“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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Point Sur – The Worst Possible Place for a Shipwreck

Laurie S. Harmon was born in Machais, on the northern coast of Maine, in 1840. After the death of her first husband, Francis Longfellow, she traveled to San Francisco to visit her brother. In the days before the opening of the transcontinental railroad and the Panama Canal, there were only two ways to get from Maine to San Francisco (3,000 miles, as the crow flies), and both were extremely strenuous and required months of travel. One could endure a lengthy and bumpy stagecoach crossing, or a take a ship around the horn – a long and dangerous journey through one of the most treacherous maritime passages in the world. Laurie Harmon’s granddaughter, Mildred E. Millington of Monterey, described Harmon (who lived to be 93 years-old) as “a fire of a little woman, about as big as a minute, who was busy all the time.” In San Francisco, Laurie met a fellow named John Jones Partington, an engineer for an oil company that was prospecting in the Santa Cruz Mountains. John and Laurie began courting and, in 1865, they were married. In 1874, the Partingtons and their five children made the treacherous trip to their new homesteading claim, high on an isolated 1,700-foot mountaintop in Big Sur, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Their journey from Santa Cruz was simply grueling. On the steep and narrow coast trail, one of their mules slipped and fell over the edge, dragging with it three other mules, as well as their travelling companion (and future neighbor) Thomas B. Slate, who was severely injured in the fall. Many of the Partington’s belonging tumbled hundreds of feet down the cliff and were never retrieved. In the 1870s, the Big Sur coast was serviced by a steamship that arrived but once a year. So, the Partington’s had to wait several months for their possessions to be delivered by ship. In those days, any object too big to lash onto the back of horse or mule, had to be delivered by boat. The 725-ton steamer U.S.S. Ventura was the fastest ship in Goodall, Nelson & Perkins’ fleet; she could do thirteen knots per hour. On Tuesday, April 20, 1875, she set sail from San Francisco with 225 passengers and 500 tons of freight, including all of the Partington’s worldly goods. The Ventura was scheduled to arrive in San Pedro harbor, south of Los Angeles, on Thursday morning. The commander of the Ventura, an Englishman named Captain George John Fake, was a veteran mariner who, for a number of years, had captained the route between Monterey and San Francisco. But this was his first trip from Monterey to Southern California. The Partington family came up to Point Sur in order to meet the steamer at the appointed time. For many hours they waited. Shortly after sunset, they stood on the bluff, unable to see anything in the dense fog which was made thicker by the light of the full moon. Captain Fake couldn’t see anything either. Around 9:00 pm, the Ventura wrecked on a submerged cluster of rocks, just north of Point Sur, about 200 yards from shore. Her bottom was stove in and the ship was grounded in twelve feet of water, her head to the sea. It was said that the absence of a lighthouse on the coast was a contributing factor to the disaster. However, the Sacramento Daily Union informed its readers that Captain Fake, “was indulging too freely in liquor.” The Partingtons lost many of their important tools and treasures when the mules went over the precipice on the journey from Santa Cruz. All of their remaining possessions and furniture were on board the Ventura. Little of the ship’s cargo was insured. If the sea remained calm, there was a slim possibility that some of the frieght might still be saved. Every Tuesday at 4:00 pm, the steamer Santa Cruz, departed the Washington Street wharf in Santa Cruz, bound for Monterey and Moss Landing. The Santa Cruz was commanded by Captain Herman Daggett Leland, a 45-year-old, seasoned mariner from Bar Harbor, Maine. Upon arriving at the wharf in Monterey, Captain Leland was dispatched to rescue passengers from the wreck of the U.S.S.Ventura. Experience had taught Captain Leland to exercise extreme caution when navigating the jagged Point Sur coastline. Everyone aboard the U.S.S. Ventura eventually reached the shore, leaving the ship to break up on the rocks and sink. There were 225 passengers on board and, remarkably, not a life was lost. On the following day, the Sacramento Daily Union reported: “The Ventura was seen from the Santa Cruz at dawn this morning about a mile to the northward. She was firmly grounded on the rocks with about fourteen feet of water in the hold. But little wreckage