The North Pacific Coast Railroad / A Scenic and Historic Story

The North Pacific Coast Railroad was one of those railroads that came about because of the expansion along the west coast, and in particular, the building out of the San Francisco Bay area. The railroad was a narrow gauge common carrier that ran between Sausalito California and northward to Cazadaro California very near the Pacific coast. The rail line was connected to San Francisco proper via the ferry at Sausalito. The total length of the railroad line was 93 miles. During it’s latter years the railroad was called the Northwest Pacific Railroad.

north pacific coast railroad station

Duncan Mills California Railroad Depot

The Sonoma railroad is filled with northern California history. California railroads were key to the growing lumber industry. The North Pacific Coast Railroad started in operation in 1874. One of it’s purposes was to haul lumber down to the Bay Area.

The area north of the San Francisco Bay along the California coastline is filled with beautiful redwood trees and the North Pacific Coast Railroad earned a lot of money hauling lumber. One of the largest lumber mills was located in Duncan Mills just a few miles inland from the coast and at the end of the line. As a result, Duncan Mills, which today is a nice small tourist village, was a busy commercial site. Buildings were erected right and left and included three beautiful Victorian hotels.

During it’s heyday, Duncan Mills had many eastern visitors including Ulysses S. Grant. The Bay Area was booming and wood homes were being built at a feverish pace. In summertime during the early 1900’s railroad travel was very popular. Lines of people would get their ticket at the San Francisco Ferry Building. Some were vacationers and others were looking for a same day excursion up to the beautiful Russian River area.

The town received it’s name from the brothers who started lumber operations in the area, Sam and Alex Duncan. What grew their business and what put Duncan Mills on the map was the North Pacific Coast Railroad. The arrival of the railroad introduced many more visitors to the area provided a means to ship large quantities of lumber. When the railroad came to town in 1876, Duncan Mills had a post office, a hotel and four saloons. As Alex Duncan owned lands heavily forested on both sides of the Russian River, he came into an agreement to move his lumber mill to the north side of the river if the North Pacific Coast Railroad would build a railroad bridge from Moscow Mills, located on the south side of the river to reach his properties.

The first train arrived in the new town of Duncan Mills in 1877, and the depot became the northernmost terminus on the line. Today, the tourist can visit the Duncan Mills railroad station which is still at it’s original location.The depot was constructed in 1907 and won the outstanding restoration award for the State of California in 1971.

narrow gauge railroad caboose

North Pacific Coast Railroad Caboose NO. 2

One of the old rail cars on display at Duncan Mills is the North Pacific Coast Railroad Caboose NO. 2. This narrow gauge caboose car was built in 1877 at the North Pacific Coast R. R. Sausalito shops. It was added to the line that same year.

Records are that this was the only caboose manufactured by the railroad. Another rail car is a wooden built coach that operated on the North Pacific Coast Railroad until it’s last days.

Steam trains were a common sight in this area of Sonoma County. The “Sonoma” is one of three locomotives built in 1876 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia for the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad. This engine which is now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California hauled both passengers and freight on the line from Sausalito to Duncan Mills. The Sacramento Railroad Museum is probably one of the very best in the United States.

During the 1906 earthquake, Duncan Mills lost it’s three Victorian hotels. Essentially the entire village was destroyed and was left to the sprouting weeds for years to come. The North Pacific Coast Railroad ceased operations in 1925 for a variety of reasons. The redwood trees were being depleted and a massive fire that burned from Guerneville to the Pacific coast hurried the process. In addition to this, automobiles began hitting the road and the train was used less and less.

north pacific coast railroad wooden coach railcar

North Pacific Coast Railroad wooden coach car

Today, the tourist to Duncan Mills and the lower Russian River region can see some of the old railroad cars still on display as well as the railroad depot. Duncan Mills also offers restaurants, unique shops and a fine wine tasting room.

Driving the popular River Road all the way from U.S. Hwy 101 offers a very scenic drive. The towns along this stretch of the Russian River are now northern CA resorts. River Road essentially follows the meandering Russian River as it heads to it’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean just a bit west of Duncan Mills. Duncan Mills is located 5 miles east of the Pacific Coast Highway 1.

Two additional related travel stops in northern California are the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa California and Kayaking on the Russian River.

If you’re going to travel northern California, this area along the lower Russian River between Hwy 101 and the ocean is a good addition to your California road trip planner. Duncan Mills, Guerneville, Occidental and other historic towns in the redwood country north of the San Francisco Bay area continue to be popular summer destinations for kayaking, canoeing, camping and just fun relaxation in the fresh outdoors that the redwoods and ocean offer.

