“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

“I grew up during the folk revival, and as a small boy in the 1960s I learned to sing a lot of folksongs. When I was 11 years old, I attended a Sam Hinton concert at the Big Sur Grange on the California coast — and it made a lasting impression on me: making that early connection between events in history and the folksongs that survived them. Forty years later, when Sam Hinton died, I discovered that I was the last person in the world that still sang ’The Frog Song.’”

~Adam Miller

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The Sea Otter Hunters

Donald Thomas Clark’s encyclopedic Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (1991) contains a listing for a “Nidever Spring” in Big Sur. Eighty-six-year-old Esther Pfeiffer Ewoldsen, who had lived her whole life within a few miles of the spring, remembered that it was situated along the Big Sur River, just downstream from the River Inn. Jeff Norman, the preeminent Big Sur historian of his generation, located Nidever Spring along Brewer Road, up Pfeiffer Ridge, west of the River Inn. In the 21st-century, there’s a scarcity of drinking water in much of Big Sur. But back in 18th and 19th-centuries, coastal California was much wetter than it is now, and the ground water was closer to the surface. Consequently, not many people alive today remember the days when one could stop for a long, cool drink at Nidever Spring. *          *          * Nidever Spring is named for a 19th-century American sea otter hunter, Captain José George Emigdio Nidever, who was born in Santa Barbara, California, in 1847. His father and namesake – Captain George C. Nidever – was born into large family outside Middletown, Sullivan County, Tennessee, just south of the Virginia state border, 1802. He remembered being taught to shoot firearms before he was nine. By the time he was eighteen, had had such expertise with a rifle, he was once made chief buffalo hunter in a party of men his father’s age. Although he was an extremely skillful marksman, he was quite modest regarding his abilities. In a contest, he shot three rifle bullets through a piece of paper three inches square, from a distance of about 200-250 feet – a trick he could still perform at age seventy-five. (His biographer, William Henry Ellison, saved the scrap of paper with the bullet holes.) George C. Nidever lived in North Carolina and Missouri before he was fourteen. In 1822, his family moved to the Fort Smith, Arkansas area. At the age of eighteen, he made his first hunting trip to the western plains. In the 1820s, he visited Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas, but declined to join them. By 1830, he was supporting himself as a mountain man and fur trapper during the zenith of the American fur trade, as part of a small trapping party led by Alexander Sinclair. He was at the rendezvous at Pierre’s Hole, in 1832, just west of the Idaho-Wyoming border – one of the largest gatherings of Rocky Mountain trappers in history. He fought against the Blackfoot Indians. He went to the 1833 Green River Valley Rendezvous outside Pinedale, Wyoming. Fur trappers were, by and large, mercenary, driven, motivated, impervious to temperature and pain, and able to withstand the isolation, danger, and uncertainty inherent in the job