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Old barns shed light on historic figures

Susan Wilson created the Alice Marble history display at Lost Marbles Ranch. Marble was born in Beckwourth and went on to become a famous tennis star, a WWII spy and a champion of women’s rights. Photo submitted

Visitors to the Sierra Valley Art + Ag Trail event this year endured a blast of winter weather, and some said they felt a bit like pioneers. Many of the barns along the trail are over a hundred years old and are built with hand hewn timbers and wooden pegs. These vestiges of the past are still very much alive today, serving working ranches throughout the Sierra Valley.

A number of the locations brought to life the stories of the ranches and the people who once lived there through historical displays.

Alice Marble

The Lost Marbles Ranch, located on Marble Hot Springs Road, is owned by Chris and Dick Spencer. Volunteer Susan Wilson created a display about the life of Beckwourth-born tennis star Alice Marble.

Marble was born in Beckwourth in 1913 and became a tennis champion in the 1930s-40s. She was the first woman to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles all in the same year.

Named the number one female player in America between 1936 and 1940, Marble also was  a winner of 18 Grand Slam championships, and an International Tennis Hall of Famer.

She advocated for black tennis player Althea Gibson to be allowed to play in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association competitions, paving the way for Gibson to play in the U.S. Open.

In addition, she edited Wonder Woman comics and had her own weekly feature, Wonder Women of History, which told the stories of women like Florence Nightingale in comic form.

Marble agreed to be a spy during WWII after she miscarried and her husband, a fighter pilot, was killed in action. Her career as a spy was cut short when she was shot in the back by a Nazis operative, but she recovered.

Marble wrote two autobiographies. The second, “Courting Danger,” is available at the Portola Library.

Jim Beckwourth

Scott Lawson, Plumas County Museum director, was at Sierra Valley Farms to talk about Sierra Valley history, and particularly the story of James P. (Jim) Beckwourth.

Volunteer Zach Ravene prepared the display boards that detailed Beckwourth’s life, including excerpts from his book pertaining to the Sierra Valley and Beckwourth Pass.

Beckwourth was a mountain man, fur trader and explorer. Born in Virginia as a slave, and of mixed race, he was freed by his white father and master.

He moved to the West as a young man, living for years as a fur trapper with the Crow Indians. He is credited with the discovery of Beckwourth Pass, which connected what is now Reno with the Sierra Valley and beyond during the California Gold Rush.

Lemmon Canyon Ranch

Architectural HistorianCorri Jimenez was at Lemon Canyon Ranch, now owned by Lucy Blake, to share information about John G. Lemmon and his wife Sarah Plummer Lemmon, in conjunctionwith display boards prepared by volunteers Bill and Nancy Harnach and their granddaughter Jade Kennedy.

Botanist J.G. Lemmon moved in with his brother B. F. Lemmon who owned the ranch, when he was released from Andersonville Prison at the end of the Civil War. John was held by the Confederate Army as a prisoner of war for over a year. He came to the Sierra Valley to recuperate both physically and mentally.

His mother and siblings all lived in the valley, and he called it home for a decade. During that time he also traveled the country, collecting and identifying over 670 plants.

J.G. Lemmon married fellow botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, who is responsible for the golden poppy being California’s state flower, among other accomplishments. Many local plants were first identified by the couple and are named by or after them.

Hollitz Ranch

Bonnie Hollitz created a display that showed the history of her ranch when it was owned by the Davis family, then the Amodei’s and finally the Hollitz’s.

Arlene Amodei was also on hand to tell about her family’s time owning the ranch and to give some history of square-cut and wire nails, including how and when they were made.

The Sierra Booster

Lori Wright and Jan Buck, current publisher of The Sierra Booster, had a display at the Milton Gottardi Museum in Loyalton detailing the 70 years of continuous publication of the newspaper. The paper was started by Hal and Allene “Sweetie Pie” Wright in 1949.

Hal was known for his airplane delivery of papers, flinging the papers to remote ranches, mines and fire lookouts. He flew his single engine plane well into his 90s. His youngest daughter, Jan Buck, has faithfully continued publication of the paper for the past 20 years, and it’s still going strong.

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