had been washed ashore up to the time of the departure of the Santa Cruz, but a heavy western wind was prevailing, which, if it continues until flood tide, will completely demolish the vessel against the rocks.” John and Laurie Partington suspended their disbelief, hoping against hopes for a miracle and the safe recovery of their worldly goods. But it was not to be. The Saturday, May 1, 1875, issue of the Los Angeles Herald printed the following article under the headline, “Land Pirates Defiant”: “Goodall, Nelson & Perkins have received a letter from Marl Robinson, their agent, urgently requesting assistance to save wreckage from the Ventura at Point Sur. He says country people, for 50 miles around, have gathered that at the scene of the wreck, and are taking possession of everything they can lay their hands on, forbidding him to touch anything unless he pays them salvage. He is powerless to prevent them, and without a prompt and strong assistance he will be unable to save anything. The steamer has gone to pieces.” The cargo of the Ventura included a shipment of fine imported linen, as well as a fleet of new wagons. A lot of Big Sur neighbors furnished their homes with the salvage from the wreck.

Repaying My Debt to the Industry

Forty years ago, just out of my teenage years, I moved to Los Angeles to break into the motion picture industry. Through sheer coincidence, my aunt’s husband happened to be the childhood friend of Allen Daviau, a  professional cinematographer. Shortly after my arrival in Southern California, Allen Daviau, told me something that I’ll never forget. Emphasizing the importance of punctuality in the motion picture profession, he told me: “If you’re fifteen minutes early for call time – you’re twenty minutes late.” In an industry where the milk of human kindness is in short supply, Allen Daviau (rhymes with Flavio) displayed a generosity of spirit that has never been equaled. At first, I believed that this was because he thought I was special. But as the years went by, I spoke to many others in the trade and discovered it was just his way of handling people. Everybody had their own story about the unprecedented kindness Allen Daviau had shown them – and I mean everybody. They called him, “The Gentle Giant.” Allen explained it this way, “It’s my debt to the industry. When it’s your turn, you may repay your debt to the industry by returning phone calls and offering encouragement to the people who call you.” I remember how, in the autumn of 1982, shortly after “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” was released, Allen invited me to the old Brown Derby in Hollywood, for cocktails and counsel. We took seats at the bar – me, dressed in my rumpled, awful, three-piece “Men’s Wearhouse” grey and brown pinstripe suit – a hand-me-down from my brother; Allen, with his trimmed beard and curly hair immaculately styled; his shirt open at the collar, his beige explorer’s jacket, replete with epaulets, a light meter, and the American Cinematographer Manual bulging in his pocket. Seamlessly, without interrupting his stream of reassuring patter, he ordered the first of several rounds of drinks, telling me, “Please don’t try to keep up with me. Encouraging me to seek an entry-level position in the film industry, he assured me that, as a production assistant, “You’ll starve in good company.” I looked deep into the dancing eyes of this forty-year-old man who had actually fulfilled his childhood fantasy: he was now shooting A-list features for some of the best directors in the business. His love of film and film craft was heartfelt and infectious. Allen Daviau made the nearly impossible appear within grasp. He also told me, “If you’re going to be bored on a film set, be bored as close to the camera as possible.” Unemployed, broke, and a cultural fish-out-of-water, for more than a year I unsuccessfully pursued employment as a fifty-dollar-a-day production assistant. In desperation, I volunteered to work on student films at the American Film Institute, just to get hands-on experience. During the long months of unemployment, my spirits would sink. Despondent, I would phone Allen and leave a message with the woman at his answering service. No matter how busy he was, he never failed to return my every call, even if he was on location, shooting a picture in Africa. If Los Angeles County were a state, it would be the eighth largest state in America. LA is one of the few cities in the country that cannot be navigated via public transportation. Sooner or later, you have get a license and an automobile. Allen Daviau, who lived up Beachwood Canyon Drive in Hollywood, was a very odd duck. In the vast, expansive asphalt wasteland of Los Angeles, he didn’t even own (or know how to drive) a car! Somehow, this anomaly did not prevent him from achieving great success in his chosen profession. When I would mention his name to someone on a film crew, they would usually respond facetiously, “Oh, you know Daviau?  