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Colfax has had its share of curious characters

So you think you're a local
By: Mike Maynard, Special to the Colfax Record
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By Mike Maynard Special to the Colfax Record In the 1880s a cattle train was rounding Cape Horn when the rails spread and several cars went over the precipice, killing many of the cattle onboard. Others became crazed and some made their way to Colfax where they began attacking people. The citizens were ordered off the streets, schools were closed and cowboys imported from Nevada. The Indians, who were allowed to ride free between the baggage and express cars on the trains, came into town in droves, dressed out the cattle and made jerky on the spot. Still, the roaming cattle along with the awful smell of dead cows attracted mountain lions, creating a whole new problem. The conductor was killed and an actor, who was hitching a ride on the train, was mortally injured. He was brought to the Colfax depot where ?Fire Queen? provided a mattress, bedding and nursed him until he died. Fire Queen?s real name is not mentioned in any of the accounts of this accident. She is described elsewhere as an eccentric, believed to be wealthy, who once rescued several people from a fire in San Francisco. Whenever a circus came to town the ?Fire Queen? arrived dressed to the teeth in the finery of a former era. Other characters recalled with affection by those who knew Colfax well before the turn of the century included the Hermit of Burnt Flat. He was a bearded gent who made wheelbarrows and other useful articles from wood during the winter months. He then peddled them to Colfax residents during the summer. ?Slashing Jack,? believed to be half-Indian, was remembered for his violin playing. Then there was Tom Speedy, a Chilean gambler who dressed like a dandy. Indian Jack, an elderly chief who wore round wooden sticks in his ears and a red hat, delighted in scaring children in town. Kanaka and Mahala Jack made beads that other Indians either wore or used in their burial ceremonies. A man called McWayne offered a car ride in the picnic grove near the cemetery. The ride ran on a wooden trestle about five-feet-high and one-mile long. One rail supported a white enclosed car that had small wheels under the center and operated with a cable. There were two seats on each side that could hold about eight children. It was claimed that McWayne?s patent was stolen from him. I haven?t been able to locate more information on him or find photographs of the ?monorail.? If anyone has info or pictures, please call me at 346-8346. In the early days Oak Street was known as Piety Hill, Church Street was McCerty?s Flat and Grass Valley Street was the main road between Grass Valley and Colfax. Main Street was known as Front Street and Auburn Street was called Porkopolis. (I have no idea why.). In October of 1917 saloon prices were raised in Colfax. Bar whiskey, brandy, gin, cocktails and highballs were 15 cents or two for 25 cents. Imported case goods were 25 cents per shot. The Record reporter expressed the fear the high prices would drive away business. Another bit of surprising information I discovered was that on July 21, 1922, a Ku Klux Klan initiation was held on the crest of Hill Two at Newcastle (above the cemetery) on railroad property. In front of a fiery cross nearly 300 new members joined. The Klan was also active around Lincoln. On Aug. 4, 1922, during a railroad strike, armed raiders staged an attack on the Colfax roundhouse. Twenty-three bullet holes were counted in the tin walls. A machinist, who went on strike but returned a few days later, was thought to be the target of the attack. The following week an ordinance was passed to bar masks from the streets of Colfax to prevent KKK gatherings. I believe the ordinance is still in effect.