Posts Tagged With: layers of history


It’s interesting to me that when I first heard of Monte Wolfe and interviewed Harry Schimke, Monte’s unusual  life had been covered by the San Francisco newspapers, the Stockton Record, local newspapers and several historical societies. But, no one investigated Monte like Don DeYoung. Don first contacted me about my blog in 2009 and went on from there to meet the Schimke family. Harry’s daughter, Susan had all of her father’s photos and notes, and his brother Art was still alive.  Don did a major investigation about Monte that led to a  vastly more accurate portrait of Monte than anyone had before. As he put it, thanks to the internet, his skills and his own boyhood fascination with Monte from a boy scout camping trip, (that  he describes in one of the links below), Don  satisfied a lifetime fascination.  Monte disappeared in 1940, a date established by Harry Schimke,  who was the last person to see him alive.

Mark Bonar, too, became fascinated by Monte as a young man through his father-in-law, Paul La Teer, and subsequently collected materials, visited the cabins and introduced his own children to the legend of Monte Wolfe.  Monte built the “new” or second cabin in about 1933, Mark is guesstimating. As you can see, the hinged door is missing but the old woodsman’s device for “barring the door” was  in place.

Mark told me, “Paul knew that country and used to stash food, sleeping bags and wool blankets in rocks behind Camp Irene, which was about eight to fifteen miles below Monte’s cabins.  A Forest Service trail led down to the  new cabin from the Blue Lake side.  It is located about 12 miles from the mouth of Summit City Canyon Creek. The creek funnels into the Mokelumne.  The cabin was well hidden, nestled among the trees about 100 yards from a sharp bend in the river. There was a horse trail leading down behind the cabin (as yet not re-discovered). Monte, too, used “spike” caches to hold food and traps on his forays throughout the steep Sierra Nevadas, a common practice for ranchers chasing cows, sheepherders, trappers, fishermen and hunters.

Mark found a paper at the cabin describing how Monte built that cabin by himself. He hoisted all the material up onto the ridge pole using the wetted incline plane principle. The door was small, but extremely heavy. “The door probably weighed 150 pounds and had massive hinges. No one could remove the door without special tools or help.

“The cabin was beautiful; strongly built,  with two rooms. The foundation of lightly charred cedar rounds  discouraged insects. He had a screened pantry high up off the floor to keep out mice.  Monte dug a fresh spring near the cabin from which he piped water into a carved wooden sink and to a solar shower he hooked up on the cabin’s outside wall.”

“He also built a partly under-ground smoke house with hooks enough for 100 trout or a large deer cut into pieces.”  Mark showed me pictures of  carved log chairs, a table and other items Monte made. There were also  comfortable furnishings that Monte  hauled into that steep canyon from long distances.

(The above two pictures were taken by Mark on one of his many visits to the cabins.)

“Monte hauled a heavy cast iron cooking stove from Hermit valley to the cabin, piece by piece.  He was exceptionally strong.”

Monte was reported to throw a canvas sack of nails over his shoulders weighing 80-100 pounds, stand with it on his shoulders and visit for an hour and never set it down, then move on as  though carrying nothing. He was seen setting off from Blue Lakes on skis to his cabin on the Moke,  at night, an incredible feat in the day time,  without the deceptive shadows cast by the moon. Paul Le Teer described him as “…a swarthy, short man; a dead shot with a rifle, small feet, enormous calves, slender waist, and the broad shoulders of an athlete. He wore his long hair in braids, sometimes tied by a ribbon.”

There are many engaging stories of Monte’s exploits.  One I heard from a former bartender at Tamarack concerns the romantic Monte. Supposedly no one, the law, nor wardens could  “sneak up” on the expert woodsman. But,  the Bartender  came across him lying in a naked embrace  with a woman on a large flat rock  in the bright sunshine. He retreated undetected.

After Monte’s disappearance, people began using the upper cabin until the U.S Forest Service burned it down. The main cabin was harder to find, was locked, and  under the “protection” of the Linford family.

Mark  has a letter from the Lindford’s to the El Dorado Forest Service  Supervisor, Edwin Smith, after Monte’s disappearance was formally acknowledged. The Lindford’s were well off and owned an Oakland Construction Company. They befriended Monte and convinced him to jointly establish a mining claim on Monte’s properties, meaning the area of his cabins and property he occupied, but didn’t own. The Lindord’s enjoyed, with Monte, a private, free, Shangri La Cabin in the mountains. From the letter, Mark speculates the Lindford’s were interested in the amazing private cabin retreat more than Monte. The letter admits that they had never mined nor taken any minerals on their claims, they simply wanted to use the cabin and lands that Monte occupied and asked permission to continue to do so. Permission was granted them as long as they did not extend that privilege to others. So, they shared a special  lock with the forest service on the cabin door.

“Between 1955 and 1970, ” explained Mark, “fewer people were going to the cabin. The elder Linfords were essentially gone and their son, family and friends used it on rare visits.  A tree fell on the cabin and took out one corner of it and the end result would certainly be steady deterioration. The cabin was repaired much later by a committee of interested people formed to protect the cabin. The non-profit Monte Wolfe Society was formed by James Linford.

The U.S. Forest service decided in recent years that the cabin should be left to deteriorate and removed the door to hurry the process and prevent people from using the cabin. They emptied the place of everything but the stove. The group has taken legal action against that decision, arguing that the Mountain Man’s place is an historical  artifact like an Indian Ruins and should be preserved.  The group has succeeded thus far in having the door replaced and the chimney pipe hole patched in 2010. That is heart warming progress indeed.

