Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Robbers Rock

Robber’s Rock
and the Last Stage Robbery in California

By Claudia East

            It was a warm afternoon on July 5, 1908, the three gentlemen passengers and one lady passenger jostled along in the Fort Jones bound stage.  The team of horses and the passengers had nearly made it to the top of the pass from Yreka.  Just as they were coming up on a sharp turn an armed masked man stopped the stage.  The driver, Fred ‘Cougar’ Vetterline thought about continuing on their way until the gunman cocked his gun and he saw the head and shoulders of another from behind the big rock with a six shooter pointed at his head.  According to old news accounts the bandit demanded the Wells, Fargo & Company strong box be thrown down. 

            After trying for a time the robber couldn't get the strong box open, so he asked the driver, Vetterline, if he could borrow his axe.  Apparently his response was, “sure, I’m not using it.”  The robber chopped the metal bound box open and removed an undisclosed amount of money and returned the damaged safe to the stage with all other documents and mail intact.  The robber did also lessen the load for the passengers and driver by taking their money and watches.  The driver, Vetterline, had $1.50 and after the robber took his money he told the thief he would need money to buy a drink in Ft. Jones once they got there, so the robber gave him back fifty cents.

            In the account of the robbery by the Yreka Journal one of the passengers gave an interview and explained “The bandit was a jolly fellow.  He joshed and talked with the passengers.  When he broke the driver’s axe he told him he was sorry and he would buy him a new one.”  The Journal went on to report that the robber was “a slender man of medium height and had a handkerchief over his face. The other robber was so concealed that no description of him could be given.”

            No one was ever arrested for this last stage hold up and there were no clues as to the identity of the robbers.  Following the incident there were all sorts of theories and ideas, even Black Bart was named at one point, even though his last robbery was 30 years earlier!  In the 1965 edition of The Siskiyou Pioneer one can find stories about this robbery and the theories that were presented by local historian and attorney at law, Fred Burton.

            Robber’s Rock can be located a short distance before the summit on Highway 3 between Yreka and Ft. Jones, just down on the Yreka side and towards the southern side of the road.  It isn't easily identifiable until one pulls off the shoulder of the road and looks.  The Humbug Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus has placed a plaque on the rock with a brief account of the robberies that were recorded at this spot. 

            This last robbery was not the cause of the namesake of this particular rock, there were others before, at least four documented robberies, but local lore claim there were many unrecorded hold ups there.   Today it doesn't look like much of a hiding place, but if one looks at the old road that goes down the hill from the rock and imagine what it took for a team of horses to pull that grade, and understand that road builders have filled in a lot of the grade and built road material around the foot of the rock, in addition to blasting off the top of the large boulder.

            Taking a drive up to Robber’s Rock is a pleasant drive and a visit to the rock and surrounding area can almost take one back to 1908.

*This article appeared in Jefferson Backroads, December 2012.  Copyright, Claudia East.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Indian Peggy ~ Local Heroine

Indian Peggy

By Claudia East

            Indian Peggy was a very colorful heroine of Yreka.  Many stories and facts have been mixed over the years so that the actual authenticity of what actually happened has been clouded.  So with the possibility of errors this story is shared.  However, with that said we say with confidence Indian Peggy saved Yreka and the former miner’s town of Humbug City from a surprise Indian attack in the early 1850s.

            When the miners came looking for gold that was their feverish purpose, and natives were oftentimes looked upon as barriers to overcome in the quest for riches.  There were often bad feelings on both sides, the miners intruded on the Indian lands and had little respect for tribal hunting grounds, and the Indians were often ill treated.  As the result the local Indian tribes were often fearful and hostile towards the “white” miners who had little regard for the environment and took and used whatever they needed to find the precious gold.  As a result of these factors groups of natives decided to try and rid their homeland of the menace and their practices and formed a large war party.  The plan was a surprise attack on Humbug City and then on to Yreka.

            Indian Peggy was an unusual and exceptional woman; she had friends on both her native side, and with the whites.  She could see that this potential raid on the miners could turn into a bloody war and both sides would lose dearly.  She would lose family and friends she had known for her whole life, as well as her white friends she had recently come to know.  It was 1852 and only a year after gold was discovered.  Indian Peggy took it upon herself to save everyone from this potential massacre.  She lived nearby on a Rancheria and walked several miles to Humbug City and warned the people there and convinced them to retreat to Yreka.  As the miners got to Yreka the news of the impending raid spread very quickly.  When the Indians came upon Humbug City and found it deserted they knew they had lost the element of surprise, they pulled back and withdrew from their plans of attack knowing they would be the targets instead.

            Indian Peggy had renewed status with the miners and the settlers because of her warning of the impending attack.  There are stories told for years that after her warning Indian Peggy would come to town and help herself to things she needed, or would knock on a door and ask for things like blankets, warm clothing or food ~ apparently she was seldom refused.  Indian Peggy lived to be at least 100 and died in 1902.  Following her death, it is said that the high school at Yreka even closed so students could attend her funeral.  It has been reported that Tyee Jim, Chief of the Shasta Nation, gave the eulogy all in his native language.  It is said that there were a good number of people, both Indian and white in attendance on that day.

            In 1951 the Siskiyou County Historical Society placed a marker at her grave.  It reads:  “Indian Peggy born about 1800.  Died October 26, 1902.  Beloved member of the Shasta Tribe.  A friend of Indians and Whites.  Saved Yreka by warning them of an Indian Attack.”  Her marker sits near the current Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds.

*Note:  There are several stories and accounts of Indian Peggy in local publications. These are but a few:  The Siskiyou Pioneer publications from the Siskiyou County Historical Society have information about Indian Peggy in the 1971, 1951, and 2001 issues.  There is also a story about Indian Peggy at the California State Parks website.  The Siskiyou Daily News ran a story on Indian Peggy between 1998 – 2000 by Nancy Drennon.