In Search Of Placerville's Apples And Outlaws
When it comes to travel there are really only two forces that drive us to the destinations we visit.
Either we hear about them from somewhere else, or we stumble upon those we know nothing about.
In the case of the Nicaraguan rodeo, that was a stumble. For nearly anywhere else, however, either we have read about it in a book, learned about in school, watched a documentary about it on television, see it featured in a magazine, or heard from a friend that this place is amazing and you should go visit if you ever get a chance.
In the case of Placerville, California, however, I learned of it through somewhat of a unique channel ... eavesdropping.
While working as crew on a sailboat in Hawaii, I once overheard the conversation of a visiting couple about their recent day spent in a place called Placerville.
"I don't know about that place," the rotund, slightly graying woman mentioned to her neighbor on the catamaran. "There was something eerie about it. It's just so far removed from everything, and if I were a mass murderer on the run from the law that's definitely where I would go. Placerville."
For reasons unbeknownst to me, this conversation – which I wasn't even a part of – stuck with me for the better part of a decade. I would see the name "Placerville" on a map and would immediately picture outlaws. Someone would mention the name Placerville and I would feel compelled to ask if they had seen any mass murderers.
Given this strange fascination, I was recently taken aback when my wife asked me if I wanted to go wine tasting and apple picking for the day.
"Sure", I agreed. "Where are we going?"
Now don't get me wrong, the wine tasting in Placerville is a great reason to visit, but for some reason I was expecting to hang out in a town full of whiskey and gold as opposed to wine and apples. Something about the image of train robbers and prospectors sitting around a campfire sharing thinly sliced Fuji and decanting their zinfandel just doesn't seem quite right.
Nevertheless, after driving an hour east from Sacramento into the brisk, autumn air of the Sierra Nevada foothills, something caught my eye that suggested a bit of lawlessness still permeated the town.
Right there on Main Street – an historic thoroughfare, which does indeed look like a Wild West throwback – was an effigy of some poor chap hanging from a noose for all the town to see. As I would come to find out, when gold was discovered in nearby Coloma in 1848, the area around Placerville would become ground zero for the California Gold Rush, and everyone from entrepreneurs to ne'er do wells set out West in the hope of striking it rich. For a short period of time, Placerville would actually become the third largest city in all of California.
None of which, however, explains why there is a dead man hanging from a noose smack in the middle of downtown.
As history has indicated, the ...