Streets of Freedom


Some thirty or thirty-five miles east of Sacramento, is California's, in places, scenic State Highway 49, so named to commemorate California's gold rush that began in 1849. Once a rutted dirt road, used by Wells Fargo stagecoaches and highway robbers alike, it begins, almost as the crow flies, some 70 miles east and, again as the crow flies, some forty miles north of Sacramento - 30 miles or so north of Truckee near the little town of Sattley.


From there it continues west for some 35 miles to Downieville - still keeping on display the gallows, on which 20-year old James O'Neill ended his life in 1885 for shooting, in self defense, his employer, a rancher, during an argument over the rancher's attempt to defraud the young man of his wages - and then begins a southwest turn toward Grass Valley, from there to Nevada City, then to Auburn, crosses Interstate Highway 80 and continues, almost due south now, to Coloma, where the yellow metal was discovered in Sutter's saw mill, then under construction, and then on to cross Interstate Highway 50 at Hangtown, now called Placerville. From there, now bearing slightly south-westerly, it crosses State Highway 16 some 30 miles away ending over 100 miles further south near the town of Oakhurst.


At its intersection with State Highway16 is where my wife, one of my sons, and I, twice a week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, catch it to go to the old mining town, now a city, of Jackson. To get to Jackson, you first come through Dry Town, so named because whisky used to flow here deeper than nearby Dry Creek after a deluge, then comes Amador City, not always a city, then Sutter Creek, and finally Jackson. Each displays a city sign reflecting a population density now most decidedly less than when argonauts looked for the end of the rainbow here.


All these, like virtually all of the others, were mining towns, if town is the right word to use. All still retain a picture of the old times in what is now called the historical part of town. Porticoes on wooden posts, once used as hitching posts, give instant reflection of something long ago and one still retains portions of the old wooden planked sidewalk. One can still recognize the history even though most houses are now the repositories for clothing stores and antique boutiques.


My son drives my Honda both ways giving me the opportunity to surrender to meditative soliloquies, and despite the Mercedes, Porsches, Hondas, trucks, and a host of other cars, I see the past. Free men walked these streets, walked with guns strapped to their hips and no one cared, no one was concerned, no one gave it a second thought, because all knew this is what free men do, if that is what they wish to do and do not require anyone else's permission but their own. And while the thought is scintillating beyond description and uplifting to numerous levels of heaven, it is also discouraging to levels of unfathomable despair. For then it strikes with awesome awakening, when you come to see the stark distinction between what once was and what now is. And you also recognize the near insurmountable difficulty to reverse this plunge into madness, when you come to realize that this metamorphosis is of its own making. It is the natural result, when ignorance is raised to the level of euphoria.


People, totally ignorant of what happened on these shores some 230 years ago, chose to dissolve the Great Republic and to replace her with a democracy, or a democratic republic if you will, and did so in the preposterous belief to still be able to retain the power to determine their own destiny under such convulsion.


Destruction then is the natural consequence of flagitious forgetfulness. No one conspired to accomplish it. And the custodians of this destruction, all beneficiaries of that brazen ignorance, are religiously dedicated to remain ensconced and have made certain all parameters are and remain in place by which to inveigle fools to believe they are free as long as they do not strain the leash to which they are tethered.


Dieter H. Dahmen

Body and Soul American