Showing posts with label gold rush. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gold rush. Show all posts

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Helena: The Hanging Tree, Part l

Law was slow in coming to the Montana gold camps in the mid 1800s. The gold rushes brought a myriad of unsavory lawless characters into Montana territory.

Panning for gold/
With no law enforcement present “miner’s courts” were established but they were ill equipped to handle the crimes that occurred in these early wild camps and settlements.

The result was vigilantes took the law into their own hands. In the span of a few short months from late 1863 to early 1864 vigilantes hung two- dozen men.

Helena in 1871.
Helena, Montana one of these early settlements was known for its Hanging Tree or Murderer’s Tree as it was known. More than 11 men were hanged on this tree from 1865 till 1870.

This lone ancient large Ponderosa pine stood east of the settlement at the head of Dry Gulch. Its bare massive lower branches--twenty feet above the ground-- reached out in a tangle.

Hanging Tree.
The Hanging of Compton and Wilson.
Click to enlarge
Montana Historical Society

Twelve-year old Mary “Molly” Sheehan, later to become Mrs. Peter Ronan recalled coming upon one of these hangings on her way to school in 1865. At the age of 70 she described the sight--it being fresh in her memory--something she could not forget.

It was:

Mary Ronan's book,
Girl From the Gulches.
“A pitiful object, with bruised head, disarrayed vest and trousers, with boots so stiff, so worn, so wrinkled, so strangely the most poignant of all the gruesome details.”

This body was left hanging for three days as a warning to others.

David Hilger was a youngster when his family moved to Helena in 1867. He recalls climbing the Hanging Tree’s dead branches where rope burns were evident on the lower limbs.

He and his friends played marbles under this tree. One afternoon in 1870 as they played their game was interrupted.

Arthur Compton and Joseph Wilson were about to be lynched by an angry mob for robbery and attempted murder.

George Leonard, their victim was a quiet German who lived near Bear Creek along the Missouri River. Leonard had traveled to Helena to buy supplies.

He stopped off in Reed’s Saloon for a few drinks. Compton and Wilson rented horses and watched and waited.

At 6:00 p.m. Leonard headed home on his horse. Compton and Wilson waylaid him at Spokane Creek. They fired 7 times hitting him only once in the hip.

When Leonard fell from his horse they pistol whipped him around the head and left him for dead.

But Leonard did not die. David Hilger recounts an angry mob fueled by vigilantes approached the courthouse where the two men were confined.

The crowd forced their way in and took the two men to the steps of the courthouse where they conducted an impromptu trial.

“. . . All those in favor of taking Joseph Wilson and Arthur Compton and hanging them forthwith will signify by saying aye.”

Hilger remembered:

“I never in my life heard such a motion carried with such force, and it seemed the ‘ayes’ could have been heard at the top of Mount Helena.”

The two men’s fate was sealed. They were marched to the Hanging Tree where they were put in a wagon standing on a dry goods box. Their hands and feet where bound together. Then they were asked if they had any final words.

Wilson remained silent, standing erect and motionless. Compton however, said, “Boys, goodbye. Don’t lead the life I have the past few days.” He had to be supported on the box because his knees were shaking.

Then the all ready was given and with a quick stroke of a horse’s back the wagon lunged forward. The two men’s bodies were swinging in the air.

Compton’s neck was broken in the fall, but Wilson was not so lucky. The noose had slipped to the back of his neck and he died of strangulation. Both men were pronounced dead after 15 minutes.

The Vigilante hanging of Compton and Wilson.
Click to enlarge

The crowd did not disperse until the bodies were cut down and buried. Compton and Wilson were the last two to be hanged on this tree. Future executions were done on the gallows at the courthouse.

Afterwards, David and his friends went back to playing marbles under the tree.

A photograph of this hanging hung in the hallway of the local Jefferson Elementary School for years as a reminder to the students “crime doesn’t pay.”

In Part ll of Helena: The Hanging Tree, the tree is chopped down, and an early eyewitness account of a ghost sighting is shared along with more recent sightings. All are scary.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lyle and the Groveland Hotel

Groveland Hotel in winter.
This charming Bed and Breakfast offers 17 unique rooms for guests that come to stay in the small Sierra Nevada Mountain town of Groveland California near the entrance to Yosemite Park.

Originally built in 1849 this structure was an adobe trading post. It then was used as a gambling house, saloon, hotel, Ranger Station, business offices and even a Greyhound Bus Stop.

Hotel at turn of century.
Peggy and Grover Mosley bought this old run-down building in the 1990s. They spent two years and a million dollars to renovate this structure.

One room in this hotel is always in high demand. Room 15 is where Lyle resides. He is the inn’s ghost. Peggy and her employees enjoy sharing stories about Lyle.


