between the two women, but on September 18, 1922, the newspapers claimed that Charles' wife attempted to kill herself by way of poison. The Sacramento newspaper said it was Frances who made the suicide attempt. However, the San Francisco Call states that it was actually Emily who took the poison, as she could not bear life without Charles. 

Thankfully, Amador County Physician, Edwin Eugene Endicott came to her aid early enough and successfully saved her life. Interestingly, Dr. Endicott, who was also the physician at the Preston School of Industry, is buried only feet from where Charles Fitzgerald is interred at the Public Cemetery in Jackson.

James Clayton, was a native of California and only 36 years old at the time of his death.  Not much is known about his life besides the fact that he served in World War I, and that he was engaged to a young widow, Myrtle Richards, who had just lost her 1st husband the year before in a similar mining accident. 

Elmer Lee Bacheller, was a native of California, and originally lived in Stockton. His occupation was listed as a Carpenter. A lodger at the Gallino Boarding House in Sutter Creek, and he was not even an employee of the mine. He had volunteered to work the shift of a friend (fellow lodger) who went on vacation and it just so happened the shift he filled in was the day of the mine disaster.

Ernie Miller, the Jigger Boss on shift that night, was just 37 years old. A native of Illinois, Ernie left behind a wife and 2 children. He had survived the Speculator Mine Disaster – aka Granite Mountain Mine Disaster in Butte Montana just a few years earlier.  

Charles & Arthur O'Berg, Father and son. Charles was Level Boss that night. Charles was a native of Sweden, and Arthur was born in Washington. The saddest part of their story was that both men had never worked same shift before. Charles had only arranged a few days earlier to have the same shift, as he was planning to retire in 1923. Charles and Arthur’s bodies were discovered hugging onto one another up against the wall, their bodies had been fused to one another so they were buried in the same grave.

Edward William "Bill" Fessel was just 44 years old. Fessel is the miner who was found one year after the other bodies were discovered. Fessel left behind a wife, Ruth and one son, Herbert.  He was a native of Germany. He had been an interpreter for the U.S. Government when he immigrated to the U.S. Prior to that he had worked as a chemist in Germany. He had also worked in the State Parks services (National Forestry) and later went into mining from the Kennedy to the Argonaut.

Evan Ely was 29 years old, who left behind a wife and 4 children. He was a native of Texas, and the only Mormon who died in the disaster.

Bert Seamans was a California native, former resident of Stockton, and only 38 years old. Both Seamans and Bacheller do not have a marker, and are only noted on the plaque. 

Miners Buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery (Catholic Cemetery)

Peter Bagoye, 24 years old. Native of Austria. Had only been in the U.S. for four months prior to his death. He didn't even have a chance to send for his young wife to be with him in the states.

Rafaelo Baldocchi, was 29 years old and a native of Italy.

D. Boleri, was a native of Italy.

Eugene Buscaglia, was 25 years old.  Eugene was living at the Buscaglia's Boarding House on Jackson Gate Road, so I am assuming he was related given the same surname. He was also listed as single in the census records. 

John Caminada, was 24 years old, and also a native of Italy.

Peter Cavaglieri, 40 years old, a native of Italy and he was married, with three children.

Paul De Longa, was a native of Austria and was 31 years of age.

A. Fazzina, was 37 years old and was a native of Italy.

V. Fidele, was 38 years old and a native of Italy.

Simone Francisconi, age 48, and also a native of Italy.

Battista Gamboni, a native of Switzerland, aged 33.

Timothy Garcia, 48, native of California, a widower with 2 children.

Maurice Gianetti, 44, native of Italy.

Giuseppe Giorza, aged 36, married with 5 children.

Lucio Gonzales, 28, native of Italy.

Manuel Kosta* (sometimes spelled Manuel Costa), 47, native of Portugal. *(some records state he was born actually on January 11, 1886, which would have made him 36 at the time of his death. WWII Draft Registry cards state that he had previously lived in the town of Ripon, San Joaquin County as a farmer before coming to Amador County to work at the Argonaut.)

