Local skier unearths history behind name of ski area
Barry Jewett loves to cross-country ski around the Bucks Lake Wilderness. Jewett has traveled up to Spanish Peak more times than he can count.
One area Jewett often skied past was a gulch named Robinson’s Slide. Jewett was familiar with the area, but never really thought much about the name of this spot until one day he realized he wasn’t able to find it on any map.
“Just in the last few years I started wondering why that area is called Robinson’s Slide,” said Jewett. “I’ve never been able to find it on a map, but the good ol’ boys around here always called it that.”
Jewett asked some of Plumas County’s older citizens about the area and the name Robinson, but received scattered accounts. The area is commonly known as Robinson’s Slide, but no account of Robinson seemed to be available.
Jewett then discovered the amazing story behind Robinson Slide’s name in an archived Jan. 29, 1881, newspaper at the Plumas County Library. At the time, Quincy’s newspaper was named the Plumas National.
The area was named after George Robinson, a Plumas County native who was caught in an avalanche while skiing down to Tollgate, then known as The Toll Gate, for help.
Though the events of the avalanche happened in 1881, the story goes back 20 years before that.
Robinson’s father, Andrew Robinson, bought the road connecting Meadow Valley to the Monte Christo gravel mine, located at the top of Spanish Peak. It was a toll road, hence the name The Toll Gate.
Andrew and his wife Mahala operated the toll gate with the help of their three sons, George, Clay and Napoleon, and their daughter Mattie. Tragedy struck the Robinson household in June 1869, as two of the sons and the daughter died. George was the last to carry on the Robinson name.
Twelve years later, on Jan. 25, 1881, John Harold and Mrs. John Nibecker headed to their workplaces at the Monte Christo mine from Bucks Ranch (now Bucks Lake).
Shortly after departing, a storm hit and heavy snow began to fall along the road. James Parker, driver of a stagecoach that ran along the road, ran into Harold and Nibecker and tried to persuade them to travel with him to The Toll Gate and delay their journey until the storm passed.
The two refused and continued on their way with their dog in tow. Parker continued to Quincy and stayed the night there.
The following day, on his way back, Parker passed the spot he last saw the two. They were nowhere to be seen, but their dog was sitting there. Parker instantly knew what happened.
The dog led Parker to a tree, where Parker began digging. He shortly found the frozen body of Harold. Parker looked for Nibecker, but to no avail.
Parker then traveled up to the mine to alert everyone to be on the lookout for a 30-year-old woman. As Parker was delivering the news, George Massey listened and pieced together the events that he had witnessed the previous day.
Massey had traveled along the road in the storm as well, though toward the tail end of it. Massey saw Harold walking down the road, but thought nothing of it. Soon after, he heard a scream that sounded like a woman’s call for help. He searched for the source of the scream, but found nothing. Massey just assumed it was a mountain lion and continued on his way.
Once Massey heard Parker’s account, he organized a search party and started searching around where he heard the scream. The search party was too late, and found Mrs. Nibecker’s body.
The tragedy did not end there, however. George Robinson, 21, was working at the mine at the time that Parker recounted his story. Robinson, known for his fleetness on skis, was selected to head to Meadow Valley to procure a large sleigh to carry the bodies back to town.
George strapped on his skis and headed down toward his parents’ house at The Toll Gate while Massey was organizing the search party.
Some of the searchers stopped by the toll house, only to learn that George never arrived. The searchers followed George’s tracks until they disappeared under a massive pile of loose snow: the after-math of an avalanche.
Seventy-five volunteers worked non-stop for four days digging to find George’s body. Finally on Jan. 30, 1881, the search party recovered George’s body. George’s funeral was held two days later.
All three victims of the storm and subsequent avalanche were buried in the Meadow Valley Cemetery, where their graves still sit. George Robinson, however, was the only one to have an area named after him.
“It’s a pretty amazing story,” said Jewett. “To think that I’ve been skiing that area for over 30 years and just now know the history behind it.”