During California’s Gold Rush this building was considered the finest house on the hill. So when Lyle, a reclusive miner, struck it rich he took up residence in Room 15.

His new living arrangement was also convenient for he worked the Spring Gulch Mine nearby. Lyle stayed in Room 15 for years.

He was found dead in this room in 1927, underneath him was a box of dynamite one of the tools of his trade.

Lyle haunts Room 15 and the area that surrounds it. He was known to be obsessively neat and tidy while alive and it appears his ghost is the same.

Lyle's Room 15 today.
Female guests that stay in this room find if they place their cosmetics on Lyle’s dresser he does not like this clutter for when they return their makeup is no longer on the dresser. They often discover their items placed on the sink instead.

One female guest even watched as her makeup flew off the back of the dresser and landed on the floor.

Lyle’s ghost also likes to mess with the water. Taps are often turned on when no one is around--Peggy and Grover experienced this when they were the only two in the hotel.

Lyle also turns on the water in shower stalls in rooms near Room 15 when no one is around.

Another prank he enjoys is messing with the room door locks near Room 15. Guests return to find their room keys temporarily do not work.

There is also a romantic tale told about Lyle. Peggy states that if his ghost has not been active for a while it means he is visiting The Hotel Charlotte across the street from the Groveland.

While alive, Lyle had a love affair with the original owner of this hotel--Charlotte.

Hotel Charlotte 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth, Part ll


The Ghostly Activity

This mansion that once was the center for California’s Gold Rush social elite was used for the next 62 years as a restaurant and boarding house.

Vineyard House built in 1878
Tenants during this time often complained of mysterious voices and phantom footsteps that thumped throughout the mansion at night when everything was quiet.

One border left the house in the middle of the night so frightened he refused to say what he had seen.

Many attributed this activity to the ghost of Robert Chalmer--it was felt his restless spirit still resided within the mansion.

Other tenants reported hearing grunts, rustling skirts, metallic bangs, and heavy breathing. One couple complained of being woken up by noisy guests entering the front door and walking up the stairs.

When they went to shush these revelers they saw 3 men dressed in Victorian clothing vanish right in front of them.

Renovated Mansion

In 1975 a successful restaurateur bought the mansion. He proceeded to restore the home to its original glory. He had the paint stripped from the walls, floors, and banisters so the original wood could be showcased.

He carefully picked out the colors for the new wallpaper, paint and other accessories. But each time these items were delivered he found they were all the wrong colors. This continued for quite awhile until one day he looked in an old scrape book.

He realized the colors that had arrived were the colors of the original mansion. Some otherworldly presence was taking a hand in his renovations.

Items in the mansion started to be misplaced and then were found later in unlikely places--this happened with bud vases, dishes and cups.

A pub was built in the basement near where Robert’s cell once was. Many patrons and barkeeps felt that since Robert did not drink while alive he now frowned upon the fact liquor was being served.

Cups that hung from nails in the wall that were reached for moved inexplicably. One cup would shake and bang against the others or all of them would rattle against the wall.

Shot glasses that were placed on the bar were often found turned upside-down when the bartender turned back to fill them with liquor. At other times they would slide on their own across the bar.

This activity became so pronounced the new owner shut the house down. Today it stands empty.

Check out The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth and Loss, Part l where I talk about the two friends who married the same woman.

The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth, Part l


The Gold Rush

This rush lured many men to California all with dreams of becoming rich. But the reality was most did not attain this dream.

Two men who were friends, Robert Chalmers a German and Martin Allhoff a Scotsman both headed to California with high hopes. Both did pan some gold but life in the fields was hard and neither struck it rich.

Unlike many who had failed, these two men did not return home, instead both stayed in Coloma a small community near the American River nestled close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Allhoff grew grapes for wine and Chalmers bought the Sierra Nevada Hotel.

Robert Chalmer
Robert Chalmer made a choice that doomed his hotel from the start. He wanted to provide a family atmosphere so he did not serve liquor at his restaurant. In a time when bars and saloons were on every corner this was not the best choice.

Even though Robert was an active member of the community and sponsored civic activities his hotel remained empty. His cash dried up quickly and he found himself without assets.

In contrast, Martin Allhoff married to a lady by the name of Louise started to grow 3 varieties of grapes. These grapes: Concord, Cataawha, and Eden thrived in the California sun. He then aged them into palette delights in his cellars. It was not long before his wines were winning awards.

But Allhoff also made some bad choices. He was brought up on charges of tax and liquor license violations and jailed. Feeling he had disgraced his wife, children, and business he in despair committed suicide at the age of 40.