description. Nidever crossed over the upper Sierra Nevada mountains and into Alta California, on foot, with Joseph Reddeford Walker’s 1833 expedition. He was “one of the first white men to settle” in the tiny Mexican pueblo of Santa Barbara, Alta California, in November of 1834. He raised sheep and made a living hunting the southern sea otter for its valuable pelt and killing California grizzly bears. In 1837, alone, he killed forty-seven grizzlies, “not counting those that got away in the brush…” He estimated that he killed, in total, more than two-hundred grizzlies on the coast. In 1841, Nidever was baptized at the Santa Barbara Mission, enabling him to marry society belle María Sinforosa Ramona Sanchez, whose family owned the 14,000-acre Rancho Santa Clara Rio del Norte, east of present-day Oxnard, California. The captain and his young wife lived in a large and conspicuous waterfront home on Burton Mound in Santa Barbara. Captain George C. Nidever became one of the most skillful and successful sea otter hunters in southern California. *          *          * The Nicoleño tribe lived on San Nicolás Island in southern California’s coastal semidesert Channel Islands, seventy miles due south of Santa Barbara. The islands were prime habitat for the southern sea otter. The Nicoleños and the sea otters had co-existed in this environment for more than 10,000 years. Unlike most marine mammals, sea otters have no blubber to keep them warm in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. Instead, they have an exceptionally, thick, dense, waterproof fur coat that insulates them, year-round. The sea otter’s pelt is the most desirable of all the marine mammals. Sea otters spend hours each day, grooming their luxurious fur.  A sea otter pelt has approximately one million hairs per square inch, whereas a human has approximately 100,000 hairs on their entire head. The sea otter hunters called the pelts “soft gold,” for they were nearly as valuable, by weight, as precious metals. At the end of the 18th-century, the lucrative international fur trade brought an increasing number of sea otter hunters, from many nations, to the California coast. Around 1814, the Russian-American Company – a Russian imperialist state-sponsored chartered trading company – contracted an American sea captain to take thirty Aleut Indian sea otter hunters from the Kodiak Islands in southern Alaska, to the remote Channel Island of San Nicolás, which was teeming with sea otters and a few hundred Nicoleño Indians. The Aluets murdered most of the Nicoleño men and boys. Many of the women were raped, killed, or captured. By the time the Kodiaks left the island with their otter pelts, there were only a few dozen Nicoleño remaining. On April 26, 1902, the central California newspaper, the Santa Maria Times, published the following: “According to [Captain George C.] Nidever and others who hunted around here as early as 1835, the Alaska Indians were in the habit of making periodic visits to the islands for otter and other skins. They were a savage race, and made fierce attacks against all who attempted otter hunting on any of the islands. They were supplied with firearms, and were dangerous foes even to the white man, and much more so to the natives who had only stone implements of warfare. In 1836, a company of these Indians who

