Memories of Hornitos
Pair of natives recounts life in
By Rose Certini
Sun-Star Staff Writer
Nov 1- 2000
HORNITOS - The gold mines gave out
more than a century ago, but there
are riches still to be found, not in the ruins of old buildings, but in
the memories of two lifelong area residents whose ancestors settled
this area in search of gold.
Winfred "Whinnie" Williams, 90, is a
native-born son of Hornitos now
living in Mariposa and Zeora Wommack-Mansfield, 91 lives in Hornitos
now but grew up a couple miles up the road at Quartzburg, a town that
no longer exists.
Stored in their heads are
recollections of simpler times as children
and of hearing their parents talk about how things were in their day,
as the generation who stayed in the mountains and hewed out a living
once the ore was gone.
"We were all poor but we didn't know
it," Williams says, noting that
these were times when no one in Hornitos had a car, electricity,
running water or a bathroom in the house. Things moved slower in the
1910s and 1920s, and most folks were just scraping by.
Even though he's battling a cancer
that causes him pain, Williams makes
quick work of an uphill stroll of Bear Valley Road, the main drag
through Hornitos. A tour of the town starts at the plaza which is
across the street from today's Golden Stag Hall which sits atop the old
Native Sons Hall site. There's the old Masonic Hall across from a
tree-shaded park where Williams used to play marbles as a kid.
There were no doctors in Hornitos, nor
dentists, although there was one
traveling dentist who used to come through and put up a little tent in
"He had drills that were run by foot.
like the old sewing machines,"
says Williams. "I had the pleasure of having my teeth worked on by one
of those. When you don't know any different, it was all right."
He walks past the ruins of the brick
1850s Ghirardelli building which
was mostly rubble even in his childhood.
A wood slat foundation marks the spot
where the barber once cut hair. A
modern telephone company building sit atop the site of an old boarding
house where the proprietress had a special liking for men with money to
spend. It was next to Lesman Livery Stable which rented out horses and
Remnants exist of a tunnel that led
under the street to what was a bar.
Local legend has it the bandit Joaquin Murietta used the subterranean
hole to stage his many getaways, though some sources think it was more
likely used to hide Prohibition-era booze.
Still standing is the Post Office
building where Loula Rodgers, the
black postmistress worked. Williams said she would teach the local
girls how to sew and was "real well thought of," by the townsfolk.
Cavagnaro's General Merchantile faces
Galiardo's Merchantile across
Bear Valley Road, as it has for 100 years. These shops sold everything
from food and clothing to medicines and lumber. Cavagnaro's has an old
green gas pump facing the street while the red-brick Galiardo building
wears a faded sign and has a horse trough out front.
Nothing stands of China Town but some
barns and stone foundations.
Williams says that as a kid he used to find opium pipes lying on the
ground, but he didn't know what to do with them.
Although there were once hundreds of
Chinese laborers in the area in
the 1860s, in Williams' day there were only five or six individuals.
The only lasting signs of their stay are miles of rock fences they
build under hire by area ranchers to keep cattle contained - as well as
an unkept cemetery located just over a rise behind the still-used
Hornitos Cemetery. There's another obscure burial ground further up the
hills, the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Williams grew up in a house that no
longer exists which was on the
outskirts of town. His more-vivid memories were of going to his
grandparents' place, which still stands on Bear Valley Road. This tiny
structure not far from the mercantile stores was where he - and his
mother before him - were born.
It's painted gray, has been reroofed
and is shaded by an enormous
walnut tree. Someone else lives there now.
"There was a lot of good Italian
cooking done in that house," Williams
Grandpa Cademartori had come to
Hornitos like thousands of others
looking for gold and when that ran out, he went to work at the Merced
Giovanni Cademartori was an Italian
immigrant born in 1850 in Genoa,
who immigrated to the United States when he was 17 years old.
Cademartori planned to marry Laura Castagnetto, a local girl born in
Bear Valley in 1864, so he commissioned Joe Bauer to build the house.
Bauer was not only the town's
cabin-builder but barber, carpenter and
coffin-maker. As soon as the house was finished in 1884, Cademartori
married Castagnetto and they mobbed into their new home.