The most direct way to reach the Russian River vacation town of Duncan Mills is to travel north on U.S. Hwy 101 from San Francisco and exit at River Road which is just on the north side of Santa Rosa, about 65 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Turn left onto River Road and drive west about 25 miles.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

When General John Pershing Chased Poncho Villa

poncho villa

Poncho Villa

When the United States launched a military expedition against Mexico’s Francisco Poncho Villa on March 14, 1916, the U.S. Army undertook one of the most historic manhunts in all of history. The roots of the expedition grew from the ongoing Mexican Revolution.

The match that lit the fire and forced President Woodrow Wilson to order General John Pershing into northern Mexico was the night time invasion of Columbus New Mexico, just north of the Mexican border. The invader was Poncho Villa and his Villistas.

There are two theories among historians for Villa’s invasion into the United States. One reason offered is that the United States appeared, or at least appeared to Villa, to be backing one of his foes. There were many factions during the revolution. The second reason proffered is that Villa had purchased and paid for supplies in Columbus New Mexico and hadn’t received them. Both have their merits but the first reason seems more probable. There is even another more probable reason explained later in this story.

As to what Poncho and his troops hoped to achieve with the invasion is more murky. If he was looking for attention, he certainly got it. Pershing’s orders were reportedly to catch Poncho Villa dead or alive and to make certain no further incursion on American soil would take place.

The Chain of Events

The trouble in Mexico began in 1913 when General Huerta seized the reins of the Mexican government. The United States refused to recognize the new government and ceased to have any diplomatic relations with Mexico. At the same time John Pershing returned to the U.S. from the Phillepines in December of 1913 and was ordered to report to the San Francisco brigade. At the time this was due to the increasing hostilities with the new Mexican army dictator. For whatever reason, the San Francisco brigade was designated as the first to be up in combat. Tragedy struck when Pershing’s wife and three daughters died in a fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. Only Pershing’s son survived. He and his son then moved to Fort Bliss Texas where Pershing was commanding officer.

On March 9, 1916, five hundred of Poncho Villa’s troops including three of his officers invaded the U.S. border town of Columbus NM. New Mexico history would forever change. At the time, the 13th U.S. Cavalry regiment was camped at Columbus. Villa’s troops raided the village in the middle of the night. The village was attacked by surprise. It didn’t take long for the U.S. to react. On March 14, 1916, Brigadier General John J. Pershing, on orders from President Woodrow Wilson, was sent into Mexico with what would eventually be a 10,000 man force with orders to capture Poncho Villa dead or alive.

The biggest problem Pershing faced at the start was a lack of adequate supplies. Some historians found this a shock since relations between the U.S. and Mexico had been on a downtrend for a few years and certainly adequate supplies should have been placed near the border with Mexico in case of trouble. The possibility of hostile action had been on the table since 1913. For General Pershing, the supply situation was critical since his troops penetrated some 300 miles into Mexico in search of Villa.

A Unique Conflict

john pershing

John J. Pershing, 1901 as an Army Captain

On a historical note, this expedition was the first to introduce an aircraft into a combat zone. During this expedition, anything immediately south of the Mexican border was a combat zone. The aircraft flown was a Curtiss Jenny. Jenny stood for the JN designation that Curtiss used for the first series of aircraft produced. Eight Curtiss JN-3 aircraft were deployed to Pershing’s Mexican campaign during 1916-17 with most being used for observation. The JN-3’s were newly produced aircraft taking the place of the discontinued JN-2″s.

To give you an idea of how military campaigns changed at the turn of the century, the Curtiss Jenny deployments to Mexico occurred forty years after George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Another first when it came to military expeditions was the media involvement. The media during the last half of the 1800’s regularly accompanied army expeditions in the west. Most were reporters from eastern newspapers and magazines. Some were from the midwest used as stringers for the eastern press. In fact, one reporter lost his life during Custer’s defeat. Technology changed a lot from about 1890 to 1916.

The use of the Curtiss Jenny during the Mexican campaign was not the only first. The attack on Columbus New Mexico was the first time that a U.S. settlement in North America was attacked by a foreign force. Another unique element regarding the reporting of the Pershing’s expedition was the use of film footage. Never before had that been done and this type of video would also chronicle much of World War One which was only a few years later. Pictures of Poncho Villa were printed all over the U.S. Yet, another first in the Mexican Expedition was the use of three Dodge armored cars by the U.S. The armored attack was led by then Lt. George Patton.