What do you do, drive him around?” The week I moved to Los Angeles, in June of 1982, the Steven Spielberg film “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” opened nationwide. Soon, Allen Daviau, who so beautifully photographed the movie, became a star cameraman, in his own right. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography five times, for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Color Purple,” “Empire of the Sun,” “Avalon,” and “Bugsy.” The financial freedom engendered by his success allowed him to indulge in two of his greatest loves, food and drink. Never a thin man, and a lifelong gourmet, Allen began to put on weight. In an industry that worships youth and beauty, and prejudices are many, there are no obese cinematographers. Being a person-of-size became an obstacle to Allen’s career. Though everyone acknowledged his considerable talent and mastery of his craft, producers were justifiably reluctant to hire a fat cameraman. The job of the cinematographer is very physical, involving the climbing of ladders and stairs, lying on the ground to look through a low-angle lens, and straddling camera dollies and cranes. In time, people stopped hiring Allen. Allen died of complications from COVID-19, on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, at his home at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. *                              *                                  * In 1988, I left Los Angeles and moved to the north Santa Cruz Mountains, hoping to break into producing television commercials in the bay area. I had my first job interview in San Francisco, at the offices of James Productions, at 139 Townsend Street. The executive producer, James Mansen, wanted me to meet his west coast director, Boyd Jacobson, and asked me to wait in Boyd’s office until he returned from his lunch meeting. I’d never heard of Boyd Jacobson. I soon learned that he was not very punctual. I had ample time to loiter in his office, taking in the breathtaking view of the city and the San Francisco Bay. Nonchalantly, I scanned the brick walls behind the desk, examining a number of framed photographs of Boyd posing with various industry notables. And among them was a black-and-white photograph of Boyd on a film set, standing with his arm around Allen

The Folklore of Big Sur

When I visited Big Sur in the 1990s, a lifelong resident of the community told me a story about a woman who, for many years, lived in one of those Big Sur homes set high upon the edge of a bluff, hundreds of feet above the sea, with the breakers crashing on the rocks below. Day after day, she backed the same automobile out of the same carport, without incident – week after week, decade after decade. Until one fateful day, perhaps diverting her eyes from the rear-view mirror for a mere fraction of a second, she backed out of the carport just a wee bit too far, and went right off the cliff, to her death. At the time of my visit, this tragedy had recently occurred, and neighbors were still talking about it. In a few decades, this historical incident will be relegated to the annals of folklore. Future generations who hear the story may doubt its veracity – but they’ll have to admit that it’s a good story. *                                                   *                                                 * The 20th century German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote that, “Traces of the storyteller cling to the story like the handprints of a potter cling to the clay vessel.” Hannah Arendt, also a German philosopher, wrote thoughtfully about Walter Benjamin’s ideas. She said that Benjamin believed a story or picture could stand on its own two feet, unassisted and unencumbered by too much commentary ­– and that such explanations were, in essence, akin to leading the witness. According to Arendt, Benjamin thought that “the intention of such investigation,” was “to plumb the depths of language and thought … by drilling rather than excavating” so as not to (as Arendt put it) “…ruin everything with explanations … What mattered to him above all was to avoid anything that might be reminiscent of empathy, as though a given subject of investigation had a message in readiness which easily communicated itself, or could be communicated, to the reader or spectator. Folklore is what everyone in town already knows and no one thinks twice about – an often-unsupported notion, custom, saying, or story that is widely circulated, and passed on from one