Monday, April 19, 2021
Hangtown Loses Its Noose
Placerville is hanging Up on Hangtown Welcome to Hangtown. Gold was discovered on January 24, 1848 at Sutter’s mill in Coloma, El Dorado County, California, setting off the California Gold Rush. The mining town of Old Dry Diggings sprang up on a creek, now known as Hangman’s Creek. Old Dry Diggings was both a mining town and a jumping off point for miners going farther into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It named itself Hangtown in 1849 since public hangings were the second biggest activity after panning for gold. Law and order was simple in the Old West. Judge Lynch ruled with rump trials. Horse thieves and cattle rustlers were summarily hanged. No due process, appeals, right to counsel, or right to confront witnesses. The tale is that three miners, two Frenchmen and a Chilean, committed a robbery for which they were accused of robbery, murder, and attempted murder. A quick trial was held without their presence. They were convicted, followed by an equally quick hanging from a white ash tree. None of the three spoke English. The town incorporated in 1854. Several classic old mining towns rose in the West, including Aspen, Bisbee, Bodie, Calico, Central City, Cripple Creek, Deadwood, Frisco, Gold Hill, Silver City, Tombstone, and Virginia City. The miners didn’t understand the words gauche or declasse, but they knew neither Old Dry Diggings nor Hangtown would do., Thus, it became Placerville, the county seat of El Dorado County. Placer as in placer mining. Look on a map and you will find Placerville on U.S. 50 between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, the scenic route between the two. Some major figures in American history passed through Hangtown, as did the Pony Express. John Studebaker sold mining basket @$10, discovered gold, amassed a small fortune of $8,000, and then joined his brothers in Indiana building carriages and then Studebaker automobiles. He helped cut down the white oak hanging tree during his days in Hangtown. Mark Hopkins opened a store in Hangtown. It failed so he moved to Sacramento. Leland Stanford had a store just outside Hangtown. He moved to Sacramento. Mark Hopkins and Leland Stanford became two of the Big Four partners who built the Central Pacific/Southern Pacific Railroad connecting the West. Leland Stanford became Governor of California and founded Stanford University. The monopolistic Southern Pacific became known as The Octopus. Placerville may sound classy, but for 170 years its real name is Hangtown. It’s marketed as Hangtown. The city’s seal represents the Olde West and Hangtown, a miner panning for gold with a noose in the background. A noose today is often the vile symbol of racism, lynchings, and the KKK. The noose is justifiably viewed as a threat by African Americans. Not Hangtown’s noose. It is the marketing symbol of a mining town time has passed by. Hangtown has cachet; it’s distinctive, reflecting the old west. The shopping center is Hangtown Village Square. The city has a Hangtown Music Festival, Hangtown Christmas Parade, Hangtown Halloween Ball, and just plain Hangtown Days. One can play the Hangtown Board Game, join the Hangtowm Women’s Tennis Club and the Hangtown Fibers Guild. The Hangtown Kennel Club will babysit your pets. One can take the Hangtown Ghost Tour. Hangtown Pest Control will remove non-human vermin. If bored, read John Putnam’s Hangtown Creek: A Tale of the California Gold Run. Grab a ride on the Hangtown Taxi. Shop at Hangtown Paints and Hangtown Antiques. Look for Hangtown fleece sweatshirts. Not everything is classy about Hangtown. Kathie and I stopped off in Hangtown 40 years ago. Kathie, the New Yorker, had never been out West before, much less in a Western Store. She was game when we saw one in Hangtown. She wanted to experience it. I advised against it – this was not the one to go into. She persevered; we entered. The store was selling a T-Shirt with a silhouette of a young woman with Daisy Duke’s figure. The lettering on the shirt said “Lay a Local Hangtown, U.S.A.” Never bought that shirt – don’t know if they still market it. Some engage in cultural appropriation by trading on the name Hangtown, which the city’s fathers foolishly never trademarked. The brand is so valuable that Lucas Oil sponsors the Hangtowm MX National Motorcross 30 miles away in Rancho Cordova. Hangtown Electric of Sacramento is also in Rancho Cordova. The Hangtown Little League is In neighboring Diamond Springs. Hangtown is the birthplace of the world famous Hangtown Fry. No one expresses interest in the Placerville Fry, but the Hangtown Fry was featured by Martha Stewart in the June 2007 Living. Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, 2251.7 miles from Hangtown mostly via I-80, features the Hangtown Fry on the menu of Zingerman’s Roadhouse. The tale is a miner struck it rich on a vein, came into town at the El Dorado and asked the manager to cook up the most expensive meal he could. The result was a combination of oysters, bacon, and eggs with cream, milk or butter plus salt and pepper tossed in. Contrast San Francisco’s culinary claims to fame with Chop Suey and the Irish Coffee. Hangtown Skate Shop on January 1, 2021 formally changed its name to Motherload Board Supply Company, an erstwhile boring name. Kelly Rogers, owner, explained “I want to be more inviting and my business name to reflect that. If it brings negative feelings to any segment of society, then I don’t want that.” Placerville’s City Council voted to remove the noose from its seal after a year of effort by the cancel culture “Lose the Noose” Movement. You can’t have a hanging without a noose. Council members said they wanted to “rebrand,” “refresh” the city’s “look.” The hanging White Oak Tree is gone, but its stump lies in the cellar of the Hangman’s Tree Bar, now Hangman’s Tree Ice Cream, which has a dummy hanging from a second story window fronting Main Street. Placerville, Hangtown, without the noose is an exercise in misrepresentation and consumer fraud. The town was Hangtown before Placerville, and will always be Hangtown for the merchants and tourists.