O’NEALS – “Bandits! Bandits! Bandits robbed the stage to Hildreth! Get a posse! They got the gold!” So began the story as another piece of local history was preserved and commemorated by the hard-working members of the Grub Gulch Chapter 41-49 of E Clampus Vitus.
Their latest monument was dedicated on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Ryan Ranch in O’Neals, where the town of Hildreth once flourished.
Clampers Historian Steve Varner addressed the crowd of fellow red shirts who gathered on this fall morning along with descendants of the Hildreth, Washburn and Ryan families, interested visitors, and State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, who also grew up in the area.
The Ryan Ranch is located a few miles east of O’Neals on Road 210 (Hildreth Road), and is the site of the latest in a long list of granite monuments designed and built by the Clampers to preserve the history of the West. This one shares a knoll with a splendid pair of metal giraffes.
Varner acknowledged the Washburns as “gracious people to allow us to come up here and deface their property with this thing.” He then invited the assembled to take a step back in time to the 1860s, when a stage carrying a gold shipment out of O’Neals was robbed.
“A bandit absconded with $10,000 in gold bullion and hid it in a tree stump, then started a fire to cover his tracks. He disappeared and nobody ever found him.
“Some time later, two gentlemen found some of that gold after a rainstorm, took it and tried to sell some of it down in Millerton. They were promptly arrested for the robbery. One of those guys was Faustina Washburn’s great-great-grandfather.”
Faustina said that the suspect’s alibi was that he had been drunk in a bar at the time, and he was acquitted of the crime. She also noted that she has a copy of the trial transcript, should anyone wish to have a look.
In the 1870’s Tom Hildreth founded the town as a single store and built his home just adjacent to where the present house stands, overlooking the draw where the town grew up.
The Clampers’ monument stands on the rock outcropping which was the foundation for the Hildreth house water tank. Tim Roche built the concrete walkway that leads up to the monument, Cornerstone Granite gave them a good deal on the stone, and Gateway Memorials did the carving.
“The town was said to have had up to 3,000 people, though stories vary” said Varner. “That didn’t count the Chinese or Indian encampments; that wasn’t the custom of the day. We’ve come a log way since then.”
Varner pointed out the old Hanover School house just across the road. It is decaying and is expected to fall down in the next few years, according to the Ryan’s website.
“It used to be up around the hill, but has been moved twice to accommodate the schoolmaster, and make it easier for him to get to school,” said Varner. “The hotel was up behind the school, and actually at one time a tunnel ran under the road so folks wouldn’t have to worry about congested wagon traffic, I guess.”
The town grew to two hotels, three general stores, an estimated eighteen saloons, a millinery shop, barber shop and many other small businesses.
The stagecoach ran twice a day to Hildreth.
There were four main mines – the Hanover, Abby, Hildreth, and Mud Springs, and many other smaller ones. Near the Hanover mine were five stamp mills. As time went on and the mines began to fill with water, it required steam pumps to pump the water out. The wood required to fuel those pumps became scarce and expensive, and eventually the mines were closed. The Post Office closed in 1896, and the town of Hildreth faded into the landscape and the memories of those who were there in its heyday.
James Ryan bought thousands of acres from Mr. Hildreth and began cattle ranching, and his descendents continue to work the land to this day. Only the school house and bunkhouse remain. Everything else has been lost to fire.
Assemblyman Frank Bigelow acknowledged the Clampers for their role in making sure the history of these people and this place, with which he is so familiar, is not lost to future generations.
“These families are all connected, and we did not want to miss out this special opportunity. We place this proclamation in your kind and caring hands for everyone to celebrate,” he said as he presented a framed Certificate of Recognition from the California State Assembly acknowledging the event.
So how did the Clampers choose this location as one befitting a monument? Each month, a small group of five red shirts meets at Bill Williams’ Frontier Inn in Raymond. They are called the Committee for the Recognition of Antique Places, and they kick around stories of historical events and places.
“In December last year, Bill Williams told the story of the stage heist in Hildreth and that captured my attention,” says Historian Varner.
“I did some research with Kay Good at the Coarsegold Historical Society, got Pat Washburn’s name and phone number and called her in January to ask if it would be possible to do a monument about Hildreth. Pat said, ‘Its about time you guys did this! We have been trying for 20 years to get something going here!'”
Varner says the family has been a pleasure to work with, and are very excited about the monument. Mason and Varner built the mold for the concrete core on Aug. 9, and held a work party to pour the concrete Aug. 16.
Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and on the day of the pour, the mold blew out.
“We had all the concrete in and we were praising ourselves on how perfect everything went for the pour and BAM!” Varner explains. “Put about a yard of concrete on the ground. We strapped it together with come-alongs, repaired the mold and shoveled the concrete back in. What a mess! Welcome to Clamperdom!”
But with all set in order, the newly-minted monument standing proudly on its new foundation, and the obligatory dedication with a bath of the finest whisky on hand, the Brethren declared their work to be “Satisfactory!” and everyone repaired to the shade in front of the house to enjoy a potluck repast and some convivial conversation.
For more information on the Clampers and all the work they do to preserve the history of our area, spend some time enjoying the website of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus Grub Gulch Chapter 41-49.
For more information on the Hildreth area and the story of the Ryan, Hildreth and Washburn families, visit www.ryanranchgiraffe.net, which we perused for a bit of background on this story.