Poor Jacob Markley. May 14th this year marks 150 years from the day the founder of Markleeville was shot outside his humble cabin, and much of his life still remains shrouded in mystery. But this year, at least, Markley will finally get a bit of recognition.
Born on March 6, 1821, in Dundas, Ontario, Canada, Markley emigrated with his family to Virginia as a youth. In the late 1840s, he arrived in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and married Sarah Ambrosia DeAtley, the daughter of a local carpenter. Markley was apparently struck with wanderlust once again about 1860. Leaving his wife and children behind in Minnesota, he set out to seek his fortune in California.
We don’t know much about Markley’s westward travels, but we do know that on September 12, 1861, he staked out a 160-acre land claim just east of the Sierra summit. There he built himself a little 16’ x 20’ cabin, and covered it with sugarpine shakes.
Markley’s timing would prove spectacular. Just a few miles up the trail, the mining camp at Silver Mountain began to boom soon as prospectors found rich silver leads. Suddenly Markley’s homestead became extremely valuable – as much for the toll road running through it as for the property itself. And before long a tiny settlement sprang up at this new “terminus of yee-haw navigation”: the place that mule teams ferrying goods and supplies were forced to stop.
Markley was quick to realize there was money to be made selling homesites. There was only one small problem: a man named Talcott Gould claimed half-ownership of Markley’s land.
It seems that Markley had signed a scrap of paper in November 1861 granting Gould a half-interest in – well, something. Markley claimed he sold Gould only a half-interest in the toll road. Gould, however, noted that the handwritten deed mentioned the “Merkly claim,” and argued that this meant the townsite, too.
On May 14, 1863, Gould’s friend Henry Tuttle confronted Jacob Markley at his cabin, and as one source delicately put it, “an altercation ensued.” Tuttle left for a short time, then returned with Gould, who “laid violent hands upon Markley.” Markley managed to throw Gould and Tuttle out of his cabin. But in an instant of bad judgment, Markley buckled on a pistol and followed. The argument resumed – now over whether Tuttle had ever repaid Markley some money he had borrowed. Exactly who pulled a gun first remains unclear. But at some point in the dispute Tuttle “stepped back, drew his revolver, and shot [Markley] dead.”
For a while, nobody was quite sure whether the shooting had occurred in California or on the Nevada side of the border, and Tuttle managed to escape prosecution until that fundamental issue was resolved. But in December, 1863, a California grand jury finally indicted Tuttle for murder, and he was brought to trial in Amador County, California the following March.
Witnesses testified, lawyers argued, and a jury of Tuttle’s peers rendered a clear verdict: NOT guilty. Here again the historical trail goes cold as the actual records from Tuttle’s trial are missing from Amador County’s archives. The verdict, however, suggests that the jury was convinced that Tuttle acted in self-defense or in defense of his friend Gould. That pesky gun that Markley buckled on must not have helped the prosecution.
Markley’s body was buried “on a little eminence” overlooking “a fine stream,” close to the new town of Markleeville. While the exact location of his grave remains a mystery, it is just possible that Jacob Markley became the first person to be buried in today’s Markleeville Cemetery.
Markleeville’s founder may not have gone down in history for his fine temper and genial disposition. But he will be warmly remembered for his excellent choice in real estate.
On May 18, 2013, the town of Markleeville will celebrate “Jacob Markley Day”– nearly 150 years to the day from Markley’s shooting.
Jacob Markley Day Celebration is May 18, 2013, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce
A special Re-Enactment Play is “high noon.” Hear “Jacob” describe the early town of Markleeville, and watch his killer brought to justice (or not. We won’t give away the ending.)