Laura Cademartori(see obituary of Laura below)
gave birth in 1890
to Amelia Cademartori. Amelia
married Anthony Williams, a fellow of English extraction who was born
in 1881 in Hunters Valley. His father was William Williams who'd come
to Hunters Valley to raise cattle and hunt for gold. Anthony was a
carpenter for the Yosemite Valley Railrod, building
bridge crossings until the railroad shut down in 1947. Winfred Williams
was born to Anthony and Amelia in
Zeora Wommack-Mansfield's family has
mining in its blood, but it was
cattle grazing and real estate that put bread and butter on the table.
Her father, William Thomas, had come
from England to seek his fortune
in the new land, starting with the copper mines of Arizona, then moving
to California to try his hand at gold mining in the Whitlock Road area.
Thomas returned to the copper mines
near Globe, Ariz., met and married
Susan Baker who was a cook in the boarding house where he stayed. They
had a baby which Thomas named"Zeora" because he'd seen it in a book and
thought it sounded different.
Thomas moved back to California and by
working his Whitlock Road stake
saved up enough to send for his wife and child.
"We came on a train to Merced Falls
and he met up with a spring wagon.
My mom said 'oh my goodness! Where are we coming to?' She thought this
was the end of the world," Wommack-Mansfield recalls.
The Thomas home for many years was on
Cotton Creek Road in Hunters
Valley near Quartzburg, a town with shops, houses and a school located
almost two miles up Bear Balley road from Hornitos.
Founded a few years before Hornitos,
Quartzburg would not survive the
ravages of time and today all that's left of Quartzburg are a few old
Thomas continued to work the mine but
also raised cattle and put in
barley and wheat on the 412-acre ranch. When Zeora's brother George
came into the world, the midwife was Laura Cademartori, Winfred
The family homesteaded a 640-acre
parcel on Parker Mountain and later
added 320 acres to it. The children attended first through eighth
grades in Quartzburg's one-room schoolhouse. Zeora would graduate from
Mariposa High School and attend Western Norm, a school for teachers in
Wommack-Mansfield doesn't swell on the
details of her full life or keep
track of the dates, but the pain of her many losses resurface from time
to time, especially when talking about the death of her one son, Jack
There would be a string of other
events - some good and some bad- that
make up the fabric of who Zeora Wommack-Mansfield is, much like the
many colored patches of the quilt she's working on.
There would be the death of her father
to either cancer or "miner's
consumption, and he'd be buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery. And there
were financial difficulties brought on by her brother's spending habits
and this brother's death to "blood poisoning" from working at the Mt.
Then there would be the death of her
first, third and fourth husbands
and divorce from the second one.
She cared for her mother through a
long debilitating illness until her
Wommack-Mansfield paused briefly to
think of how things might have been
for her if circumstances had been different.
"If wishes were fishes we'd all have
some for dinner tonight,k"
Wommack-Mansfield smiles as she draws consolation from an old saying.
She married Fred Butterfield of San
Francisco and Jack was born.
Butterfield would die of heart trouble some 20 years later. Then it was
Ted England in a marriage that would end in divorce four years later.
She met and married widower Les
Wommack and they had a good life for 26
years until he died at 94 years of age. At this point Zeora figured
she'd never tie the knowt again, but then she met Richard Mansfield and
she did it all ober again. He died about four years ago.
No matter what was going on in her
life, Wommack-Mansfield was a worker
who did what was needed to make ends meet and even save a little. At
different times she cooked, sewed, managed the post office, fixed up
and rented out cabins, and picked up advertising for the Mariposa
"I kept myself busy and out of
trouble," she says. "In a small way,
I've made something of my life."
Her only disability is arthritis and
she continues to maintain her own
home plus four rentals: three in Hornitos and one in Mariposa.
She was honored by fellow residents
for founding the annual Hornitos
Enchilada Dinner 52 years ago. This event held the first Saturday in
March feeds about 900 people.
Williams has always called Hornitos
"home" even though he moved to
Mariposa at age 17 to become a barber, a trade he practiced for the
next 68 years.
His memories from his childhood go
to little things, like how they
entertained themselves making soapbox car "coasters" using slats of
wood and wheelbarrow wheels.
"I remember putting a candle in a can
and going out to coast at night.
It wasn't much for speed, but we had fun."
He remembers how after a rain, men
would be bent over and squatting in
the street looking for flecks of gold in the runoff - and there was
always some to be found.
