Lillie Langtry — It may be a stretch to say Lillie actually lived here. But she and her lover Freddy Gebhardt owned much of the land that became Langtry Vineyards and spent considerable money with Middletown merchants.
Lillie's descriptions of her first visit to her Lake County home make delightful reading.
"Redskins from the reserva- tion rode over my land at will... Cowboys walked in and out of the house in search of what- ever they needed. Neighboring ranchers out of the kindness of their hearts shot deer on my property and presented them to me as gifts... it was communism at its best."
Lillie was among the early vintners of South Lake County, winning plaudits for her burgundy in 1890. And it was her vineyards and her legend that impelled the Magoon Estates to revivify the local industry by entering international competitions with Lake County wines and winning a princely number of awards.
Black Bart was the most famous of local stage robbers, probably because he was such a showman.
Our home-grown Middletown desperado was Buck English, who boasted few saving graces.
Black Bart at least left bit of poesy for his victims, was a natty dresser and exhibited a good deal of style in all his antics. He often wore a long, soiled duster over his clothes, and covered his head with a flour sack with holes cut for eyes. The man carried a double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun, and was brash with stage drivers but gallant with ladies and most of the passengers.
His area of operation ranged throughout Northern California; local thievery was more likely the work of his emulators Buck English and other local ne'er-do-wells.
Mercury miners were a motley crew, ranging from the highly skilled to the unschooled, moving from area to area as availability of work demanded. It was hard, dirty, dangerous works but thousands did it. Many worked for estab- lished mining companies by day and scouted out their own claims in their free time. Some were family men and pillars of the community. Others were known for their hard-drinking boisterous ways.
There were more mines in South Lake County than anyone could count. The Great Western, the Oat Hill, Bradford's which became the Mirabel, were among the most successful in South Lake County, Small towns grew up around them, but the miners' pay continued to contribute to the growth of Middletown and Lower Lake.
Sulphur Bank was a rival, and the several mines at Knoxville and ZemZem on the road from Lower Lake to Berryessa were top producers. In the larger mines, most of the dirtiest and most dangerous work was done by hundreds of Chinese brought in especially for that purpose.
Robert Louis Stevenson merely visited, but the abandoned mining cottage at Silverado where he and his bride Fanny spent their honey- moon was "just over the ridge" from the Great Western Mine. Its almost equally legendary Superintendent Andrew Rocca claimed the couple often visited for dinner and conversation.
Stevenson made the area around Mt. St Helena and Calistoga in his books "The Silverado Squatters," which was a best-seller in its day and remains a classic, and "The Amateur Emigrant," a delightul account of his trip across America by train.
Caleb Greenwood – Ol’ Greenwood to his peers – a famed old mountain man whose life was so colorful, so crackling with adventure, and such a study in contradictions that he could have stepped out of the pages of some best selling dime novel of his day. He was tall, straight, and so inordinately hardy that he was still leading wagon trains westward when he was in his eighties. He killed at least one man, chastened countless, and slaughtered as many bears as it took to keep him in red meat for all of his voracious days.
He admired the Crow Indians, lived for years amongst them, sang their praises, took a Crow woman as a wife, sired so many children, so he said, that he couldn't count them all. He eschewed vegetables, was wholly carniverous, kept his campsites as bloody as a butcher shop, wore buckskins so soiled, so smeared with bear grease that those who met him fancied he hadn't removed them since the day he first donned them.
He cursed at those he befriended, terrified strangers; rescued the lost, fed the feeble. He was on as good terms with a governor (Boggs, by name) as a professional trapper, as comfortable with important dignitaries as with foul mouthed rovers, as happy to chat with the lordly Captain Johann Sutter as he was to trap a fine fat beaver. Besides all this, he was the first non native man ever to set foot here in Lake County, for here he came to hunting, fishing and trapping way back in the 1820's. By one account, he and some of his equally crusty sons, actually made this their hoe for a while, and of course, if true, this would have rendered them them Lake County's very first settlers.
A Pomo Person has offered to join us in the parade, as our very oldest history ... before the Mission Fathers decimated their ranks, and then the Spanish and Mexican settlers, and then the invading "furriners" from America, and Europe, and South America, and Asia and ...
None of those newcomers recognized that the Pomo, the Miwok, the Wappo and hundreds of other tribes were here first. The natives wisely believed that they belonged to the land, and were nonplussed and over- whelmed when the concepts of land ownership took over their homelands.
It's been several centuries now, and we still haven't learned to honor the land the way the natives did. Do think that has anything to do with the amazing number of natural disasters we have been witnessing lately and the continuing assault by fire, air, earth, water and wind?