Thursday, June 2, 2005

In Search of the Rawhide Mine

Several weeks ago I made plans with archeologist Nolan Smith of the Foresthill Ranger District to visit the Rawhide Mine. We were to meet June 2nd at 9:00 a.m. at the Alta exit on I-80.

Last night I went to bed early, after a day of struggling though heavy brush on the Iowa Hill Canal. At 3:20 a.m. I got up and made my coffee and checked my email. Two messages from Nolan--one to say he had gone to the Alta exit on June 1st as planned, but I was not there--and then a second to say that he had discovered that it was June 2nd we were to meet, not June 1st. At 7:00 a.m. I chanced a call to his home and we decided to give it one more try. We duly met at the Alta exit and used his 4WD truck to drive out to the Euchre Bar Trail and then on down the Rawhide road.

The Rawhide is a long-defunct hard-rock gold mine in quartz veins in the Shoo Fly Complex metasediments. All kinds of interesting old equipment and buildings are at the place. A historic TNF trail leads up to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge from the North Fork of the North Fork (NFNFAR). This trail has been closed to the public since one Harry Mayo purchased the ~120 acres on the river there, in the late 1970s.

The trail and the mine itself are on TNF lands; some of the buildings, close to the confluence of Blue Canyon and the NFNFAR, are on the Mayo property. I had met Mayo on several occasions in 1979 and 1980, through my old girlfriend Dana Arthur.

Harry Mayo had quite a soft spot, or maybe you'd say it was a hard spot, for Dana. Almost every man who saw her did.

Rumor had it that Harry Mayo wished to sell the Rawhide. Merely because a historic trail passes through the property, I would like to see TNF buy the Mayo land. But the area is rich in historic mining artifacts, why, the tunnel is still open, with ore cart tracks curving out to the dumps. And parts of Blue Canyon and the NFNFAR are on the Mayo property. There are still other trails: one leads up the Lost Camp Divide between Blue Canyon and the NFNFAR, another leads up the NFNFAR to the dam site, where water was diverted to the Rawhide Pelton wheels, in the little powerhouse.

So, there are various reasons why this historic property ought to be purchased by TNF. And there are various problems: an enormous accumulation of just plain junk, for instance. There seems to be a rule that what goes down that tortuous little rocky road, never comes back up. There is a lot of clean-up to do.

The road passes through TNF lands almost all the way down to the NFNAR and the Mayo boundary. About half-way down from Iron Point a heavy gate is reached. We parked there, beside another vehicle, an SUV. A stocky, tattooed man was rolling up his sleeping bag. He seemed eager to make conversation, and identified himself as Wild Bill. Almost immediately we learned of this squatters' camp and that squatters' camp, of how this camp was clean and that other, full of garbage, of drunken threats and loud yelling and gunfire and buying and selling interests in mining claims on TNF land, of purported suicides and more.

Nolan and I walked down to the gate and found that it had a TNF lock on it. We opened it and he walked back up to get his truck. Meanwhile, Wild Bill strolled down, sleeping bag in hand, and went over the same ground again, the bad squatters and their garbage, his four months in LA. At some point I made the mistake of saying that I did not like people living down there in the canyon; that it was one thing to camp out, another thing to actually live there.

Wild Bill exploded in a torrent of profanity and threats. He was whirling in circles while shouting curses. I noticed Nolan flash his truck's lights and wondered what the hell was keeping him. Finally Wild Bill stalked back up the road and I could hear him laying into Nolan with some of the same invective. The truck wasn't moving so I walked back to see what was up.

The starter wouldn't turn the engine over, but the lights seemed bright. Just as I arrived, tho, Wild Bill hopped into his purple SUV and drove it in front of Nolan's truck. Wild Bill insisted upon loosening and cleaning the battery terminals himself. It turned out that in addition to being an Inventor and almost a Movie Star and a Schizophrenic and a Felon, he was also a Master Mechanic. Everything cleaned up and re-tightened, we tried the starter again. Nothing.

We learned again and again of how very unjustly Wild Bill was a Felon; just because he carried explosives into the Placer County Sheriff's office, they got all hot and bothered and took all Wild Bill's guns away! One of the lieutenants was a Jew, and Wild Bill muttered death threats against him while explaining that he, Wild Bill, was not Prejudiced. Schizophrenic, yes; Prejudiced, no.

And not violent, not ever, or, that is, only if you touched him.

But the starter still wouldn't turn over the engine.

So out came Wild Bill's jumper cables, and in another ten minutes we had Nolan's rig running, and in another twenty minutes' Wild Bill's impassioned lectures, repeated over and over and over, on how to avoid shorting out the Bottom Diode on one's alternator, had sufficiently lost steam to allow us to leave.

There seemed no sense in taking a chance on the truck starting up again, later. So the visit to the Rawhide was off.

Up the road we went, Wild Bill following, on his way to set up camp for the summer down by Euchre Bar. A little ways up the road we saw men working and a foot-diameter Douglas Fir came crashing down across the road.

An older man with a Stihl chainsaw had just dropped it, none too neatly, since it hung up in the branches of a Black Oak across the road. This was Harry Mayo. I walked up and introduced myself.

I was met immediately with the standard "What the Hell Are You Trespassing on My Land For" approach with which Harry greets unknown people. But just as quickly I dropped the magic name, Dana Arthur. "Remember Dana?" I asked, "tall, beautiful--she introduced us in 1979?"

Suddenly the cruel and pitiless Harry Mayo was kind. But then Wild Bill came walking up the road. "Is he with you? A friend of yours?" Harry asked, in a low voice, and I answered that I had only just met Wild Bill.

"Stay away from him, he's no good," Mayo advised, and then Wild Bill was upon us, and besieging Harry with stories of his Inventions and Donald Trump and how he wanted to buy the Rawhide just so soon as Trump came through with the Big Bucks ....

Two or three medium-sized Canyon Live Oaks and the Douglas Fir blocked our progress, so I helped throw slash over the side as Harry freed it up with his chainsaw, and Wild Bill explained again and again about the Invention and Donald Trump.

I did manage to get Harry's email address. I had the good sense, or cowardice, not to take up the issue of cutting trees on Forest Service land, trees which in no way impeded travel on the road. Why alienate Harry Mayo? I told him I hoped that TNF could buy his 120 acres. To which he responded, "Do they have Four Million Dollars?"

For that, it seems, is the asking price.

Thirty or forty minutes later we were able to continue up the road. Harry stopped us to tell us of The Pyramid in Green Valley. There are many versions of this myth, which originated with Dr. Wallace Halsey of the Christian Brotherhood. Harry had a new one: The Pyramid was not an Alien Pyramid, but an Indian Pyramid, and that, only six feet high.

This is wildly at variance with the teachings of Dr. Halsey and only goes to show how stories change with the telling.

So, Nolan and I failed entirely, and never even set eyes on the nearest buildings of the Rawhide, not to speak of the mine itself.

One thing, at least, is clear: alcoholic and schizophrenic "homeless" miners are at complete liberty to live down on the North Fork and the NFNFAR. Some of them, like Wild Bill Johnson, are professed "good" homeless schizophrenic miners; Wild Bill, to illustrate this, told Nolan and me about the time he warned a woman from Alta, who he met near the Euchre Bar bridge, never to hike in the canyon, alone. For not all the alcoholic schizophrenics are good, he explained to her.

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