The second installment of the George Hardy and Hardy Ranch story talks of his establishing the first schoolhouse in Downieville, his somewhat volatile temper and a shooting that landed Hardy in jail. The following is an excerpt from historian Katie Willmarth Green’s book, Like a Leaf Upon the Current Cast.
George and Mahala Hardy were eager to have their numerous surviving children educated well, and thus George led the movement to raise a subscription to construct the first schoolhouse in Downieville in 1856. This accomplished, he improved the trail covering the mile from Hardy Ranch into town so they could reach school, markets, church and the like without too much effort. The family commitment to education was manifested in their daughter, Mary, who from age seventeen until she married, served as a teacher in Sattley, Sierra City and Morristown (where she met her future husband, miner Joseph Dryden Alexander) and Meadow Lake in Nevada County.
The Hardys sold the big upper ranch to George Jenkins in 1864 and bought a smaller parcel at the home belonging to Q.A. Clements down along the river. Clements had terraced this piece and George Hardy either inherited the trees or himself planted apples – Miss Belle cites old varieties like permains, northern spies, and sheep noses – and peaches, berries and, of course, vegetables. They also sold butter from their milk cow and kept a rather aggressive strain of Italian bees to pollinate and for honey. An abandoned mine tunnel near the boundary of the Jenkins Ranch was used for storing crocks of butter and jars of milk in summer. It was in this second house that Belle Alexander and her older brother were both born, Mary (Hardy) and Joseph Alexander having joined the population exodus from “Over North” to live with her parents for a few years after they were married.
Years later, Belle enthused about her grandparents’ house, which she dearly loved, recounting how the children would spend hours looking out on the passing scene from the kitchen windows. By this time the Yuba Gap Wagon Road was built closer down to the river, replacing the trail up on the ridge. She remembered watching “a line of Chinamen going down the road in single file – no matter how wide the thoroughfare they never traveled abreast – each with a pole across his shoulder with a pack made of straps at either end.”
When the river rose in winter, how exciting it was to see the big saw logs floating down the river, “rising and dipping with the force of the current”. The droves of beef cattle fascinated her and the freight teams “were a never ending delight with twelve or fourteen horses drawing two large wagons with canvas covers stretched over and around. On the first six horses were rows of bells arranged on a curved rod on the harness of each horse. These served as a signal to approaching vehicles at there were few wide places on the road where wagons could pass.
It was the river-front that caused George Hardy to come a-cropper. While he sounds, at first blush, like a model citizen, his good nature definitely had its limits. On May Day, 1873, when he should have been dancing about the maypole with the school children of Downieville on their annual picnic to the Flat, George took up his pistol instead and shot a man. His antagonist was a French miner who was called variously Capt. La Chaze, Caze, or Cazz. (Foreign spellings were the downfall of editors.)
The two men had been at odds for years, The Messenger stated, quarreling over a piece of mining ground along the river which each thought he had rights to. On the day in question, the altercation escalated to the point that when Case refused to leave the disputed claim, Hardy went home and fetched his pistol. Upon his return, Caze began to hurl stones at Hardy. Some of the school children, who not only witnessed the disgraceful display but were warned away from the scene by the deranged participants so they could continue their quarrel unimpeded, claimed that both men were tossing boulders at each other.
Can’t you just see it? Hardy, who stoutly denied throwing rocks, said that after Caze had aimed about four stones in his direction, he shot at the miscreant. Caze was struck, a physician was summoned to attend to his wounds, after which Hardy went to town to deliver himself up to the Sheriff. “The Court held Hardy to answer, fixing his bail at $4,000,” said the paper. Following issues of the newspaper printed charges and countercharges from friends of both parties. Captain Caze recovered.
At first I concluded that the occurrence was out of character for the estimable Mr. Hardy, that every person can be pushed beyond his or her limits of endurance at some time in life. However, the very same issue of The Messenger contains an article entitled ‘The Devil in the Church’, telling of a disagreement between an inebriated black barber, Albert Callis, and George Hardy, over a hat. (Callis, you will recall, was a member of Major Downie’s original mining party that slithered down Secret Ravine in 1849 and was with him again at Breyfogle Flat in 1850 or ’51.) The upshot was that “a cane in the hand of Mr. Hardy came in violent contact with the occiput of said Callis, causing the blood to flow quite freely.” One may then wonder if Hardy did not indeed possess an ungovernable temper, a dark side no one speaks about lest it stain the memory of his more praiseworthy deeds.
His granddaughter, Belle, did write that George was strict and wanted to be obeyed instantly upon giving an order. He “was a stern man and we stood greatly in awe of him – at least I did – tho’ he was very kind to us. He always carried a stick of licorice in his pocket. These sticks were about 6 inches long and flattened at one end. It was hard and brittle and he would break off small pieces and give them to us. I can also remember his taking my smallest sister on his knee and bounce her up and down as he sang to her, most of his songs being ones he had known when a boy in England. One was called “Van Dieman’s Land”.
George passed to his judgement, whatever it was, in July of 1900. After his death, his loyal wife, Mahala Reed Hardy, lived with her children by turns. She died in the winter of 1902 at the home of her daughter, Amy Eldora Blatchley, in the Sierra Valley having reached her 83rd years. Only mentioning that she was “an old and highly respected resident of the county,” the paper does her a disservice by skimping on her true pioneer status and by glossing over details of her fine personal attributes. She was married to George Hardy for about sixty years, and maybe the editor delicately eschewed belaboring the point that a long marriage to a volatile man was accomplishment enough. She had six living children at her death.