Antonio Leon, age 33, native of Spain.

Luis Leon, aged 42, native of Spain.

Battista Manachino, age 40, a native of Italy. 

Pio Oliva, native of Italy. Aged 25, his brother Luigi also worked at the mine, but played hookie that night to go to San Francisco with friends, and ultimately that saved his life. 

Emanuel Olobardi, age 27, native of Italy.  San Francisco Call dated 9/18, Emanuel's wife spoke to the newspaper reporters that her husband had a premonition prior to the accident. 

September 18, 1922 edition of the San Francisco Call states: 

"It is also reported that O. Bardi (Emmanuel Olobardi), one of the unfortunate forty-seven, expressed his belief to his wife that “something terrible was about to happen.” He had attended a celebration of the Italian Benevolent Society with his wife. Just before leaving her to take his place with the 11 o’clock shift, he said he felt as though he ought to stay home, but, like Steinman, on second thought, he determined to cast aside his fears.” 

Aldino Piagneri, 27 years old and a native of Italy.

Giovanni Ruzzo, 28 years old. Born in Sardinia.

Domenico Simonde, 47 years old, native of Italy.

George Steinman, 48 years old. Native of Michigan. Had been married twice, and had a total of 4 children. His 2nd wife, Linda had one child with him. 

The same newspaper clipping as noted above mentioning Emanuel Olobardi's premonition, also mentions the following:

“George Steinman, one of the imprisoned miners, told his wife just before descending to work that he feared something was going to happen. Before kissing her and their children goodbye, Steinman said, “I don’t want to go down for some reason tonight, but maybe it is just a bum hunch, and I guess I’d better go. He went and his premonition soon was to be realized. -- San Francisco Call, September 18, 1922

Daniele Villia, 43 years old and a native of Sardinia.

Cesare Zanardi, native of Italy.

Miner's Buried in St. Sava Serbian Cemetery 

(**Although all of the miner's names were listed multiple times in the newspapers of the time, most of their personal information was only available due to the amazing work of O. Henry Mace, who diligently searched for these miner's countries of origin for his book, "47 Down.") 

There are not a lot of records about these fallen miners, given the fact many of them had just come over from their home countries.

Rade Begovich, 36, native of Yugoslavia.

Marko Janovich, 35, native of Serbia.

Milos Jovanovich, 36, native of Montenegro.

Jefto Kovac, 42, native of Herzegovina.

Rade Lajovich,  33, native of Montenegro.

Steve Marinovich, 46, native of Serbia.

John Maslesa, 32, native of Herzegovina.

Todore Miljanovich,  37, native of Herzegovina.

Elia Pavlovich, 40, native of  Dalmatia.

Niko Stanicich, 40, native of Serbia.

Mike Vujovich, 28, native of Herzegovina.

The Survivors

There were only 3 survivors of the Argonaut Mine Disaster, Clarence Bradshaw, Steve Pasalich and Mitchell Jogo.

Clarence Bradshaw was born in 1868, and a native of California. He lived on Stasal Avenue in Jackson near the cemetery, and was married to Sarah Bradshaw. He had been working at the Sheriff's office at one point in time. He died in 1926, around the age of 57 years old. 

According to his naturalization papers, Mitchell Joko was born in Austria on December 28, 1882. By 1911, when he was naturalized, he was living at 41 Broadway street in Jackson. Mitchell died on September 3, 1923 at the age of 39.

Steve Pasalich, is probably my favorite character in this story, not only because this story started with him, but because he is the grandfather of a dear friend, George Pasalich, and also because my parents rented the downstairs apartment (lower level) of Steve's home on Stasal Street in Jackson, many years ago, forever tying my family to the Pasalich family. 

Steve was born on March 25, 1890 in Yugoslavia.  He came over to the United States with other family members through Ellis Island. According to the ship's manifest, each of them had about $26 on them, and they were planning to come to the west coast so they had to make that money last, or work to make money to make it to California. So, Steve would shovel snow on the railroad tracks in order to make extra money. 