The Old Coyote of Big Sur – Dr. Jaime de Angulo

“Jaime de Angulo was a medical doctor turned anthropologist who bought a ranch in Big Sur [in 1915] … His appearance, in the 1920s when I first saw him, was dramatic in the extreme. He came riding down our hill to Rainbow Lodge [in Bixby Canyon] on a black stallion, wearing black chaps, a black shirt and a black sombrero, along with a huge turquoise studded Indian silver conche belt from New Mexico. His long black hair flowing in the wind, his blue eyes flashing, he was beautiful rather than handsome and was given to passionate gestures, speaking with his hands as well as his tongue. And he talked rapidly, brilliantly, usually about linguistics, the American Indians, or Freud. He tried to make love to my mother and called her bourgeois when she refused.” – A Wild Coast and Lonely – Big Sur Pioneers by Rosalind Sharpe Wall (1989) *          *          * Jamie de Angulo (pronounced HI mee – de ann GOO low) was born, on January 22, 1887, in Bois de Boulonge, the richest neighborhood in Paris. His parents, wealthy, devoutly religious but highly neurotic Spanish expatriates, were both minor members of the Spanish aristocracy. His father, Don Gregorio was a wealthy eccentric germaphobe who’d fled to Paris after a bitter family squabble over his wife Ysabel’s inheritance. Jaime remembered his father bicycling through the French countryside and the locals calling, “le millionaire espagnol”‘ as he rode by. Jaime called him “penny wise and pound foolish.” Don Gregorio saved scraps of cloth and string, and was too cheap to have business cards printed – but hired a private train carriage for family summer vacations. According to Jaime’s biographer Andrew Schelling, Don Gregorio, “seems to have obliviously spent most of the family money – his wife’s family – on a lifestyle that is puzzlingly affluent and absurdly religious.” Jaime remembered, “For my father was very pious, read the holy offices every day, like an ordained priest.” Don Gregorio also spent several hours each day setting each of the more than sixty timepieces in his collection. “My father would have thought himself dishonored if he had to drink anything but champagne,” wrote Jaime. He described his dad walking through the fashionable streets of Paris barefoot and wearing a gardener’s hat, oblivious to his absurd appearance – his wife walking far behind him, too embarrassed to be seen with him. Born into a multi-lingual family, Jaime spoke with a French accent flavored with some of his parents’ Spanish. As a ten-year-old, he would go alone to the Musée Guimet. He remembered: “There is in Paris, near the Trocadero, a wonderful museum – it contains a magnificent collection of statues, paintings, and books, 3 floors of them devoted to the religions … I gained the friendship of a guardian, a queer type who had educated his own self in the museum’s library. He let me borrow many books. That’s how I discovered to my great relief that not all religions were as flat, as absurd, as dead and boring as the Catholicism of my people. That was the beginning of my rebellion.” His mother died in 1901, when Jaime was fourteen years old. He endured four unhappy years at the Vaugirad, a Jesuit boarding school, but was ultimately kicked out on account of his atheism. Jaime complained that his father kept him, “in schools of Jesuits where we are forbidden to read books on physics and chemistry, and biology!” His daughter and biographer Gui Mayo wrote, that he, “was convinced that religion was a hoax – at least Catholicism – and that everybody knew it.” Jaime wrote years later, of his days at parochial school, in a letter to his sister: “When nostalgia hits me … I see the sad courtyards, the Jesuits with their narrow spirits, with their odious rules, the somber dormitory where I cried myself to sleep nearly every night in my bed…” When he was eighteen, he got into an altercation with his dad and left Europe. He boarded the S.S. La Lorraine on March 25, 1905, at La Havre, and sailed into the port of New York seven days later. He had $120 in his wallet and reservations to stay at the swank Hotel Lafayette, at Ninth Street and University Place. Jaime had a childhood fascination with the American Wild West. He took a train across the continent to Denver, Colorado. He bought a horse, saddle, and a six-gun, and talked his way into a low-paying job in the as a cowhand on a ranch in Carbondale, just South of Glenwood Springs (elevation 6,181 feet). However, working alone as a “night-hawk” cattle herder in the Roaring Fork Valley proved to be dangerous and punishing work. The coarse, peasant food – mostly beans and biscuits – was awful, it was freezing cold, and he slept poorly. Jaime wrote in Coyote’s Bones: “… it’s a darn lonesome job riding round and round the dam critters all night and singing so they won’t get scared and stampede and the sagebrush looks weird in moonlight and the nighthawks, i mean the real ones, the birds, come plummeting down out of the darkness overhead and they straighten out just over your head with a wooosh that’s enuf to scare the pineal gland out of the bravest jesuit-bred lad of 18…” Jamie remembered that the “wild birds” and “old timers” (veteran cowboys) were “a little off their rockers” and looked like “old vine stems.” Nonplussed by cowboying, he moved from spread to spread, for several months, finally riding north to Wyoming. Then he took the train to San Francisco where he purchased a ticket on a boat bound for South America. Somehow ended up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he worked as the foreman of a work crew. He wrote to his father, requesting enough money to get back to San Francisco. The following spring, he boarded the S.S. Acapulco on March 20, 1906, and arrived in the harbor of San Francisco, California twenty-seven days

