Close Encounters Of The Earliest Kind

During November of 1896 the United States experienced its first publicized UFO flap, and it is perhaps not surprising that it should have occurred in California. After all, Erich von Däniken would have us believe that the prehistoric petroglyphs in Inyo County represent interplanetary flight; Fray Geronimo Boscana, the missionary at San Juan Capistrano, described a “two-tailed comet” overhead in 1823; and in 1883 the scientist John J.Read more »

The Jeaning Of America—and The World

This is the story of a sturdy American symbol which has now-spread throughout most of the world. The symbol is not the dollar. It is not even Coca-Cola. It is a simple pair of pants called blue jeans, and what the pants symbolize is what Alexis de Tocqueville called “a manly and legitimate passion for equality. …” Blue jeans are favored equally by bureaucrats and cowboys; bankers and deadbeats; fashion designers and beer drinkers. They draw no distinctions and recognize no classes; they arc merely American.Read more »

Knights Of The Fast Freight

When young Jack London described the Reno of 1892 as “filled with … a vast and hungry horde of hoboes,” he was reporting no isolated phenomenon; shaggy, rootless men—tramps or hoboes—could be seen in every part of the West from the 1870’s down to the Second World War. Beginning in 1869, when Omaha Bill beat his way on the first Union Pacific train to the Coast, they were to be seen on all the western lines.Read more »

The (almost) Russian-American Telegraph

As Lincoln lay dying from an assassin’s bullet across the street from Ford’s Theatre through the grim night of April 14, 1865, frequent bulletins on his sinking condition clicked between the major American cities along the country’s spreading web of Morse telegraph wires. News of his death in the morning spread from city to city within minutes. Yet eleven days passed before the tragic tidings reached Great Britain and Europe when the steamship Nova Scotian from New York docked in England on April 26. Read more »

Remme’s Great Ride

The thud of horses’ hoofs resounds through history, and occasionally a great ride is singled out for song or story—Paul Revere’s, Jack Jouett’s, and those fellows’ who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix, for instance. Louis Remme’s great ride was possibly more heroic than any of those, although it was not made for any lofty, altruistic purpose. It was made, quite simply, to save his fortune. We retell the story here as adapted from an account m the Portland Oregonian for February 12, 1882.Read more »

A Nice Piece Of Real Estate

One day San Franciscans suddenly learned that their city was the property of a Frenchman, one Monsieur Limantour

For several years after the California gold rush San Francisco was notorious around the world for the frequency and magnificence of its municipal disasters. Time and again, devastating fires swept through the business district. City officials defalcated with the contents of the public treasury. Banks failed, epidemics raged, and gangs of murderers ruled the streets.Read more »

A Wrecker’s Dozen

There are places on this earth, in Europe particularly, where conservation is taken to mean the preservation of the notable works of man as well as nature. Magnificent old railroad stations and churches, public buildings, historic houses, architectural landmarks of all kinds, are valued for their beauty or for the memories they evoke, for the sense of continuity they give a place, or, often, just because they have been around a long time and a great many people are fond of them. But here in America we don’t—most of us, anyway—seem to feel that way.Read more »

The Voyage Of Nor’west John

Curiosity motivated the first American who crossed Siberia. But he also made a handsome profit.

In August, 1804, a young sea captain named John deWolf sailed from his native port of Bristol, Rhode Island, on a voyage to the Pacific. Four years were to elapse before he returned from a fabulous adventure that had taken him around the world. In the course of his trip, he had spent a year in the lonely outposts of Russian Alaska and had crossed the wastes of Siberia—a feat accomplished by no American before him, and few Europeans.

“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.

The Boodling Boss And The Musical Mayor

A corrupt lawyer and his complaisant ally ran San Francisco as their private preserve until a crusading editor toppled their plots and schemes, and sent one of them to jail

In November, 1901, the little town of Sonoma, California, a few miles north of San Francisco, lay dreaming in the haze of Indian summer. There were few guests in the town hotel, and only two were strangers. One of them was a small man with bright, beady eyes above a huge mustache; he looked like Ren Turpin with his eyes uncrossed. The other was big and broad-shouldered; he had a head of thick, curly black hair and a luxuriant mustache and Vandyke beard that, in pictures of him, give an irrepressible impression of being glued on.Read more »