Martin Althoff
Robert Chalmer, a widower, who was in search of options found his friend’s widow Louise alone and sole owner of a very successful vineyard. He promptly married her in 1869. The vineyards thrived and the wines continued to win awards.

The Vineyard House

Vineyard House on right.
Sierra Nevada Hotel across
from house.
Robert built his dream house on a hill overlooking Coloma in 1878 for Louise and the children. Their Victorian mansion had 4-stories, 19 rooms, 9 fireplaces with a large shaded porch that wrapped around the home.

Their mansion quickly became the place where the local wealthy and elite gathered and partied. Many of the guests had made their fortunes during the Gold Rush.

Former President Ulysses S. Grant visited the home where Chalmers announced proudly that he intended to run for the State Legislature. The Chalmers were happy and seemed to have it all but then disaster struck.

Robert started experiencing a loss of memory. Louise became concerned when he would say one thing and do another. He became short-tempered and scared Louise, the children and the household staff.

His odd behavior worsened. Every time a grave was dug in the cemetery across from the mansion Robert would cross the road and lay down in the freshly dug hole. He would be found with his arms crossed in the traditional manner.

Louise Althoff then
Chalmer
Family and staff had to restrain him and forcefully take him home. As his behavior became more violent several of the staff threatened to quit. For the safety of all concerned Louise made a hard decision.

She had a cell with iron bars constructed in the basement of the mansion. Robert was then lured into this space and locked in. His mind was lost to madness. He spent his days moaning and banging his head against the bars.

He was fed and checked on everyday but there was little anyone could do to help him. He eventually lost his sight to the basement’s darkness. In the end, he became convinced that Louise was trying to poison him--he stopped eating and starved to death in 1881.

Louise died 32 years later in 1913. The mansion was then sold to a series of owners and quickly became run down.

Check out The Vineyard House: Dreams of Wealth and Loss, Part ll where I share stories about the ghostly activity in this 100+ year-old mansion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Juneau’s Alaskan Hotel


The U.S. bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867. Just 13 years after this in 1880 Joe Juneau and Richard Harris discovered gold in the Silver Creek Basin-- soon after the Alaskan Gold Rush began with a vengeance. A small tent city named after one of these men, located along the Inner Passage became the capital of the territory--Juneau, Alaska.

The McCloskey brothers, who struck it rich during this rush--along with another investor, Jules B. Caro had a 3-story hotel built near the steamship docks in Juneau in 1913. 

When visitors walk into this 101- year old hotel today they often get a strong sense that they have entered another time. For the Akaskan Hotel has retained most of its original frontier charm.


The hotel also retains several ghosts. It is said after the Alaskan was renovated in 1978 this ghostly activity became even more pronounced. One ghost that resides in the hotel is called, Alice. The local legend states Alice first came to the Hotel during the gold rush with her husband. His goal like thousands of others was to strike it rich.

Alice's husband left the hotel promising her he would return within 3 weeks. But when he didn’t return even after many weeks Alice believed her husband was dead. She became desperate for she had used the little money she had. 

In Alaska, the men have always outnumbered the women -- this was especially true during the early 1900s so there were several brothels.

Alice stranded and feeling she had no choice became a lady of the evening. But in a tragic twist of fate her husband returned just a few weeks later. When he discovered what she had done he became enraged and killed her in a room located in the back of the Alaskan Hotel.

Present day staff and guests have encountered Alice's ghost on many occasions. Her presence is most often felt in the back of the hotel--in Rooms 218 and 219. Several guests who have stayed in these rooms who had no prior knowledge of this haunting have demanded to be moved.

Various staff members have stated that they are always uncomfortable when they are in this area of the hotel. Housekeepers recount how they often discover towels or other items either moved or misplaced in these two rooms. Several have seen Alice's ghost sitting on one of the beds.

One visitor told the staff after his stay that he felt waves of unhappiness and disappointment in these two rooms. 


Alice’s ghost is sometimes seen walking up and down the hotel’s staircase. One desk clerk at the hotel saw her ghost walk up these stairs late one night. He described her as a blonde lady wearing a white dress.

Alice’s ghost has also been seen in the hotel’s bar. This room has several mirrors and many patrons have seen her form reflected out of the corner of their eye.

One summer resident of Juneau had her own strange encounter in the Alaskan Hotel but not with this ghost. One day while visiting a friend she used the hotel's restroom. She was surprised as she entered this room to see how outdated and old-fashioned it was.

Later that same day she was back in the hotel--she again entered this restroom--but this time it was modern. Flustered she came rushing out to query the staff on what had happened to the quaint décor she had seen earlier that day. They had no idea what she was talking about. Evidently, she experienced a “time slip.”