Sam Trotter – The Timber-Beast of Big Sur

The redwood tree can grow to be more than 350 feet tall, and as much as 25 feet around at the base. Some redwoods live to be more than 1,000 years old. They’ve proliferated in forests across the globe since prehistoric times. An absence of resin makes them practically fireproof, and a high content of tannin makes them fungi resistant and bad tasting (to insects). By the 18th-century, the habitat of the coast redwood had shrunk to a tiny sliver, extending from present-day Monterey County, California to the Oregon border, in a narrow strip never wider than twenty miles from the coast. The first white men to see a coastal redwood were likely the members of the Portola Expedition. Fray Juan Crespi wrote in his diary on October 10, 1769, of seeing one near present-day Watsonville: “We broke camp in the morning, and after crossing a river named by the soldiers Rio de Pajaro, we headed in a north westerly direction … Because of the condition of the sick men in litters we halted again after traveling a little more than a league near a little lagoon where there was ample feed and much wild game … The plains and low hills were forested with very high trees of a red color unknown to us … different than cedar, although the wood resembles cedar in color and is very brittle. Because of the red color they were named palo colorado.” Once the California Gold Rush ensued, in the early 1850s, rumors made their way back to San Francisco about the gigantic trees said to be found up the coast. *          *          * Martin Alexander Trotter was born in rural Carroll County, Missouri, on Sept. 2, 1841. He was a bright boy and when he was old enough to attend school, he went to live with his uncle, Judge James Trotter, who resided in the nearby city of Carrollton. Martin’s ancestors were from Ireland and most of them were named James. His paternal grandfather (another James Trotter) and grandmother Mary, lived in Washington County, Tennessee, where Martin’s father William was born, in 1798. Grandpa James Trotter fought against the British in the War of 1812, serving with the 7th Regiment, Mounted Militia, under Captain William Wood. In 1813, he was killed at Pickaway Plains on the Ohio River, southwest of present-day Circleville and his body never recovered. In 1825, 26-year-old William married Martin’s mother – a widow with two children, named Sarah Ellis Anderson. In January 1833, William moved his wife, mother, and kids to Carroll County, Missouri, shortly after the county was organized. Martin Trotter grew up to be an extremely large man with large hands – physical traits that he passed on to his sons and grandsons. He was a farmer and a carpenter, and he also raised mules – skills he would pass on to his sons. He had beautiful penmanship and at one point in his adult life, worked as a clerk for Carroll County. Martin’s father died when he was 16 years old. Martin and his widowed mother Sarah, lived with Martin’s two older brothers, who farmed in rural Wakenda, Missouri, at tiny township just north of the “Malta Bend” of the Missouri River, where the steamer Malta sank, in 1841. Today, the wreck of the Malta lies in a cornfield 1,000 feet from the Missouri River due to the river’s everchanging boundaries. In 1860, Martin married Melissa Jane Sherwood, the daughter of a local farmer. The couple settled eight miles west of Carrollton, on McCroskie Creek, in Trotter Township, Missouri – today an uninhabited agricultural area. Their first child, Louella Cyrne was born there on August 20, 1862. But Melissa Jane took sick and died of a fever, on October 12, 1862, at the age of 21. Melissa Jane’s 1862 estate consisted of: A pony mare, a yearling colt, a milk cow heifer, a bureau glass, two bedsteads, three stands, one dining table, a tin safe, two chairs, two rocking chairs, a Franklin stove, a U.S. map, four tableware and tea sets, a washbowl and pitcher, two feather beds, two window blinder curtains, a brass clock, a fourteen gallon “stove ware,” and one trunk. She was buried in the McCroskie Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, in Trotter Township. Twenty-two-year-old Martin was left alone in the world, holding his two-month-old daughter in his big hands. *          *          * Six months later, on April 14, 1863, Martin married again, this time to a 17-year-old farmer’s daughter named Sarah “Sally” Jane Shinn. Sally was from Trenton, Missouri, a village sixty miles to the north. During the Civil War, Martin Trotter served as a sergeant in the 6th Regiment, Missouri State Militia Cavalry of the Union Army, 3rd Regiment, First Organization, Company C. Sally’s first child, John, was born while Martin was away at the war in 1864. Samuel Marshall Trotter, the fifth of their eight children, was born seven years later, on December 2, 1871. When Sam was still a toddler, his three-year old sister Jessie Ann died. Seven months later, Sally gave birth to Sam’s little brother, Martin Oliver. But the little boy sickened and died when he was 15 months old. A year later, Sally had another child – a boy named Albert. On May 15, 1878, when Sam was six years old, his mother, Sally gave birth to another little boy named David. But Sally died two weeks later, of complications from childbirth, at the age of thirty-two. One month after Sally’s death, her son Albert died before his second birthday. The following month, her baby David died; he was not yet two months old. Martin Trotter did his best to comfort his five motherless children. He’d buried two wives and four kids. Although this was not exactly uncommon in his generation, life had dealt Martin Trotter a challenging hand. On March 26, 1879, the 38-year-old widower remarried for the third time, to a local divorcé named Phebe Jane Meagher. Four months after their wedding, Martin