Don DeYoung’s book is still awaiting publication. But, in the meantime, there are several websites about De Young’s extended research, including locating Monte’s grandchildren and learning his real name at the very interesting links below.

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We leave Kunming on the bus headed for Guilin. On the way we stop at a poor Suni Yi village that  still functions much like it has for hundreds of years. It has been insulated from tourists until recently when the village and its cemetery were designated a UNESCO site. Most of the houses are ramshackle. Some have tin roofs, some have straw. Some keep pigs next to their houses.

Raw sewage runs into a ditch down the street; garbage is strewn on the ground everywhere.  You understand very quickly what life was like, and still is,  for some ethnic minorities in China.

The Suni Yi believe spider webs are good luck and they don’t remove them from doorways, alleys or houses.

The women work together to remove corn from the cobs. The crop is shared among the families. It appears to be the major crop in this area. Front right is the village adobe mixer.

They have many uses for the fibrous husks and don’t throw them out.

Clearly visible on this building, the many layers of time. On the right, is a slap dash repair. The center is from an earlier time. Above and on the left are different materials.

Here, too, you can see the different style of adobe bricks and stucco that went into repairs over the years.

Like all Chinese, they adore their children. During the enforced one child per family policy ethnic minority people are allowed two children per family. The Chinese government enforces this with ostracism. An unregistered child is shunned by neighbors; he cannot get work as an adult, no one is allowed to hire him.  His parents also suffer; they lose jobs and get punished in many, small ways. Farm people didn’t exactly have “jobs” like city people before collective farming. And now, collective farming  has been discontinued.   At one time they gave out free condoms and demonstrated them by showing how to use them by slipping  them on their fingers. So the farmers put the condoms on fence posts, tree branches and anything but their privates thinking they would work.
The people here are not used to big noses parading through their village and they are a bit shy. Vicki asked us not to give them money and turn them into beggars. But, you can see the dollar bill in this little boys hand. One of our group “forgot”.  It won’t be long before tourism will negatively and positively affect their  lives.

We barely give the above ground  cemetery a passing glance. It is unkempt and overgrown with weeds.

From past experiences,  UNESCO sites usually have some great beauty, but this site was chosen for its historical significance and rarity. Above ground cemeteries have not been allowed in China for several centuries. By law,  bodies must be cremated.

As we leave the village, this woman is headed for the fields with her child on her back. You can tell the dog has had recent puppies and we wonder…

Happy children play on the street. They don’t know they are poor when they get enough to eat, have loving parents, and adequate shelter.

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John Brown organized blacks to take arms in hand and force the powers that be to end the owning of slaves. He aimed to take over the armory located at Harpers Ferry and use those arms for his revolt. He failed, and after a 36 hour siege in a small Firehouse, his heartfelt blow for freedom was over. They shot three of his raiders and captured them all. Brown was hung first after a trial in nearby Charles Town. He sat on his coffin on his way to the gallows. Three more raiders were tried and hung after him. His raid was downed by the local militia and Federal Troops under Robert E. Lee.
Afterward, the famous Firehouse was vandalized by souvenir seekers; it was dismantled, rebuilt, and over time,  moved to  four different sites before being returned to Harpers Ferry by the National Park Service, within 150 feet of its original location.While Brown went to his death thinking he failed, it was the eve of the Civil War, the swirling change of ideas about the owning of slaves fed his revolution and struck fear in slave owners that  this bold move may signify the first of more to come.  His actions further divided the nation over the issue of slavery and his actions helped launch the Civil War.

We walked the riverside that gave Harpers Ferry its strategic importance in History. Supplies were moved by water and the Shenandoah River meets the Potomic here, crashing together on their way to the ocean.
President Washington surveyed this area as a young man and chose it as a site for a Federal Armory to protect the area from insurgents. Thomas Jefferson extolled the virtues of this wonderful town. Black Freedman worked and thrived here along with whites with slaves.

This bucolic town, now a National Park, once housed 3,000 people, all gainfully employed at a rifle factory, grist mill, cotton mill, taverns, a foundry, tannery, and all the small service industries, clothing, tobacco, butchers, candle and soap makers, schools and teachers, bakeries and hardware, plus the Federal Armory located here. By all accounts a successful and thriving city.

This beautiful Church has a commanding view of town.

Hilly country side made land precious and the houses were tightly jammed together. But this touristy view was once a place where manure littered the streets, hogs ran free, outdoor toilets accompanied every building, working men spit tobacco in the streets and the butchers blood drained freely down the hillside into the river, attracting flies and vermin. A cholera epidemic killed 147 people one year.

White Hall Tavern didn’t hold many customers, but it was a place for social gatherings essential to colonial life.

This  three story boarding house had amazingly roomy bedrooms. Soldierly types had to hang their canteens and arms in the foyer. The Appalachian Trail also runs through Harpers Ferry, and again we set foot on it out of curiosity. It actually goes over this Potomic Bridge at one point.

What an amazing place.
Lewis and Clark outfitted here. The rifles he took from this renowned factory may have meant the difference between success and failure. He invented a boat and tried it here, but it failed. A small museum tells the story.
Appreciating this strategic place, its position, the railroads and canals that pushed goods all the way into Ohio, and the issue of slavery on the dividing line of slave and free states is complex. The whole area, to do it well, takes two or three days and well worth the time. We spent one day. Every building is basically a museum. Two African American Museums, a John Brown museum and many interpretive exhibits and places to visit make this a must see if you are in the area. Its great to refurbish your sense of history and remember , John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Dred Scott, J.E.B. Stuart, George Armstrong Custer, W.E.B. Du Bois, Stonewall Jackson among the notables that played their part in this small town.
For an album of more pictures click the link below:

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