person’s mouth to another person’s ear, in an oral tradition. A story is often modified (consciously or unconsciously) in the process of its transmission from one person to another and from one generation to the next. They call this transformation the “folk process.” Somehow myths endure the inevitable evolution of the folk process better than the actual historical events they chronicle. By the time folklore is documented in literature, it has usually been polished by many anonymous hands, through decades and sometimes centuries of telling and retelling. “We need not try to make history out of legend,” wrote Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, “but we ought to assume that beneath much that is artificial or incredible, there lurks something of fact.” *                                                   *                                                 * As a boy, I often visited the cemeteries across the street from “Dennis the Menace” (El Estero) Park, in Monterey, California. I especially enjoyed reading the inscriptions on the oldest headstones, in which family tragedies were often reduced to five or six words. That’s where, I first saw the grave marker of Daniel R. Castro, age 13, in the San Carlos Cemetery on Fremont Street. On Sunday morning, April 16, 1899, two of David Castro sons, Alex and Daniel, age 19 and 13, respectively, left their home (later, the site of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn) to go hunting. Around 6:00 pm, Alex heard two shots from his little brother Daniel’s gun. He went to see what Daniel had shot and found his brother bleeding from a gunshot wound. The bullet had entered just below Daniel’s breastbone and exited the left shoulder blade. The canyon was very steep and Alex had to carry his brother on his back, packing him all the way out of the canyon. Once on the trail, he left Daniel in the shade and ran to get their father and they brought Daniel back to the house. Two of the Castro’s neighbors, Lola Oled and Lizzie Post, ran a mile and a half on foot, from Post’s to Castro’s and were the first to arrive. There wasn’t much they could do for the severely wounded boy. The father hitched up two horses to a spring wagon and raced the inured boy to a doctor in Monterey. But half a mile from the house, at about 9:00 pm, his young son Daniel died of his wounds. David Castro, Joe Post, and Alex, transported Daniel’s body to Monterey in the wagon. Amanda Castro, the boy’s mother had, for several weeks, been caring for her sick daughter at a friend’s home in Pacific Grove. E. J. Burns went ahead to deliver the tragic news. Daniel’s body was brought to the Monterey home of a blacksmith from Big Sur named Jose De La Torre, and coroner H. V. Muller was called. At the inquest the following day, David Castro asked Alex how the accident happened. “Don’t ask me,” Alex replied. “It is done and can’t be help. Don’t scold me.”  *                                                  *                                              * John L.D. Roberts MD, was the first physician to practice medicine in Big Sur, traveling down the coast in a two-wheel cart pulled by his horse, Daisy. In time, Daisy became so familiar with the crooked dirt road that Roberts claimed he could sleep in the cart until they arrived at their destination. They accomplished the one-way journey from Monterey to Big Sur in a brisk three and a half hours. Roberts practiced medicine in the Big Sur area for twelve years. Roberts told the following story to Rosalind Sharpe Wall, in 1946, when he was 84 years old: “When I was first practicing down the coast [around 1890] there was an Indian woman living in the Little Sur. She was a widow. She had a little boy, age nine, who was ill. He had a seven-year-old sister. Every day, the mother sent the sister

Gabriel of Carmel – The Oldest Catholic in the World

In 1835, circus magnate and sideshow pioneer P.T. Barnum began exhibiting a blind, elderly, and nearly paralyzed African American woman named Joice Heth. Barnum advertised that Heth was 161 years old, and that she had been the nurse of the infant George Washington. “Joice Heth came on the scene just three years after the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s birth and nine years after the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,” wrote historian May V. Thompson. “Americans were feeling the Revolutionary War generation slipping away, at a time when sectional differences leading up to the Civil War, were escalating. They were desperate to hold on to that earlier, ‘purer’ time, and thus were willing to suspend rational thought to believe that an elderly African American woman could actually be over 150 years old and the former nursemaid of an infant