Armed with an old Topographic Map and homestead records, I followed the old wagon and stagecoach roads above Nipinnawasee through 1880’s era homesteads. I climbed over, under and around about a million down trees from January’s Mono Wind Event as I tried to figure out the routes of travel, neighbor relationships and a few stories from back in the day. OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly a million but by the end of my hike it sure felt like that many.
Distance: 14.61 Miles (but you can go shorter or longer)
Elevation Range: 2,840′ to 5,235′
Date: April 20, 2021
CALTOPO: Worman’s Mill to 4S04 Miami Creek Headwaters
Dog Hike: Maybe
I started my walk across from Worman’s Mill, parking off the road in a wide spot at the intersection of Road 601 and Worman Road, making sure I wasn’t blocking anyone. I headed up N6S24 then left up 5S16. Boy, that poison oak was looking especially bright and shiny.
The views along the road change each time I hike in this area and with Miami Mountain on the right, I could look down to see the squiggly Hwy 49.
I took the road marked 5S12X on the right and there is a reason. Although you can’t drive 5S12X by car, it is shorter if I am walking. Cars would not get too far up that road and if they did venture up, there is no turn around when they would get into trouble. Quads and motorcycles had traveled the road though. Before our Mono windstorm, there were about 5 down trees across the road but there were work-arounds that a horse or bike could go around them. On this hike, someone had done some clearing of the smaller trees but there were still about 10 additional down trees. All of the trees on this stretch had work-arounds on them.
A short stretch had brush encroaching on the road.
I kept my eyes up high also because there were many trees that were still hung up in trees along the road, some of them just waiting for wind to bring them down.
Just as I was about to reach the intersection of 5S12, a small mess across the road that caused me to cross country a bit.
I turned left, skirting O’Neals Meadow, continued past the junction that goes up to Pilot Peak and past the road down into Sonny Meadows. O’Neals Meadow was named after John Ruffin “Ruff” O’Neal, bc1836 Tennessee or Mississippi. He died in 1891, pinned by a tree that he fell to make shakes. He was trapped under the tree for a while before he died, his body found by a search party that included his neighbor John Eldridge “Jack” LaTouche. They buried him where they found him because it was mountainous terrain and it would have been difficult to move the body. 2 years later, LaTouche met a similar fate. They are buried next to each other at the Westfall Burial Ground.
It was smooth sailing on this stretch of the road because it had recently been cleared.
When I reached the junction of 5S62 /5S63A, I continued on 5S62 which basically headed up the ridgeline.
The road work ended and I could see bike tracks heading up the road so it looked promising but I soon came across many down trees, most that I could walk around with some effort. No horse or motorized bike was going to make it all the way up this road though.
This was a new road to me with new views and in a couple of spots I could look directly down at Sonny Meadows. I could also look directly over at Speckerman Mountain and Nelder Ridge where I tried to see if I could identify some of the trees. This vantage point was the best I have found to look in this area from afar and wished I had my binoculars with me.
I continued up the road.
I reached an area that I had marked from the 1885 topographic map as having a structure (top pink arrow). A trail had led up from the road below and the trail intersected the road I was on, this structure is shown. I located the drainage that is shown on the map but couldn’t locate signs of the old trail. Maybe all of the down trees were obscuring it from me or maybe I wasn’t looking in exactly the right spot. The middle and lower pink arrows are also structures of interest in my travels, always keeping an eye out for old cabin sites and have walked by these two areas a few times, trying to hone in on possible remains.
I looked around and couldn’t really figure out why a structure would be in this area back then unless it was a toll location. I checked both sides of the road out but couldn’t find anything but a small cleared area that had been flagged.
I had another reason for walking this road and checking out the lay of the land. This road skirted the edge of the 1882 land patents that Virgil Koontz had filed.
He had previously filed on land out of Raymond in 1875 and later in 1884 between Catheys Valley and Planada.
Alius Virgil Koontz was born 1848 in what is now West Virginia and married Mary Lavinnia Turner born 1855 Missouri. Her father was Singleton Vaughn Turner of Raymond. Each spring, they would drive their cattle from Raymond to Koontz Meadow above Fish Camp which they owned and also farmed in Raymond. Census lists his occupation as farmer but he was also a preacher in Raymond, responsible for organizing the Presbyterian Diocese Church in Raymond in about 1894. Virgil and Mary had 3 children: Singleton Nicholas, born 22 May 1876; Alius V., born 1878 and Eldridge Elias, born 1882.
I love learning about these neighbors but it is very special when we can see such a wonderful picture of them. A special thank you to Ms. Michael Elaine Salisbury who posted some wonderful pictures of Virgil Koontz and his family on Find a Grave. She added that her cousin Robert Dodd, caretaker of the family photo album, should be credited for the photo. Thank you both!
Here is article about Koontz Meadow from the Fresno Morning Republican dated October 22, 1922.
I couldn’t find Koontz’s meadow on a map and appreciate Fresno Flats Museum‘s help in identifying the location. John Pryor and Paul Adelizi helped me see that it was in the upper Miami Creek area and within the 1884 land patent of Virgil Koontz. This meadow was below me as I walked but the trees were too thick for me to see it.