Historians will notice that there were conspiracy theorists opining about why the U.S. went to war with Mexico. Pershing’s expedition was really not a war with Mexico. It was designated officially as a punitive action targeted against Poncho Villa and his troops. Villa had been a Mexican officer in the northern part of Mexico and was a faction among several during the Mexican Revolution. I have read accounts where some have speculated that it was an action by the U.S. government to help prepare their troops for possible deployment to the conflicts brewing in Europe. I think that is highly doubtful. The battles in Mexico while Pershing’s troops were searching for Poncho Villa would hardly be a dress rehearsal for what was to come in Europe.

The conflicts in Mexico were essentially hit and run episodes with no defined fronts. What is a much more plausible theory, although not entirely proven, was that Villa raided into the United States at the urging of Germany which wanted to keep the U.S. occupied on their own soil thus keeping them out of the European conflict. There are books written about an intercepted cable from Germany to Mexico implying such a scenario.

See our Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Paul Revere House in Boston MA

Crossing the Atlantic With Marconi’s Wireless

Engagements During the Mexican Expedition

columbus new mexico raid

Columbus New Mexico clock with Villista bullet hole

General John J. Pershing and his troops never were successful in flushing out Poncho Villa. There were several conflicts with Villistas in northern Mexico. The first confrontation occurred on March 29, 1916 near the town of Guerrero. The U.S. force of 375 men killed seventy-five of Villa’s troops with no fatalities to the Americans. The second engagement was on April 12, 1916 when the American troops were outnumbered some five to one. The Americans were able to retreat to a nearby village. It was reported that two Americans were killed along with more than a dozen Villista losses. Another was a skirmish on April 22nd between the Villistas and members of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. Killed were two Americans with estimates of over thirty Villista killed. The fight broke off at sunset.

The clock shown above is on display at the New Mexico History Museum. This clock has a bullet hole as a result of the Villista invasion of Columbus New Mexico.

Two other towns in the United States came under attack during the Mexican Expedition. The towns of Glen Springs and Boquillas Texas were attacked by Villia”s men while the U.S. Eleventh Cavalry was engaged in another battle nearby, the Mexicans won a small battle at Glen Springs against a squad of nine Fourteenth Cavalry soldiers and at Boquillas they ransacked the town and took two captives. Again, it’s hard to determine what these small raids on Texas border towns would accomplish.

poncho villa pistol

Villista Revolver from the raid on Columbus New Mexico

The revolver pictured at right is on display at the New Mexico History Museum. This revolver was recovered after the villista raid on Columbus New Mexico. The revolver was originally shipped to the Mexican Army but somehow ended up with the Villistas.

The last battle during the Mexican Expedition occurred on June 22, 1916 between the U.S. Seventh Cavalry along with the African-American Tenth Cavalry against troops from the new president Carranza of Mexico. Both sides suffered losses with over 40 U.S. troops taken captive.There were eleven U.S. losses and 24 Mexicans killed and about 40 wounded. The Mexican troops retreated to the town of Chihuahua. Pershing wanted to go after the Chihuahua garrison and was denied approval from President Wilson. Wilson feared that another battle against Carranza’s troops would ignite a full scale war.

The Results of the Expedition

As mentioned above, the United States never was able to capture Poncho Villa. During the campaign, the U.S. troops were able to kill two of Villa’s generals and about 160 of his men. Poncho Villa was never able to cob together another fighting force after the U.S. departure from Mexico in January of 1917. Pershing believed that the expedition was a success but privately blames President Woodrow Wilson for putting too many restrictions on how he and his forces would operate within Mexico. In other words, political considerations from Washington tied his hands. He was probably correct.

As for General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, he would go on in a very short time to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in World War One. As for Poncho Villa, he would become a Mexican folk hero to some but his influence was on the decline. He was given a considerable amount of acreage at his retirement. Many of his loyal troops stayed along on Villa’s hacienda and some served as personal bodyguards. Poncho Villa and two of his bodyguards were killed by a group of riflemen on July 20, 1923 in the town of Parral Mexico. There were two basic theories about Villa’s assassination. The first was that it was revenge from the family of one of Villa’s generals who was killed during the conflict with the U.S. The other theory is that Villa was killed for political reasons after he reportedly boasted about running for president of Mexico. The exact reason I’m sure will never be known for certain. The action of the Pershing Expedition and the attack on Columbus New Mexico by the troops of Poncho Villa will always be a fascinating part of North American history.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Poncho Villa and John J. Pershing are from the public domain. Photos of Columbus New Mexico clock and Villista revolver are from author’s private collection)

 

 

The Theater Washed Away By a River / The Eagle Theater of Sacramento California

In 1849, there were essentially two types of people who frequented Sacramento California. Those who worked hard all day digging or panning for gold up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and those selling things to these prospectors. Both would make a lot of money although the majority would have been those who sold to the miners. It was more of a sure thing and the prices received by merchants in such a remote region could be astonishing.

