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
Joe Rohde & Marci Biagi

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, www.jaimerubiowriter.com)

**All sources are available upon request**

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