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June 3, 2008 - 12:10pm
posted by Philip Anselmo in history, The Batavian, newspaper.

For a short while in 1895, the newspaper that proudly proclaimed itself "a good organ" in service to farmer, merchant and tradesman alike shrunk its name from The Progressive Batavian to the simple yet stately: The Batavian. What a pleasure it was for us here at the contemporary Batavian — no less stately, no less of a service to farmer and citizen alike — to discover our progenitor in the drawers of microfiche at the Richmond Memorial Library.

As evidence of our continued service as a good and vital organ of the people, we have initiated this series of revisits to our shared past: that bizarre world of tonics, dames, davenports, milliners, philtres and... pugilists. So we turn back the clock 113 years to August 17, 1895, to peek in on the news of the times on that particular dog day of summer.

Before we delve into the tale of the wife of a pugilist, let us look at some of the other headlines from the day.

"This is Tough: Providence, a Lawyer and a Woman Make an Unhappy Combination for One Man" is a short tale of woe about a man who "had his eyes blown out ... in a lime-kiln explosion" and was then abandoned by his wife who subsequently hooked up with the man's attorney who had moved into his home and taken over his life.

"Grasshoppers Take Free Rides" is a quirky story about a "plague" of grasshoppers that rode a passenger train from Kansas to Denver and "made themselves disgracefully real" there, taking over the town.

"Girl Wife Sues Boy Husband" is mostly self-explanatory. While "Sheriff Sale on Execution" begs a bit more intepretation.

"Beats a Sea Serpent" tells of an 875-pound sea turtle that was believed to have already been an adult when Columbus discovered America. A state Senator purchased the creature for $25 and had plans to

"make the turtle a feature of the babies' parade on the board walk. He will place the monster on a float decorated in the national colors. Upon the back of the turtle will be a little girl dressed as a mermaid, holding ribbon reins extending from the turtle's mouth."

"Free Silver Charlatans Endeavoring to Humbug the People" artfully (and editorially) transposes the image of rainmakers sending dynamite-filled balloons into the sky and cheating Midwestern farmers with a group of citizens attempting to start a "coinage congress."

Near the end of the paper is a first-hand account of a boxer's wife titled: "Wife of a Pugilist: When She Met Him, Fame Knew Him Not. When Notoreity Came, Women Pursued Him — A Story With a Good Deal of Pathos Between the Lines." In it, the wife, a native of Amsterdam in New York, tells of why she decided to divorce her husband. She tells of how Jim went from a bookkeeper to a boxer and became adored by women, and how he was too "gallant" not to pay them attentions. She never wanted for anything, she says, though the couple barely spent a few months out of each year together. Still she kept with him. That is, until Jim began seeing another woman regularly and went as far pretending the other woman was his wife. She says: "To have such a creature as she be passed off for myself was outrageous. I felt no ill will toward her. He is a strange mixture, and few can understand him. I hope that he may be very happy with her, but I fear for him."

Previous "From the Vault" posts:

Look for the next installment in the coming weeks.

May 5, 2008 - 9:49am
posted by Philip Anselmo in batavia, history, The Batavian, newspaper.

Some years ago, a pug-eyed French aristocrat gave me a book to read. She was a trunk of a woman with a tongue more refined than any cut gem I've ever held. When she spoke the language, it was like a lesson in grace and custom. She was a whole other class of beast.

That book was L'Or by Blaise Cendrars. It was about a Swiss-born pioneer named Johann Augustus Sutter, quiet tycoon of the California gold rush. Sutter was a tragic character, as flawed as any other that had graced the stage of American history. His men found gold by accident. He amassed wealth by design. He died poor and broken by fate.

In an article from The Batavian, June 22, 1895, an old miner tells of the day the gold was discovered. It reads:

"There is alive but one of the men who worked for Sutter in the mill at Coloma, where on Jan. 24, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold. That survivor is James Brown. He is nearly 70 years of age and makes his home with a grandchild in Pomona valley. He is the only man living who was present when Marshall washed the yellow grains in the camp doughpan, and he is the man who first tested the flaky scales with fire, and going forth from the shanty to where the men were at work on the mill race cried, "Boys, here's gold!"

"I am the oldest miner alive in California today," said he the other day. "I don't mean the oldest in years, but I was the first miner. ... It was Marshall came to me and told me about the books about gold and mines he had been reading, and on the afternoon of Jan. 23, 1848, he determined to do a little prospecting. He asked me to bring him the pan. It was a common ordinary pan that we baked bread in and the like. He spent all the afternoon with that pan trying to find gold, but he hadn't got anything by supper."

The next day, everything changed when Marshall came back with the "little flake-like scales" of gold. Meanwhile, Sutter was working his men hard.

"But we made no kick," he went on. "We had agreed to accept cattle, horses and grub in part payment for our work. Moreover, we picked up enough gold before we left the place to square our account with the captain's Coloma enterprise. We had come with a bigger mission than that of seeking gold. We were Mormons. Many of us were soldiers. I had been serving with my battalion, and after our disbandment was marching with the rest of our people to Utah."

But the old miner stayed on with Sutter, at least until the captain's mill was finished. By then, news of the gold had spread.

"Did I stay long at Coloma after the completion of the mill, you ask? No, sir. Only a few of us did. Myself and most of our people only remained long enough to dig up enough gold to equip ourselves for marching back over the plains to meet those of our people who were coming out to join us."

James Brown made a fine cut — about $1,500 in gold dust, he reckoned.

"Marshall, who found it first, had none at all. Marshall was not lucky anyhow. He was one of the original bear flag men — one of the filibusters who thought he owned the country. They had selected the bear flag as their banner because bears were so abundant out here in those days. The first bear flag was nothing but an old strip of canvas, on which the men daubed a picture of a bear with tar, their paintbrush being their own fingers."

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Contact: Howard Owens, publisher (howard (at) the batavian dot com); (585) 250-4118

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