Lake County History, Chapter 123: Three Tall Stories


The teller of this tale, Ms. Rae Eby-Carl, is an archaeologist. She’s held other important jobs in Lake County. At the time, she was collecting data by interviewing people as part of an environmental study for Lake County. Each of the witnesses told Ms. Rae Eby-Carl the same story. They were older men, not given to made-up tales. To a man and mostly retired miners, they had no particular ax to grind or need to impress Ms. Eby-Carl. They sounded credible and free of guile or subterfuge. The description the miners gave was short, but they did their job well enough to satisfy most.

“Several of the cinnabar miners, each of which worked in different mines and did not know one another, reported seeing a Sasquatch. Each of the men gave a similar description of what they had seen and where they had spotted the creature. ‘They’re on Cobb Mountain and on Konocti. It looks like a big bear that walks upright. He smells terrible… like rotten meat or garbage. And they make terrible noises at night.'”


To make sure the reader doesn’t get the idea exciting things happen only to the rest of the planet, here’s a true story about the several times pieces of stars fell on Lake County. March 11, 1912, at about 9:59 o’clock, a big meteor was observed to fall. The shooting star was seen by several people, including J. A. Cole and Ed Heeney. Mr. Cole described the phenomenon.

“It was a ball of fire about the size of a coal oil can with a long tail. It fell with a slight hissing sound and struck in, or just this side, of Scotts Valley,” Mr. Heagney said. “I saw it flash across the sky. The meteor appeared to fall behind the hill.”

The first time, one observer stated, “It created a great splash. It threw water to a height of several hundred feet. After it fell, the lake boiled over an area around that spot and there was a rumbling sound that lasted for several minutes.”


Now that you have been offered two tall tales, try this one on for size. A Resident of Lake County achieved an important skill some of us would wish to have; to be frozen to death and return to the living.

George Burger told this story to Letty Ussery about his personal experience. Both are residents of Lake County.

“Tort Lee was named John. We called him Tort. Tort lived with his mother back up the head of Scotts Creek. He practiced spiritualism. One night, Tort Lee went crazy and tried to put his mother in the fireplace. She got away, though and ran to the Llewellyn house. They got my brother, Al and George Pool, and went looking for him. They finally found him out in the orchard. He was naked and froze stiff.”

“They took him home and thawed him out. When he felt better, he got hungry and got a butcher knife to cut himself some bread. George and Al were scared, but he didn’t hurt them. He wouldn’t let the Sheriff come in, though. Later, they took Tort Lee to Talmadge (the funny farm). They let him out of Talmadge later, and he got married and was O.K.”

“Years after that, my sister, Alice, and I were living in Oakland. We saw him on the street. He was so glad to see us; a pup would be no gladder. When he said goodbye, he just kept saying, ‘Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye,’ walking down the street backward, saying, ‘Goodbye,’ for about half a block. He had been living in a rest home down there. About a week later, he died.”

I believe every word George Burger told Letty Ussery. No human being has the imagination to spin such a tale. Miss Ussery takes the cake. I thought Miss Riggs was tight-lipped, but Letty’s vignette left me with more questions than this page can hold. When Tort Lee tried to put his mother in the fireplace, was the fire going or out? Burned or not, I’m happy she got away. When they found Tort Lee frozen stiff, how did they accomplish the medical miracle of thawing a frozen corpse? The entire medical establishment would want to know that. Most of all, why in the name of all that is reasonable did Al and George Pool let Tort Lee get his hands on a butcher knife? Any person that allowed that insanity left their brains behind the door.

Finally, and this is a sad note since Tort Lee died right after his old friends greeted him on the street in Oakland, that big hello by friends must have been what Tort Lee had been waiting and pining for all those years.

Next Week: The Scalping and an interesting Postscript


To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books

Visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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