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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Unearthing fact and fiction in life of poet

Jerry Bowen

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Edwin Markham tells of finding buried treasure beneath rock

In my last column we saw that Markham had run away and was gone for about six months and had finally realized his dream to attend Vacaville’s California College. During my continuing research about Markham, I found the following in notes supplied to the Vacaville Heritage Council by J. W. Hawkins: The reference isn’t noted, but I suspect it came from “The Unknown Edwin Markham” by Lois Filler.

“Buried Treasure,” Page 54 - 1868; Here is his own account of the finding of buried treasure.

“I went home with my mother as she wished me to do, promising to remain until the college opened. One day, close beside a big rock on a path by our house, I was digging for soap root, a root which makes lather suitable for the family wash.

“Under this rock where the root ran, my pick suddenly crashed against what seemed to me to be metal. However when I stooped over I pulled out a canvas bag. I turned it up and something fell out at my feet with a metallic ring. It was gold. I rubbed it on my breeches. It was gold, a twenty dollar gold piece. Under that rock, someone, a miner or it may have been my friend, Black Bart, had buried a bag of gold in five, ten and twenty dollar pieces, more than nine-hundred dollars in all. For me that was a legendary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That find, as well as my mother’s change of heart, made it possible to go to San Jose to school.”

After reading that, it reminded me of a rock near the Pena Adobe that has the word “Gold” inscribed into it and made me wonder if that was the rock and did Markham mark it as such. If so, it may be an answer to an old mystery about the inscription.

It also reminded me of the story of a sick miner who showed up at the Pena Adobe one night looking for lodging. The story recites that he disappeared with a bag of unknown contents for a while and returned later without it. The miner died that night without disclosing any information. Was this the gold that Markham found?  Of course this is pure speculation on my part, but it does make you think about the possible connection.

Another interesting item in Markham’s recollection of finding the gold is his speculation that it was left for him by “... my friend, Black Bart ...”  Charles Bowles, also known as “Black Bart,” was a well-known stage robber who left a few poems behind at the scene of his crimes. According to history, he was in California from about 1850 to 1854, but was engaged in mining with his brother Robert. (Markham was born in 1852 in Oregon). Bowles returned to Illinois in 1854 after his brother died and got married. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the 116th Illinois Infantry on Aug. 13, 1862, at Decatur, Ill. He was mustered out in Washington, D.C. June 7, 1865.

By 1867, Bowles headed to the silver mines of Idaho and Montana. After writing his wife from Silver Bow, Mont. in August of 1871 (he had a bad experience with men who worked for Wells Fargo & Co. and swore to get back what was his), he headed for the gold fields of California for more excitement.

Black Bart’s first-known holdup was Dec. 28, 1875 - the stage from North San Juan to Marysville in Yuba County. Markham dug the gold up in 1868, so his speculation that the notorious Black Bart buried the gold can be eliminated as fact.

At the end of my last article I speculated that after graduating from the State Normal School at San Jose, he went to work as a teacher in the remote community of Los Burros in Monterey County instead of Los Berros. I stand corrected! I found a Los Berros did exist in San Luis Obispo County that never amounted to much, southeast of Grover City near a Highway 101 rest area.  According to notes used during dedication ceremonies when the Edwin Markham School on Brown Street opened in 1954, the school at Los Berros was a bit unusual. It was known as “Oak Tree College” and consisted of chopped brush for walls under a giant oak tree!

One more correction: I wrote, “Apparently while Edwin was gone his mother married again but it was short and quickly ended in failure,” which was incorrect. According to the notes for the Markham School dedication, she had remarried in 1859 to a John Whitecraft and it lasted until 1872 when it ended in divorce. Once again, I’m not sure whether this is correct, either, since most other sources don’t even mention that she remarried.

After graduating from Vacaville’s California College in 1870, he attended State Normal School in San Jose from 1870 to 1872. He taught school at Los Berros from 1872 to 1874.

From there, he attended and graduated from Christian College at Santa Rosa. He was offered a position as either a teacher or administrator - depending on who you use as a reference - at Coloma, the gold discovery site. He taught at Coloma until 1879, when he became superintendent of El Dorado County schools, a position he held until 1886. While there, he met and married one of his students, Annie Cox, in 1875.

The marriage was already in trouble before Markham engaged in a heated affair with Dr. Elizabeth Senter, of San Jose. Although the liaison was short-lived, it was the last straw for Annie, who divorced Markham in 1884.

In 1886, Markham saw a copy of a painting by world-renowned artist, Jean Millet, titled, “The Man With The Hoe,” in Scribner’s Magazine. Millet’s painting depicted the burdens of toil and worry in the face of a French peasant and apparently preoccupied Markham’s mind for years.

He left El Dorado County and moved to Hayward in 1889 to serve as headmaster of a school. Later, he moved to the Tompkins School in Oakland, where he found himself living near fellow poet Joaquin Miller, a man Markham held in high esteem. The two became close friends and Miller made it possible for Markham to find easy acceptance in literary circles in and around the Bay Area.

Markham married for the last time in 1898 to Anna Catherine Murphy. It lasted until her death in 1938. In the years with Anna, Markham seemed to find his voice as a poet.

In 1899, the painting, “Man With The Hoe,” that haunted Markham since 1886 was on public exhibit and Markham was able to view it up close. According to Markham, “I stood before the painting, absorbing the majesty of its despair, the tremendous import of its admonition. I immediately jotted down a few of the opening lines of my poem ... ”  He wrote a 49-line poem and named it, “The Man With The Hoe” for the painting. Upon its publication in the San Francisco Examiner, Markham became an intentional success.

Edwin Markham’s most productive writing years were to follow on the heels of the poem. He also began a new career on the lecture circuit and was in heavy demand everywhere. His son, Virgil, was born in 1899. Markham moved with his wife and family to New York in 1900 and continued to write as well as becoming very active in social reform movements, which at the time made him very controversial.

In the ensuing years he continued to write poems, but only one other could be considered as successful as “The Man With The Hoe.”

He was commissioned by the Union League Club of New York to write a poem that was presented at the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. It resulted in “Lincoln the Man of the People” and was generally considered to be the greatest poem ever written about the emancipator and took a back seat only to Markham’s poem, “The Man With The Hoe,” in popularity.

The 1930s were the beginning of the end for the poet, who found the rigors of his schedule just too demanding. In 1937, legal proceedings were brought against Markham, who was considered too befuddled to conduct his own financial affairs. The man whose poetry often charmed the nation could not find the words necessary to convince a jury he was competent.

He left the courtroom a broken and tired man.

Charles Edwin Markham died March 7, 1940, and his body was returned to California where he was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles.