Sunday, March 2, 2014

Wheelbarrow John Returns to Old Hangtown

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
The El Dorado Republican and Nugget got out a special edition in honor of the occasion of John Studebaker returning to Placerville, California, fifty-nine years after he left the gold rush town. (April 1907)
More than fifty-nine years ago a gaunt youth of nineteen stepped down from an emigrant wagon and took his first look around at the country where he had come to make a fortune. In his pocket was a lone 50-cent piece. Today a kindly-faced aged man stepped from a luxurious automobile and looked around him at the area where he had laid the foundation for his fortune. It was J.M. Studebaker returning to take perhaps his last look at the scenes of his early struggles.
The auto had drawn up in front of the Ohio House where on the wooden porch stood a score of grizzled men. As Studebaker stepped down from his auto he spied a face in the crowd. ''Hello Newt, you around here yet?" he said, by way of salutation.
"Yes, I'm here yet," answered Newton T. Spencer with his Missouri drawl, "but they call me judge now, Mr. Studebaker, ye see I'm the Justice of the Peace."
"Huh! What did you ever know about law when you and Hank Monk used to stop in the road and decide with your fists which of your stages was going to back up to let the other pass?" exclaimed Studebaker in jocular tone.
"And you, too, Charley Von Weidierwachs, where's that rip-snortin' Jayhawk, Blackhawk, Mohawk father of yours?" asked Studebaker, shaking hands with a bent figure, beneath whose black hat hung locks of silver gray.
"City clerk Weatherwax, if you please," he drew himself up with a mock show of pride, "that name bothered me worse than all tarnation, so I had to change it."
"Well, this town hasn't changed," Studebaker paused to glance about him as he shook hands with the men who were young and full of hope when he first came here.
"And where's Mike Mayer, one of the men who worked with me?" he asked.
Studebaker was told. A few minutes later he was driven up to a white painted cottage and was shown inside. His visit must be brief, he knew.
"Is that you, Wheelbarrow John?" a tremulous voice asked the question as a thin and emaciated hand came out from beneath the coverlet and groped for a hand to press in greeting.
"Yes, it's I, Mike," answered Studebaker, as he looked into the sightless eyes and drawn face of Michael Mayer.
There was feeling in his voice as Studebaker said, "I must go now, Mike."
They clasped hands for a minute more -- these two relics of the days of 1849 -- one worth millions and the other -- well, not so rich.
Before Studebaker would sit down to the banquet in honor of his return to Hangtown he must see some of the old places he knew. He saw not many. Hangtown was swept by the fire while he was here in the early days; it was destroyed again many years after he left. But the old-timers who rode alongside of him pointed out the place where he went to work for Joe Hinds to make wheelbarrows for $10 each.
The dining room of the Ohio House where the banquet was served had been elaborately decorated. The tables held bouquets of wild flowers, and the walls of the room were banked with yellow poppies against a solid background of ferns. The menu card, on which was emblazoned a picture of a man swinging from a tree, and another representing a man with overalls in boots trundling a wheelbarrow load of gold, was printed after the manner of pioneer typography, the clever imitation winning compliments for the craftsmen of the Placerville "Republican and Nugget office." The catalogue of eatables was replete with early-day references.
Chili Gulch Rib Warmer
Sluice Box Tailings, flavored with Chicken
High-grade Olives
Spanish Flat Onions
Cedar Ravine Radishes
Coon Hollow Pickles
Sacramento River Salmon paved with cheese
Indian diggings Spuds
Tertiary Moisture
Slab of Cow from the States
Bandana Fries with Bug-juice
Lady Canyon Chicken, Hangtown dressed
Webbertown Murphy's Shirt-tailed Bend Peas
Dead Man's Ravine Asparagus
Cemented Gravel a la emigrant Jane
Butcher Brown Fizz Water
Assorted Nuggets
Amalgam Cheese, Riffle Crackers
Mahala's Delight en tasse
Texas Hill Fruit
Pay Day Smokes
Hard Pan Smokes


  1. Paisley, don't you wonder what some of the menu items were? Great post I found interesting.

  2. Thank you, Caroline. They certainly served a lot of different kinds of food. It must have been an impressive evening.

  3. What an interesting conversation. But I think I'll pass on the menu.
    This is quite a story--how many immigrants came to our shores in the mid-1800s and became rich or famous or both. Wow, if only we knew all their stories.
    Thanks for a wonderful tale.

  4. I am glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes I think it is more informative to hear the conversations in their own voice to understand what it was like in the early days. I use these wheelbarrows in some of my stories so I relate well to John Studebaker. :)

  5. I love Placerville, too, and will miss it when we move to Wisconsin. Thanks for stopping by today, Tanya. :)

  6. Well now, who could resist anything on that chuck wagon? Anything with bug juice has got to be a hit.

    Fun post, Paisley. We have the wheelbarrow races every year at the county fair in his honor, too.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  7. I love the idea of wheelbarrow races. It's amazing Studebaker started with the wheelbarrows and progressed to the cars. My grandpa had a studebaker.n:)


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