When The Forty-niners Went Sixty

They had no chair lifts, and they called their skis snowshoes, but they were the fastest men alive

What may come as a surprise is that this swell swoop has been going on for over a century. It was just about a hundred years ago that a relatively unsung hero named Tommy Todd, of Howland Flat, California, was clocked at fourteen seconds for 1,806 feet from a standing start—which averages out to well over eighty-seven miles an hour. Since this was at a time when even crack express trains hadn’t made eighty miles an hour yet, there is every reason to think that Tommy was the fastest man alive in 1870. Read more »

The King Of Ranchers

He never packed a gun or led a posse or burned down a homesteader's hut, but in his time Henry Miller owned more land than anyone else in the West.

One of the great collectors in this nation’s history was a cattleman named Henry Miller. What he collected was land. During his long, intense lifetime, he did not succeed in acquiring all the land in the Far West, but he came as close as anybody is likely to come. It is estimated that at the peak of his career, near the end of the last century, he owned outright some 1,400,000 acres and had under his control through lease and grazing arrangements ten times that much.

Althea And The Judges

Farce in the Bedroom, Bedlam at the Bar
Senator Sharon’s Discarded Rose Packed a Pistol, Her Lawyer a Knife. Blood Flowed at Their Last “Appeal,” as They Ambushed a Federal Judge.
as They Ambushed a Federal Judge

Sarah Althea Hill was a rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed beauty of the Golden West, with spirit and a temper. By her own testimony—if no other—she could shoot a pistol straight and “hit a four-bit piece nine times out of ten.” During most of the eighteen eighties she was the sensation of San Francisco, and before she was through—in 1889—she had involved three of California’s most prominent men in a scandalous case that eventually required three Supreme Court decisions. The men were Senator William Sharon, king of the Comstock Lode; David S.Read more »

Russians In California

An Imperial colony on our West Coast was their aim; Fort Ross was their military outpost; and the stakes—higher than they realized

On the swell of the morning tide, with all sails full, the Juno ran before the wind into San Francisco Bay. As the ship approached the Golden Gate, Fort San Joaquin—so unimposing that at first it seemed merely a group of rocks, rather than the main defense of the harbor—was sighted on the southern point. A "great commotion” within the fort, plainly visible from the ship, revealed the garrison’s alarm at the unannounced arrival of a strange vessel.

 
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Drake’s “Plate Of Brass”

In the summer of 1936 a young man named Beryle W. Shinn was picnicking on a hillside near San Quentin, California, on the north shore of San Francisco Bay, when he found a metal plate approximately five inches wide by eight inches long. Thinking it might serve to cover a hole in the floor of his automobile, he picked it up and kept it, and only later did he notice that one side was covered with writing. Dr. Herbert E. Bolton of the University of California, to whom Shinn took the plate, then deciphered the inscription: Read more »

“Go It, Washoe!”

Granddaddy of all desert mining discoveries was the Comstock Lode, which sent the Far West on a silver stampede to Nevada’s Washoe country a century ago.

Into the mountain-bound mining camp of Grass Valley, California, rode a weary traveler late in June, 1859. He had jogged more than 150 miles over the massive Sierra Nevada from the Washoe country in western Utah Territory. With him, mostly as a curiosity, he carried some odd-looking chunks of gold-bearing ore.

Railroad In A Barn

Snowshed crews on the Central Pacific, battling blizzards and snowslides, built “the longest house in the world”

The Boomer Brakeman, a Paul Bunyan of western railroad lore, is supposed to have made the run over the Sierra Nevada mountains just once. For nearly forty continuous miles, in the 1890’s, the main line of the Central Pacific Railroad was covered by wooden snowsheds—a railroad enshrouded in one long, twilit forty-mile tunnel protecting the tracks and the transcontinental trains against some of the heaviest snows known to man.