One of George's funny stories about his grandfather that he shared with me was that when he grandfather had made it to Chicago, he needed to purchase some food, and went into a store and wanted to get chicken but the clerk didn't understand him because he only spoke Serbian. He had to literally play charades and mimic a chicken in order to get the clerk to understand that he was asking for chicken. 

He eventually made it to California, and settled in Jackson. He started working at the Argonaut mine for many years, and later onto the Eureka Mine. He eventually passed away in 1964, and is buried at the St. Sava Serbian Church. His grave is in the front of the churchyard. 

Steve's story was very emotionally moving for me knowing that he survived such a horrific disaster. George shared a story with me a few years ago about his grandfather and his tie to the miners even in death. It was after all the miners were buried, there were little individual flags left on everyone's graves. Over time, the elements had abused the flags making them become tattered and torn, so Steve decided to remove them and took them home with him, and put them in his basement for safe keeping. (This was before he turned the basement into a second residence.) 

Soon Steve started hearing noises in the basement. The movement down there was very loud, as if someone was down there moving things around, or making loud banging sounds, even when no one was there. So he started feeling very uneasy, and he eventually he removed the flags from the basement --- and the odd occurrences suddenly stopped. 

Later on, he would turn that basement into an apartment, which my parents ended up renting years later. Of course my parents had no paranormal experience in that house, so it was safe to say that whatever paranormal occurrences that took place there were tied to the flags and stopped when the flags were removed.


When all was said and done regarding the cause of the Argonaut Mine Disaster, there were no real answers. The cause of the fire was never determined as a certainty, and it also brought up so many safety violations that had been overlooked.

The Report of Governor Stephen’s Committee of Inquiry on the Argonaut Mine Disaster, published in Volume 114 of the Engineering and Mining Journal, states:

“Origin of Fire – The evidence given regarding the cause of the fire leads to no one definite fact.

The following possibilities have all been taken into consideration:

Incendiarism; Defective electric wiring; carelessness with cigar or cigarette stub; carbide lamp or candle.

The witness Mitchell Jogo, who stepped off the skip immediately after the discovery of the fire, and remained there with the hope of being able to do something toward extinguishing it, states that while there were two sets of timber, or possibly three, burning, the larger portion of the fire seemed to be coming from the manway and spreading across the shaft from there. This would warrant the belief that the fire had started in the manway. This manway, besides carrying the ladder for the men moving up and down the shaft, when traveling without the skip, contains the electric-power wires carrying 2,400 volts, and also the electric lighting wires in the mine, as well as the telephone, compressed air-line, and water pump column. If the origin of the fire was either incendiary or caused by defective wiring, this would be the natural place for it to start.  

From all the evidence considered, your committee is unable to arrive at a definite conclusion as to the origin of the fire, which still remains in doubt. Of the possible cause, as previously stated, the first two, incendiarism, or defective wiring – seem to be the most acceptable.”

Going back to my personal connection, I will always feel tied to this story from the time my dad brought home that framed photograph and hung it on our hallway wall at our home so many years ago, down to the present day. 

That day, so many years ago, started my passion to learn about local history and it also triggered the empathy and compassion I feel for those I research and write about. I want to tell their stories for them, since they are not able to do that themselves. I feel everyone has a story to tell, and I feel honored to be the one who gets to do that for them.

This August 2022, marked the 100 year anniversary of this tragic event. Roland and I met my father at the cemetery and we paid our respects to all 47 fallen miners, and the 3 survivors who lived to tell the tale.  

Sadly, we will never truly know what or whom started the fire that killed 47 miners, and destroyed many lives that night in August of 1922. We can speculate, but we will never have a definitive answer. But we can always pay our respects and share their stories, so that they will never be forgotten.

May those who perished that day rest in peace.

