By Margaret Corcoran Anker courtesy of Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
This month Taking You Back in History is sharing The Reminiscences of Life at the Priest Hotel by Margaret Corcoran Anker. STCHS was fortunate to have Margaret Corcoran Anker share her memories, which were printed in 1992 STCHS Newsletters. She passed away just a few years later in 1995.
Part II. The Stage Coach and Horse and Buggy Era
Horses provided the principal means of transportation and determined much of our activities during the first decade of my life at the Priest Hotel.
At that time, the Hotel served as a major stop-over for tourists traveling to Yosemite. They would take the train to Chinese Camp and then go by stage coach to the Park. They would spend their first night at the Priest Hotel.
Because, in those days this was a long trip, they would often arrive late at night, tired and very dusty after coming up the steep road from Moccasin. Regardless of the hour, Auntie Priest, or my parents, would meet them and provide them with a big evening meal. With fresh horses, the stage would leave in the morning for the next leg of the trip, either to Hamilton Station (Buck Meadows) or Captain Crocker's. The stage would arrive at Yosemite the following day. Look how fast we can make this trip now.
For many years, Priest Hotel served as the headquarters for the Big Oak Flat and Yosemite Turnpike Road. The opening of the road each spring was a big event. My father, uncles and others would take teams and wagons up the road for about two weeks in order to clear the roads after the winter storms. It was always a treat when they returned with fresh trout and snow plants from the high mountains. To add to the excitement was the return of the stage coaches and the tourists.
When I was young providing hay and shelter for the horses meant employment for some of the local ranchers. I loved to walk with my father while he plowed and planted all the fields around Priest's. The hay crop was stored in barns near the hotel and up Rattlesnake Creek; also in the Corcoran ranches in Deer Flat.
There was a small Forge at Priest's and a large blacksmith shop in Big Oak Flat.
Working in and supplying the hotel also provided work for many others. Young local girls worked at the hotel, often meeting their future husbands there; my mother and I could relate to this for that was where we met ours. Chinese cooks ran the kitchen and cared for the large gardens. The hotel grew its own cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry and in addition purchased supplies from such local ranchers as the Musantes and Gookins.
What couldn’t be purchased locally was ordered from from Stockton, Sacramento or San Francisco and brought by train to Chinese. Father would leave Priest's early in the morning to meet the train, returning to Cavagnaro's (Moccasin) at night. There he would leave the wagons unlocked and unguarded while he walked the horses up the hill to home. Next morning he would bring the load up the hill. It was a special and exciting treat when I was able to make the long strenuous trip with him to Chinese.
Winters at the hotel were rather quiet, enlivened only by the interesting permanent guests. The single female teachers for the Big Oak and Spring Gulch schools boarded at the hotel and ate at the family table. Because, along with the teachers, I walked back and forth to school in Big Oak Flat, I could never escape their influence.
The male guests and boarders had their own tables. Most of the men, such as Big Herman and Happy Jack, worked in the mines and lived at the hotel for years. They were often joined by traveling salesmen (drummers), who would stay in the hotel at night and sell in Big Oak Flat and Groveland during the day.
I remember one kindly winter guest very well. Everyone called him “Bodie”. I don’t know if that was his name or if he came from there. He had his own horses and guided guests around Yosemite during the season. In the winter whenever it rained, he would provide his own taxi service between Priest's and the local schools. (Of course I got to ride, too.)
Our family traveled frequently on foot or by horse and buggy to visit the post office and stores in Big Oak Flat. Trips further than that were quite limited. We would go by buggy to Groveland about once a month, Sonora twice a year and once a year to Coulterville for the Fourth of July celebration.
STCHS hopes to share more Priest Station stories in future newsletters.
Taking You Back in History is provided by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) and the Groveland Gateway Museum. The Museum is open Friday - Sunday 10a - 2p