George Washington.” Barnum profited handsomely from his exploitation of Heth. For seven months he worked her constantly, with hardly a day off, until the tired old lady finally died of exhaustion, in February of 1836. Ever enterprising, Barnum organized a public autopsy and 1,500 “viewers” paid 50¢ apiece to watch a doctor dissect Heth’s corpse. After the autopsy, Dr. Rogers determined Heth’s age to be between 75-80 years old. Barnum feigned outrage and declared publicly that he had been bamboozled into believing her seemingly absurd story. From the 1850s to the early 1900s – a time in American history when the Indigenous population was rapidly diminishing – stories about unbelievably aged Indians became increasingly popular human-interest items for newspaper editors across the nation. These reports were usually, by design, part fact and part folklore. Like all tall tales, they were subject to some level of exaggeration, however one could not always determine which party was responsible for the stretching of the truth: the elderly subject, themselves; the author of the article about the elderly subject; or the newspaper editor, punching-up the piece for increased impact. As Barnum put it, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.” *                                                       *                                                     * On July 29, 1853, the Vermont Standard newspaper in Woodstock, Vermont, ran this item: “A few remaining Indians in Carmel Valley are supposed to be the remnant of tribes that originally inhabited the place previous to the founding the mission in 1767 … in the fall of 1852, there died at the rancheria of his tribe, in Carmel, an Indian supposed to be 140 years old. An old settler in Monterey, informed correspondents of the San Joaquin Republicanthat the Indian was baptized in 1776, and was then, as shown by the baptismal register at San Carlos [the Carmel Mission], an old man. He was well known to most of the citizens of Monterey, his family deriving a handsome revenue from the liberality of visitors, who familiarly termed him ‘old uncle Ned.’” The July 26, 1883, issue of the Richwood Gazette newspaper in Richwood, Ohio, printed the following notice: “Mariano Largo, a Carmel Indian, aged one hundred years, got on a big drunk at Monterey, Cal., the other day, made the town howl, and died of delirium tremens.” The May 17, 1890, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper ran an article entitled Methuselahs of the Missions by Charles H Shinn: “…The first old Indian I ever saw was named Masseano. He lived in a small adobe hut, and was said to be over 100 years old at his death in 1870. When the Mission San José, in Alameda County, was established in 1797, Masseano was a grown man, living in the Indian town of Oroysom [present-day Fremont, California], which was near the site chosen by the Franciscan fathers for the mission. He said that he listened to the preaching and helped build the church… “Santa Cruz had an old Indian who claimed to be over a hundred. Monterey had old Casiano, of San Antonio [Present-day Jolon], who died a few years ago, aged one hundred and thirty-six, if traditions can be trusted. The best authenticated case, however, is that of Gabriel of Salinas. “I have taken pains to write to ex-senator W. J. Hill, of Salinas, now city Mayor and owner of the daily Index of that place. He sent me copious notes and photographs of the old Indian. Gabriel was a chief of the Escalanes [sic] tribe of Monterey Indians, and was on an expedition to the coast when Father Junipero Serra landed in 1770. “Mrs. Munras [Catalina Manzanelli], of Monterey, a Spanish lady now nearing her hundredth year, told Father Sorrentini many years ago that when she was a little girl, Gabriel was an old man, and went by the name of old Gabriel. Mrs. Castro [María Antonia Pico y Cota], a very old Spanish lady, who died seven years ago, added her testimony on this point. Both of these ladies remembered occurrences of 1809 and 1810, and were very careful witnesses. A mass of similar affidavits from old settlers of Monterey County were taken ten years ago and sent to the Vatican, with photographs of ‘the oldest Catholic in the world’… “Mayor William J. Hill, Dr. S.M. Archer, W. S. Johnson, cashier of the Salinas bank, who cared for Gabriel for many year, and other leading citizens of that religion, agree in saying that the old man showed little change in the last forty years of his life. It is said that he had seven successive wives, to all of whom he was married by rite of the church, and that he had a son named Bartolo by his last wife when he was about a hundred years old. This son is now a man of fifty, living in Hollister. “Gabriel was a