The Place of Many Owls – The Esselen Village on the Carmel River

Antonio Tomas Juan Onésimo was born in Carmel in 1796. His father was born in the Indian village of Echilat in 1771. His mother was born in the Indian district of Sargenta-ruc.They say that, as a boy, Juan helped in the construction of the Carmel Mission – and that he was so beloved by the Franciscan padres, they gave him a rare and precious violin, and taught him how to play. According to one account, Juan’s great-grandfather, a Rumsen Chief named Bohuranda, is said to have prevented an Indian massacre of Spanish explorers in 1770. Bohuranda was later baptized by Father Serra and given the family name Onésimo. Although Father Serra baptized many California Indians, the Onésimo family is said to be the only remaining direct descendants of local indigenous people who were given a baptismal name by Father Serra, himself. Juan Onésimo married an Esselen woman named Ignacia Patcalansi, who was born at the Carmel Mission in 1800. Their youngest daughter, Anselma, born in 1831, married a Connecticut Yankee sailor named Bill Post and homesteaded in Big Sur. Their oldest daughter, Maria Loreta, was born at the Carmel Mission, in 1817. Like her father, she was well-liked by the padres. In 1834, when Loreta Onésimo was seventeen-year-old, she married Domingo Peralta. The priests at the Carmel Mission gave the newlyweds a wedding present – a 4,592-acre land grant in Carmel Valley, situated between the Rancho Cañada de la Segunda (north of Hacienda Carmel, and northwest of Quail Meadows) and Los Laureles (near present-day Carmel Valley Village). However, they received no written legal deed for this property. A few years later the Catholic church lost all its land as a result of the Decree of the Congress of Mexico Secularizing the Missions, which transferred the ownership of all mission property from the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church to the Mexican authorities. Domingo Peralta was Esselen. His wife, Loreta was Rumsen-Esselen. Because they were Indians, their claim to the land grant was easily challenged. *           *           * On March 7, 1836, a “neophyte” Indian at the Carmel Mission named Baldomero was the recipient of a land grant of 2,000 varas (twelve and a half acres) in the Carmel Valley, “in all directions,” known as Rancho Corral de Padilla. José Antonio Romero, a Mexican citizen who then owned Corral de la Tierra. Three years later, in 1839, he petitioned to acquire a land grant which encompassed the Rancho Corral de Padilla property belonging to Baldomero, as well as the land of his neighbor, José Agricio. Several Indian families were already homesteading on this land, including Domingo and Laura Peralta. The acting justice of the Carmel Mission, José Amesti, remembered that Romero’s petition caused fear and insecurity among the Indians, who had reestablished a community on the property: “[T]hey came to me and beg me to represent to the Government how dangerous he [Romero] is and how in consequence of his notorious bad conduct which they can prove they would receive manifest injury if the tract he solicits were granted to him.” One can appreciate Loreta and Domingo’s Peralta’s bewilderment when the new governor claimed the land which had recently been given to them by the priests.  Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, the justice of the Carmel Mission, Marcelino Escobar, and Simeon Castro, alcalde of Monterey (the city’s leading officer, and later Superior Judge) – two Mexican citizens – opposed the Peralta’s claim to the grant. Ironically, in a few years, Simeon Castro would come to own Baldomero’s twelve and a half acres. Under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States was (and still is) obligated to prevent the “alienation of lands” deeded to Indians under Spanish and Mexican rule. Ignoring the terms of the treaty, Governor Alvarado awarded the grant to José Antonio Romero on January 27, 1840, adding a stipulation that José Agricio would remain in ownership of his home and farm, and that some the Indian families who lived on the land would be permitted to remain. It was sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” solution that left the Indians who lived on that land without any legal title to their homes. Many similar court rulings ensured that California Indians were dispossessed of ownership of their properties easily and frequently. In his decree, Governor Alvarado made no mention of Domingo and Loreta Peralta, who continued to live on the property with their two children and Loreta’s father, Juan. The priests had assured them that the 4,592-acre land grant was theirs, but they possessed no deed or title to the property. Consequently, they were continuously hassled and harassed by Romero and his ranch hands about their unwelcomed presence there. One fateful day, Domingo Peralta was found dead in a gulch. Loreta was left a young widow with two small children. No one was ever tried for his murder. *           *           * James Thomas Meadows was born north of Norwich – in Cley-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, England – in 1817. According to Monterey County Place Names by Professor Donald T. Clark, published by the Monterey County Historical Society (1991), “[Meadows] sailed on the whaling ship Indian in March 1835, and deserted in Monterey in 1837.” However, the Sydney Morning Herald of New South Wales, Australia, reported on September 7, 1837, that the whale ship Indian was then in Australian waters. At this time in history, the production of whale oil for lamps and lubrication was on its way to becoming the fifth largest industry in the United States. Of about nine-hundred whaling ships, worldwide, seven-hundred and thirty-five of them were American. Fewer than one hundred ships visited the entire Alta California territory in 1837, therefore very few English whalers docked at the harbor in Monterey that year. Consequently, it is much more likely that the teenage James Meadows signed on as a “green hand” on board the Toward Castle, a British whaling ship, under the command of Captain Thomas Emmens, that set sail from London on its third whaling voyage, on October 6, 1835. This