At the 2017 Banjo Gathering, CW Bayer presented the wild history of banjos out west. His book The Strychnine Banjo, follows the accounts of Charlet Roades and Jake Wallace's exploits from the 1850s to about 1910. Below is an except, describing Jake Wallace playing banjo to accompany Lotta Crabtree in Virginia City in 1863.
During 1862 and early 1863, Jake Wallace played with some of the major San Francisco minstrels stars at McGuire’s Opera House and the Eureka Music Hall. During the summer of 1863, in Virginia City at the Virginia Melodeon on C Street, he accompanied Lotta Crabtree as she sang a Mart Taylor lyric, “Bound for the Land of Washoe:"
Bound For The Land Of Washoe (Words: probably Mart Taylor, 1863)
Founded in 1859 and the site of a huge gold and silver lode, Virginia City teemed with young men and was a wild place. One night a local fireman, Louis La Page, shot out the footlights as the performers ran out the back of the stage. Then, one of the stagehands stole all their instruments:
"Thief Arrested—The Standard of this morning says that through the vigilance and exertions of officer George Downey, one of the numerous marauders who infest the city has been brought to justice. A night or two ago there was stolen from the minstrel troupe at the Melodeon, a valuable banjo, a violin and a pair of bones. Suspicion was fastened upon a man named Hart who has been about the theater for some time doing various kinds of work. The affair was placed in the hands of officer Downey. He began yesterday by searching the person of the culprit, and found upon him the thimble of a banjo. “On this hint,” he not only spoke, but acted, and put the man in the Station House on suspicion of being the thief. After remaining in “durance vile” for a couple of hours, Hart confessed that he had stolen all the articles—told where they were hidden, and accompanied Mr. Downey to the spot. The banjo was found concealed in the mouth of the Hazel Green tunnel, near the Ophir mine, and the violin and bones were discovered in an old shed, near the Central workers, under a pile of charcoal. The young man is now incarcerated in the Station House, awaiting his trial. We are informed he is respectable connected in California. Officer Downey deserves great credit for his sagacity in managing the whole affair."
Apparently, the thief also stole Lotta’s breast pin. She recovered it two months later when she returned for a dance competition. Apparently, remaining in the area after their gig, Wallace appears to have been present for a gunfight between Dick Paddock and Farmer Peel.
“…she took the role of Tartarine in The Seven Sisters...full-flowered antics of Tartarine in blackface with minstrel songs, banjo numbers, breakdowns, jigs, horn-pipes, reels, her lesser sisters joining in the chorus and final step-dances as in a walk-around. As Lotta played it, The Seven Sisters was nothing less than a female minstrel show verging upon melodrama by sudden shifts of startling scenery and action...”
"Gentlemen, said Mr. Wallace after taking a pull at the elixir bottle. A few years ago important business called me to Virginia City, and having the best horse in the country I drove over. Well this horse of mine was tough bitted, and he was so fast that I had to guide him by electricity, had to have wire lines and keep a battery in the buggy all the time in order to stop him. I left Meadow Creek for Virginia City in the face of one of the worse rain storms we ever had on the Pacific Coast. The wind blew ninety miles an hour, rain fell in sheets and hail stones as large as ostrich eggs fell. I drove in front of that hurricane for over an hour, I could lean forward and let the sun shine on me, and on leaning backward the rain and hail would nearly bury me. When the storm would let up the horse would do the same and when it gained an inch on me I would touch the button and away we went. Since my childhood I have been known as truthful, and was never known to tell a lie. I don’t ask you to believe me, but I tell you truthfully that when I arrived in Virginia City my linen duster was as dry as a codfish, not a drop of rain on the seat, while the wagon box back of the seat was level full of hail-stones."
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