1849 sacramento california waterfront

Location of the Eagle Theater on the banks of the Sacramento River in Sacramento California. Public domain image.

The Eagle Theater in Sacramento Old Town was the first permanent theater structure built in the state of California. The structure was simply wood frame and canvas located behind a gambling tent. To enter the Eagle Theater one would had to walk through the gambling tent where, certainly more than once, a miner lost some gold dust between the entrance of the tent and the entrance of the theater. In retrospect, it probably was one of the best marketing ideas of 1849. At every turn there was opportunity for the gold miners to spend their money.

The Eagle Theater which supposedly cost an amazingĀ  $30,000 to build (wood and canvas), opened in September of 1849. The high cost of building such a flimsy structure was a direct result of the shortage of building materials around the gold country. Other items such as food, clothes, etc were selling at astronomical prices. Opening a theater was a fairly sure way to make money in Sacramento at that time. The miners had spent most of their non-mining hours either gambling, drinking and in most cases doing both at the same time. Even that routine can get old. Not that they ever really gave up the gambling and imbibing, but something new was needed for miners to spend their time and their gold dust. There were enough non mining people around Sacramento and the gold fields trying to answer that question. A different kind of entertainment was needed. The answer was theater, although theater at that particular time and place could be open to interpretation. Nevertheless, good or bad theater, it was entertainment.

The very informative book, Women of the Gold Rush by author Elizabeth Margo, describes what unfortunately happened to the Eagle Theater. The Eagle Theater was created by the Eagle Stock Company which was a first for California. As mentioned above, theater patrons would pass through the Round Tent gambling saloon to enter the theater. The Eagle Stock Company began in early fall with a series of plays such as The Bandit Chief.

Eagle Theater in Sacramento California

Restored historic Eagle Theater in Old Town Sacramento California, from author's collection.

California falls and winter can be quite wet. It’s the rainy season in the state and it’s also a time when gold prospectors were often idle. The theater did two things. It offered entertainment when the miners needed something to do and it also was a way to get shelter from the rain.

In 1849, it rained during the entire fall season, rained all November and December and rained even heavier during January 1850. On one rainy evening in January the Sacramento River rose so much that water came seeping through the floor. During the play’s second act the audience was standing on the benches. By the time the play concluded, the audience of miners were virtually hanging from the rafters in the gallery. What occurred was that the Eagle Theater actually became a part of the newly widened Sacramento River. What was the short lived Eagle Theater was now part of the Sacramento River. The elements did what the critics could never do. Never again would a Sacramento theater be at that location. Amazingly, the Eagle Stock Company held fast and continued to put on performances for several more nights. The audience hung from the rafters over the part of the river that was serving as the Eagle Theater. This gives you an idea of how badly entertainment was needed and accepted. Flooding in Sacramento during January 1850 damaged a wide area of the Sacramento waterfront. When all was said and done, only a portion of the theater remained intact. New owners rebuilt the theater about 200 feet inland and renamed it the Tehama Theater. Several of the flooded out performers from the Eagle Stock Company found work later in San Francisco’s growing theater scene. The Eagle Theater would be no more.

This may very well have been the only instance that a theater was literally washed away by a raging river. Certainly, it was the only instance in California. many theaters in the old California mining towns were destroyed by fire. This happened in San Francisco several times in the early 1850’s and in Nevada City California. The first mining camps and towns were built with wood. Fires swept through many of these towns and virtually destroyed everything. After each fire, the towns were rebuilt. Brick eventually became the preferred material. This is why today when you take a trip to many of these towns like Nevada City, Grass Valley and Senora, brick structures are found everywhere.

Two California gold country articles you’ll find interesting are about the gold town of Auburn California and the prosperous town of Nevada City California and it’s famous theater.

Another excellent book regarding theater during the California Gold Rush is Anybody’s Gold by author Joseph Henry Jackson. The book includes a good deal of information about the performers who worked the early California theaters.

Today, the restored Eagle Theater structure is owned by the California Parks and Recreation Dept. Fund raising for the restoration is credited to the Junior League and it’s efforts to have to California legislature to provide $75,000 for the project. The Eagle Theater today is operated by the California State Railroad Museum which is about one block away. The address is 925 Front Street in Old Town Sacramento California.