(Copyright, J'aime Rubio 2022 - )

This blog was the product of a very personal interest in this part of local history going back to my childhood. I spent a lot of time and took a very extensive deep dive stemming from hundreds of old newspaper clippings, old reports from the time, and research cited and sourced by both Larry Cenotto and O. Henry Mace, who both did amazing work researching the Argonaut Mine.  For an even more in depth look at this disaster I strongly suggest you check out "47 Down: The 1922 Argonaut Gold Mine Disaster" by Author, O.Henry Mace. It is a fantastic, and very in-depth read. 

The Argonaut Mine Disaster - Part 2


Possible Staged Photograph

The photograph you see above is the "official" photograph of the final message from the miners of the Argonaut Mine that has been circulated all these years, although this is not entirely accurate. In reality, it is actually believed to be a staged photo, made after the miners bodies has been found, and done so by a photographer for the San Francisco News by photographer, W. Aird MacDonald. You see, there are two photographs, and one appears to be more authentic than the other.

How do I know this?

Well, this information comes from the research of the one and only late Amador County Historian, Larry Cenotto which was published in the Ledger-Dispatch in 1997. He happened to stumble upon an old photograph in the archives over 25 years ago, that appeared to be similar but not exact, which prompted his further investigation.  

Original Photograph

“The last message written by the entombed 47 miners” was written below the photograph, with a stamped imprint on the back that said, “Jackson Studio, Jackson, Cal.” It was believed that a local photographer had the chance to photograph the original message before MacDonald.

After carefully analyzing the photo, Cenotto determined that the photo found in Amador County archives was more than likely the original photo of the writing on the wall left by the miners, which was clearly made under duress by the look of the writing. 

The cleaner, more visibly clear writing that was circulated by the news media which spells out Fessel’s name on it, had to have been staged later and it clearly done with more precision, which would be the last thing a miner, choking on carbon monoxide gases, fearing for his life in the dark would be doing.

The photo now believed to be the original message, only states the words: “3 o’clock gas getting strong, 4 o’clock Fez,” as if the writer of the message perhaps lost consciousness prior to finishing his inscription on the wall.

But why stage the photo?

Cenotto suspected that something had happened to the original writing, which forced them to recreate it.  Another question to be asked is, how did Fessel’s body end up on the 4650 level, far away from and outside of the barricade where the other miners were discovered, if he had in fact scribbled that message on the wall?

Again, Cenotto believed that since Fessel was working alone on the 4650 level that night doing timber work, which was confirmed by those who worked at the mine that night, he would have had no idea what was going on in the other part of the mine and had no chance to make an escape before the fumes and the smoke reached him.

“The message, therefore was that “F:z” or “Fezzel” was not with them and rescuers need look for him elsewhere.”—Larry Cenotto’s quote.

Another thing I would like to point out is that I personally enlarged copies of Bill Fessel’s naturalization papers and his draft registry card, and I looked at his signature on both documents. Despite what some claim, including Fessel's son who was interviewed and claimed that Fessel signed his name with two ‘z’s is actually inaccurate. In fact, both signatures I examined, signed by Fessel, were signed in cursive, and showed the letter “s” twice, not z.

So, there were a lot of questions here. From the extra brass tag found among the 46 miners behind the barricade that didn't match any of the miners on duty that night, to the extra set of clothing discovered in the change house, and then the mystery behind the two photographs of the miner's message, it appeared that the more I dug into this story, the more questions I was coming up with, rather than answers.

Still, I kept digging....

There were inquiries & hearings, plus speculation galore. Some argued they should have went down the Muldoon shaft to reach the men in time, some argued that they should have sent the skip down to at least attempt to rescue some of the men, despite the fact that eventually the phone and bell system was disrupted by the fire, and thus the hoist man could not have known when to lift or lower the skip to and from the men, in order to provide a clean escape for them.

When it came to pointing fingers at someone, some newspapers insinuated that Fessel started the fire, as if he had conveniently snuck off into the night. Because he was German, had been an interpreter for the United States Government for a while and wasn’t always a “miner,” there was gossip that he could have been a spy. 