You may be wondering why I was so interested in Virgil Koontz. Well, he was a homesteader that interacted with the people that I had talked about in earlier blogs such as John Ruffian O’Neal whom O’Neal’s Meadow is named for and Jack Latouche. Both of these men are buried at the Westfall Burial Ground and both died by trees that fell on them.
“Ruff” O’Neal, who homesteaded O’Neal’s Meadow, filing his first land patent in 1884, witnessed by Virgil Koontz among others. O’Neal died in 1891 when a tree he was falling rolled back on him, pinning his leg. He struggled to escape but was unable to, unable to get anyone to help him, he suffered for several days until he died. His body wasn’t found for quite a while and his body was was in such poor shape that they buried him near where they found him.
When Ruff O’Neal went missing, his long time neighbor John LaTouche searched for him and eventually located him. LaTouche and O’Neal had known each other since at least 1880. Back when the 1880 census was taken, both O’Neal and John E. LaTouche were living in the same household of Charles Horne and they were both shake makers.
LaTouche homesteaded and had a cabin by Miami Lodge in the timber above Miami Mountain Road. The Madera Flume and Trading Company (which was later purchased by the Madera Sugar Pine Company) owned the property surrounding LaTouche’s place. Loggers were cutting timber around his house and told him to get out because they were going to fall the timber and if he didn’t leave, they might fall a tree though his house. He owned the land and didn’t think that they had a right to cut the timber, so he didn’t leave. The loggers cut a huge tree which did fall through the cabin and killed him May 16, 1893, 2 years after “Ruff” O’Neal died.
Sometime between July 4, 1889 and January 26, 1893, Jack LaTouche’s daughter Jeannie was sent to live with Virgil Koontz’s family in Raymond. When Jeannie was 10, her father wrote a letter to her dated January 26, 1893, a few months before he died.
“Darling Mouse, I will be down to see you as soon as I can. You will have a little sister here that wants to see you. Willie has gone to see Gramma he will be gone two weeks. Isaac is learning like everything and him and Henry send their love to the little Mouse and want to see her awful bad. Nearly everyone up here is sick Leonards folks are all down and they are all over the Flats. It is raining very heavy and it is near time for the mail. So good by from Pop. Virgie if you want anything for her get it by (illegible) at Shaws, Jack.”
Virgil died 1924 at Sugar Pine, his wife Mary in 1943 Oakland and both are buried in the Arbor Vita Cemetery in Madera.
So now you know part of the reason I am so curious about the relationship between these people and how I wonder about them as I walk these dirt roads. What a special man Virgil Koontz and his family were to these people and probably many more.
The road was getting a bit more buried in deadfall and widowmakers.
When I reached the junction of 5S04, I turned right and continued the short distance until I reached a gate. Maps back as far as 1885 showed a gate there and sure enough, a gate was there.
I returned back down the way I had come.
The dirt road still held some moisture on it in places and animal tracks were easier to spot and identify such as
I turned right on 5S12 and decided to skirt O’Neal’s Meadow on the south side to see what shape it was in, taking 6S63 to 5S12A to 5S12. This area had not had anything cleared on it was a real mess. I didn’t take many pictures because I was climbing over multiple groups of down trees or heading off road to get around the mess. I didn’t count them but there were probably over a million. OK, maybe not that many, maybe a thousand. OK, maybe closer to 100.
When I reached 6S14, I figured I had had about enough fun climbing over and around down trees so I headed down it. Manzanita, Deerbrush, lupine and fremontii were blooming along the way. This stretch was perfectly cleared.
And then I reached Miami Mountain Road aka 6S24and I saw this! Someone had dumped a pickup camper on a short spur road at the junction.
It wasn’t long before I was back at the car.
There is an outstanding book by Zelda Garey Dubel on the history of our area called To Yosemite by Stage: Raymond to Wawona and Remembering Cedarbrook Inn. It is full of interesting history that I often reference.
There are many roads and trails to explore in this area and many don’t show up on Topographic Maps. CALTOPO or using a download to the Avenza Map APP are the best that I have found. Links are below the Maps and Profile section toward the end. Other than when I was at my car, I didn’t see anyone on this hike but it does get use from motorcycles, 4 wheelers, bikes, horses and hikers. I suggest you be prepared because the motorcycles can fly by in an instant but you can hear them coming. I try and avoid the weekends in this area for that reason.
Dog Hike? Maybe
This could be a good dog hike if your dog is a good fit. The road is lightly traveled by vehicles so you would need to keep an eye open for a vehicle coming around one of the curves. In the summer you could run into a rattlesnake out here also. This is mountain lion country, along with other wildlife that you could encounter. There were a couple of areas with running water on my hike but it can dry up in summer, so you would probably need to pack dog water.
What is a Doarama? It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.
Maps and Profile:
CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week, which you can view or download: CALTOPO: Worman’s Mill to 4S04 Miami Creek Headwaters
A great interactive mapping source for these roads can be found at Sierra National Forest ORV Maps where you can download the Off Road Vehicle Maps to follow the roads and trails. Downloading them to the Avenza Map App from that site, you can even track your adventure to share with others or just save.
Dubel, Zelda Garey, To Yosemite by Stage, Zulu.com, Third Edition, 2011.
Greene, Linda, YOSEMITE: THE PARK AND ITS RESOURCES; A History of the Discovery, Management, and Physical Development of Yosemite National Park, California, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, September 1987
Prior Blogs in this Area: