Everybody in Gold River knew him as Fresno Bob. Probably because they thought he hailed from Fresno, but I know for a fact that he came in from the James Hill Camp.
The James Hill Camp is a mining community about thirty-five miles due east of Gold River up the rugged Sudsbury Trail. The Camp consists of about 40 tents of various sizes and colors, most of which started out white but became grimy and weathered over time. A few of the tent owners, particularly those who ran businesses out of their tents, had painted the canvas since the settlement was fairly well established and, over time, their appearance had become somewhat unsightly.
Mr. Tittleman, the general store proprietor, even erected a large porch with a business-like facade, with two small windows and a windowed door. Camp folks had to open the door in order to enter his tent store. Unfortunately, during rain storms, a torrent of water cascaded right inside the door that would drench anyone trying to enter.
Mr. Tittleman had a big sign made in San Francisco that he hung above the door that read, “Titleman’s General Store.” Much to Mr. Tittleman’s dismay, the sign-painting company in San Francisco misspelled his name on the sign, but no one seemed to notice, except Mr. Tittleman, who made rather coarse remarks signaling his displeasure over this unforgivable sin.
Except for Mr. Tittleman’s porch and store facade, the jail house was the only other non-canvas structure in the entire camp. It was a wooden building that was constructed the year prior to deal with lawbreakers. Though most of the serious criminals were shipped down to Gold River to face justice, it was not uncommon for camp residents to handle some of the more serious crimes locally.
The deep rope wounds on one of the lower limbs of the great oak tree near the edge of the camp could attest to this. You could also see, on this same lower limb, what would appear to be a railroad spike about six feet out from the trunk of the tree.
As the story goes, the first hanging this tree witnessed did not fare too well. Apparently, when the rope went taut on the lawbreaker being hung on this limb the rope slid down to the bottom of the limb where the man jerked and squirmed for about forty-five minutes resting up against the trunk of the tree with his feet just inches from the ground. You see, the limb was not parallel to the ground. It angled sharply upwards so that the rope would naturally slide down to the bottom of the limb. Hence, the spike. All future hangings, of which there were many, had the rope securely placed above the spike so the hangee would not slip down to the bottom of the limb. After all, if the first person hanged had been just a few inches taller, he might have had to be rehung in order to effect the camp people’s will.