Welp . . .

18 Sep

I’ve always loved this photo.  The guy on the left’s expression says it all.


Giant Powder

15 Sep

I’ve been researching blasting, gunpowder and dynamite for my book I’m currently editing.  (And hopefully not ending up on a federal watchlist.)  I was amazed to come across this poster for blasting powder in Fanny Ann’s Saloon in Old Sacramento.  You can find it just behind the ketchup.

In case it wasn’t obvious how big the giant is, check out the bear loincloth.

The Giant Powder Company was located at Pinole Point up in the north San Francisco Bay.  The California Powder Works was located just a few miles away in Hercules.  After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the California Powder Works shipped dynamite and blasting powder across the bay to the Army.  The Army used it to demolish buildings and try to create barriers against the fires raging throughout the city.

Yeah, you read that right.  The Army, in an attempt to stop the fires, exploded the not-on-fire buildings.  No way that could go wrong.

Don’t worry, we got this!

I’ll go into more detail on how it went (BAD) in a future blog post.

The Five Joaquins Gang

5 Sep

My girlfriend was doing research for her history class and reminded me about the Five Joaquins Gang.

These guys are California legends: A group of Mexican banditos who plundered their way through Gold Rush-era California.  There are several variations of the story.  In the most famous one, Joaquin Murrieta (the first and most important Joaquin) was a successful gold miner who attracted the attention of white gold miners jealous of his success.  They raped and killed his wife and then beat him senseless, leaving him for dead.

He survived and rounded up four other Joaquins and Manuel “Three Fingered Jack” Garcia and proceeded to rob like they had never robbed before.  Eventually the state legislature passed a law in 1853 creating the California Rangers, for the express purpose of dealing with the Five Joaquins Gang.  How many criminals get a law and a law enforcement agency created just to take them down?  They must have been pretty scary.

ImageOh god, those eyes!  Kill it with bullets!

The Rangers tracked down the Five Joaquins, killing Murrieta and two others and capturing two more.  They even cut off Murrieta’s head and put in a jar of alcohol so members of the public could see it.

ImageCause, y’know TV was at least 100 years away and that daylight wasn’t gonna burn itself.

Of course, there’s some question as to whether Joaquin Murrieta the legend existed, much less if it was it his head in the jar.  I’m not confident 1850s law enforcement would have been too picky about getting the right Joaquin.

Speaking of which, how did there end up being five guys with the same name?  Was it an entrance requirement?  Did any change their name to fit in or for a Spartacus-type deal?  Was that ever confusing during a robbery?   It’d be like Reservoir Dogs except everyone is named Mr. Blue.

Legends are always fun, but it’d be nice to have some answers.  Oh well, Nelson Muntz said it best:


Dead to Rites now available on the Apple iBookstore!

28 Aug

Get it here!

Hidden History

27 Aug

I’ve done a lot of research into the Chinese workers on the Transcontinental Railroad for my book.  It’s unfortunate that there are no first hand accounts of the work from the actual workers.  It seems unlikely that none of them kept a diary, but perhaps they were all lost to time in California or went back to China with their owners.  Despite this lack of first-hand accounts most Californians learned something about the Chinese workers on the railroad.
A friend stumbled across a tombstone in a local graveyard for a man from Pakistan, dated to the early 1900’s and was surprised.  As it turns out, Sikh immigrants worked to build the railroads in the western United States, but also helped build the levees that now protect Sacramento from seasonal flooding.  For those who aren’t familiar with the Sikh people, who are frequently mistaken for Muslims:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikh.

You can see some historic photos of Sikh workers here:  http://www.sikhpioneers.org/t_usphot.html.

Fun fact:  Due to miscegenation laws in California, Sikh (and Chinese) men were forbidden from marrying white women, an interesting side effect was that many Sikh men ended up marrying women of Mexican heritage.

Fun fact #2:  While Sikh men have a long history of being police and soldiers, they are currently excluded from being police officers or soldiers in the United States, due to their religious tenets that require wearing their turban, a beard and dagger.  There are only two Sikh soldiers in the U.S. Army, both of which have required individual exemptions every step of the way.

Stereotypically the frontier was filled with whites, Native Americans, a few Mexican banditos and a handful of Chinese.  In reality, the frontier was a mish-mash of ethnicities and nationalities.  I wonder how many small groups may have been lost to time, never memorialized by a headstone, waiting to be discovered by a wandering visitor.