Others insinuated that perhaps it was the work of communists which at the time went by the name the Industrial Workers of the World. There were other insinuations that the fire could have been started by a “mystery person” who may have escaped out of a drift at the 2500 foot level that exited out near the creek. That could have very well been the case, given the extra set of clothing and "secret" brass tag that the mine company wouldn't divulge whom it belonged to.

According to O. Henry Mace's research, Ben Sanguinetti claimed that there had been footprints found on a drift leading out of the mine and down to the creek, but no one ever did any further inquiry into this possible lead, and it was left to be forgotten. 

Why no one bothered to investigate that lead makes me wonder about the whole thing all together. As much as I hated to think it, it almost started sounding like an inside job. But then I found another lead that took me in another direction completely.

A New Theory

I too have another possible theory, which could be completely unfounded, yet I would still like to toss it into the ring with the others. Only 8 months earlier, the Argonaut had been robbed by red bandana wearing bandits, and only two of eight men were eventually caught. The robbers took approximately $60,000 which was in gold amalgam.  Could this fire have been related? Could someone, perhaps have come back to cause more trouble at the mine?

The reason I say that is because for one, Hiram Baker, although later acquitted could have had a score to settle with the mine, after having been through the ringer in the newspapers and in his much publicized trial. When Hiram was arrested he was with a man known only as Frank Lynch.

I find it interesting that Frank was never mentioned again in the clippings about the robbery, only Hiram. And if Hiram was acquitted, what happened to the other guy?

I couldn’t find any convictions noted for the robbery. So, I started digging deeper. It turns out that  Frank was actually Arthur Welling, of Indiana, and he was a known safe cracker and specialized in explosives. He was already on the run for robbing Western Oil Refining Company in Indiana, and was originally caught with his friend, Edward Stevens at the Omni Severin Hotel when they were found in the check room with nitroglycerin, more than likely ready to crack open the hotel’s safe.

During an escape from the County Jail on July 4, 1919, Arthur helped 24 other inmates slip away into the night, and into freedom. When he was caught in California and held on charges for the mine robbery, Sheriff Lucot kept him in the Amador County jail until he was extradited to Michigan City, Indiana where he was sentenced to 14 years in the penitentiary for his previous crimes.  Lynch a.k.a. Welling, had friends everywhere, so how do we know that one of Arthur’s buddies didn’t pay back the mine for their friend having been caught and being sent to the big house? We don’t.  This is why I wonder if possibly this fire was started by Welling's friends.

Only Known Picture of Bill Fessel
(Courtesy of the Ryan Family)
Still, no matter what theories were being thrown around, the blame kept going back to Fessel. Those who knew him, knew that wasn’t possible. That didn’t stop some law enforcement agencies to put out APB’s to be on the lookout for anyone matching Fessel’s description. Even a year to the day of the disaster, there were newspapers claiming that there were sightings of Fessel who was allegedly on the run.

Again, locals who knew him didn’t believe it one minute, and were adamant that he would eventually be found in the mine. Still, the whispers and the rumors were too much for Fessel’s wife, who basically became a hermit and moved up to live with her mother in Pine Grove, where she remained the rest of her life.

On September 31, 1923, after flushing out the mine, at the 4650 level, the remains of the 47th miner, Edward William "Bill" Fessel  was discovered and the newspapers and everyone else who had made slanderous insinuations about Fessel, had to eat crow.

Although there was no forensic way to determine for certain who it was, it was believed to be the body of Bill Fessel, given the fact he was the last miner who had not been identified with the recovered bodies, and they were one body short of the total of miners on duty that night.  

A local dentist examined the skull of the body that had been found, and he believed it was Fessel, based on the missing molars and still present wisdom teeth that he had noticed during an examination a few years prior at a dental visit.  The coroner determined it to be the remains of Edward William Fessel and he took his rightful place besides his fallen friends at the public cemetery in Jackson. 

The Grave of Bill Fessel 


(Copyright, J'aime Rubio 2022