Simple tasks like taking a bath took a
long time, Williams remembers
drawing water from a well in the morning, setting the water in a
washtub to heat under the sun during the day, then getting in to scrub
down at dusk.
Williams attended Hornitos School
through seventh grade, got into some
trouble and had to complete eighth grade at Quartzburg School. Then he
went on to Mariposa High School.
Two horses named Beauty and Mary were
the family transportation until
1927, when Winnie Williams - through his many odd jobs as a soda jerk
and service station attendant - was able to afford an economy car, a
Durant Motors Star..
Somewhere between 1928 and 1930 he was
among the townspeople who shored
up St. Catherine Church with rock buttresses using stone donated by
Loula Rodgers from a fence near Quartzburg.
In 1932 Williams went to a Fresno
barber school, got his license,
apprenticed, and worked under many barbers in Merced and Mariposa.
Williams married Pearl Carter in 1937
and they set up housekeeping in
Mariposa and had three sons.
He works part-time these days with
Ivers and Alcorn Funeral Home in
Mariposa helping families in grief.
On a stroll of the cemetery behind
1860s St. Catherine Catholic Church,
Williams encounters many old friends and acquaintances.
"There are lots of good people here,"
Williams says. "Everyone was
friendly. Your word was good in those days."
He stops at a pair of headstones
secured by a cement slab. "Here's my
mom and dad," he says.
Amelia Williams' marker is accented
with a Christian cross while
Anthony O. Williams' marker has the Masonic symbol.
"You don't see that very often,"
Williams says, explaining how in most
places at the time, Masons didn't like the Catholics and vice-versa.
But it was different in Hornitos, where marriages and friendships often
crossed racial and religious lines.
Amelia Williams, for instance, grew up
speaking English and picked up
Mexican from her friends.
Although she was of Italian heritage,
she did not speak Italian. She
always took part in the Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead ceremony,
a Mexican custom brought to Hornitos by Dona Candelaria de Sapien.
They would go to the cemetery at dusk
to pray and place candles on the
graves of loved ones on Nov. 1, which is All Saint's Day in Catholic
tradition, then repeat the observance on Nov. 2, which is All Soul's
Others continued the solemn tradition
after Candelaria died in 1903 at
86 years of age. But as people got older and died and families moved
away, participation dwindled during the late 1930s or early 1940s.
"Some years it was just me and my mom.
We kept it up with a few
candles," Williams said.
Amelia Williams would not give up and
she got others to join her in the
semi-private observance. When she died in 1980, the Chamber of Commerce
took over and now the Hornitos Patron's Club is in charge of organizing
All Souls Day.
What had begun with 30-40 people now
attracts close to 200 people in
some years, depending on the weather.
Somewhere along the line the Nov. 1
commemoration was dropped and a
candlelight procession was added to the Nov. 2 ceremony, but Williams
and his wife still go both days.
"We want to do it like it was done in
the old days, at least on Nov.
1," he says.
The All Souls' Day procession is
Thursday, starting at 6 p.m. at the
Hornitos Plaza. Participants should bring a flashlight, candle, walking
shoes and warm clothes. The walk goes up a hill to the cemetery behind
St. Catheren of Siena Church.
The Rev. Stephen Bulfer of St.
Joseph's Catholic Shurch in Mariposa
will officiate over services at Dona Candelaria's grave. Mass will
follow in St. Catherine Church. The Patron's Club will serve
refreshments afterwards in the Stag Hall.
PIONEER WOMAN OF MARIPOSA
Merced, Dec 17
Services for Mrs. Laura Cademartori,
62, pioneer of Mariposa county, who died at her Hornitos home
Wednesday, were held this morning from the Catholic church. Rev.
Father Frederic Deschenes of Mariposa officiating. Mrs.
Cademartori was born in Mariposa county June 10, 1864, and spent her
entire life there. One son and two daughters survive, August
Cademartori, Mrs. Angelina Guest and Mrs. Amellia Williams, all of
Hornitos. Surviving are also one brother and two sisters: Dan
Castagnetto of Hunters Valley, Mrs Angie Dulcich of Stockton and Mrs.
Louisa Lord of Merced
Oakland Tribune, The 1926-12-17
MARIPOSA COUNTY FAMILY CHRONICLES