Historic Old Town Albuquerque / A Spanish Settlement in the New World

Old Town Albuquerque New Mexico is very representative of most of the Spanish settlements in the southwest United States. The most distinguishing characteristic is the town plaza. Old Town Albuquerque resides in about ten blocks filled with adobe structures. Today it is a very popular tourist destination with a wide assortment of shops, unique art galleries and restaurants. Old Town is the Historical Zone of the City of Albuquerque and home for many families whose ancestors founded the town. On the banks of the Rio Grande, Old Town Albuquerque has thrived for three centuries. Vacations in New Mexico offer many alternatives. If you’re searching for things to do in Albuquerque, the Old Town Historic District is a great choice.

old town albuquerque plaza

Old Town Albuquerque Plaza

The plaza didn’t come into being until 1780. Prior to that the Albuquerque area was a scattered agricultural area. The plaza appeared after settlers built adobe homes around a defensible center for protection against the Comanche and Apache Indian attacks. The defensible area became what is now the plaza. Prior to that, the fortress would have been the church.

Everything pertaining to Spain in the southwest first occurred when Francisco Vasquez Coronado explored this area in 1540.The region was inhabited by a combination of Pueblo Indians and the nomadic Apaches and Comanches. It would be about 60 years later that the Spaniards started to settle and colonize the region. It would be about another one hundred years before Albuquerque was officially founded.

For almost three centuries Old Town has been the crossroads of the Southwest. On the north side of the plaza, which is the focal point of Old Town, is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, which was built in 1793. The church was first named San Francisco Xavier by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, who founded the city of Albuquerque in 1706. Valdez named the church after the Viceroy of New Spain. Later, the Duke of Albuquerque ordered that the titular saint for the church be changed to San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Philip of Spain. The original church on the site was founded back in 1706, at the time of original settlement, by Franciscan priest Manuel Moreno.

san felipe de neri church

San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town

This church however collapsed in 1792 due to very heavy rains. The new church was built in 1793 and is the one that stands there today. When you visit the church you’ll also see the beautiful gardens in the front facing the plaza.

Everything for the church changed in 1821 after Mexico won it’s independence from Spain. Mexico ordered the Franciscan priests to leave which was happening throughout the old Spanish territories. Later in 1853, after the United States took possession of New Mexico Territory, a French priest, Father Joseph Machebeuf, was named pastor of Albuquerque by Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe. At this same time the church was remodeled which included a new roof. It’s a very beautiful structure.

It’s interesting to note that the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Nuevo Mexico territory, which connected Mexico City with New Mexico’s Spanish capitals ran right through Old Town Albuquerque. The capitals were San Gabriel and then later Santa Fe. This was the main route to the new Spanish territory for all commerce until the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri was established in 1821. The U.S. government has now designated the El Camino Real a National Historic Trail. This amazingly long trail from Mexico City went back to the year 1598, about a decade before the founding of Santa Fe.

old town albuquerque shops and galleries

Old Town Albuquerque shops and galleries

Several flags have flown over the Old Town Albuquerque plaza. First it was Spain’s, then Mexico’s beginning in 1821 and then it was the United States flag beginning in 1846. The only interruption with the United States flag from 1846 to today was a thirty-nine day period during the American Civil War when General Henry Sibley’s Texas Volunteer regiment flew the Confederate flag over the plaza. General Sibley would go on to be defeated later by Colorado Volunteers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass which is just to the east of Santa Fe. During the Civil War, southern forces made large inroads into the southern section of the New Mexico Territory. There are two Mountain Howitzer guns that are on display today on the plaza. Both guns were left behind by retreating Confederate troops.

The move east to New Town, downtown today, occurred in 1880 and was a direct result of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad coming into Albuquerque. Eventually there was a Harvey House, named the Alvarado, at the site of today’s train terminals. Unfortunately, the Alvarado was torn down in 1970.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is located at 2000 Mountain Road. This is about 1,000 feet east of the plaza itself. Included in the museum are traveling exhibits, southwestern art, Albuquerque history artifacts and outside is a sculpture garden. You’ll also want to check out Old Town area B & B’s and hotels. There’s a great choice.

Old Town Albuquerque is located about two miles west of the City of Albuquerque downtown area. Of special note, is that Old Town Albuquerque can be reached rather easily from the Santa Fe area by riding the New Mexico Rail Runner train. The NM Rail Runner will take you to the train station in downtown Albuquerque and your train ticket will get you a free bus ride to and from Old Town. It’s a good way to fit in a trip to Albuquerque while visiting Santa Fe.

(Photos from author’s private collection)