Portrait of an Old Time Teamster

Editor’s note: Mary Matzek did this article in the 80’s and included some great photos that apparently the family had provided, because I’ve not been able to locate the same photos from other sources. The photos as published in the Enterprise don’t reproduce well enough for me to use them here. However, the story can stand on it’s own. I’ve included it as a sub-section of the Raggio Mill because much of Mr. Schachten’s work was done for the Raggio Mill. I suspect that if you look at the photos we have in the Raggio Mill section, you might well see Joe Schachten at work. I’ve not tried to do that to any extent, but one of the photos there looks very much like one in the Schachten story in the Enterprise. My admiration for Mary’s ability to find a story and tell it so very well is unbounded except by my jealousy. 

Portrait of An Old Time Teamster

By Mary Matzek

                  Glenn Schachten of Murphys remembers when people really looked up to the teamsters of the area. Theirs was a difficult job “… and it was something to really be proud of,” says Glenn, “a teamster commanded a lot of respect.”

Glenn recently celebrated his 80th birthday and yet, like it was only yesterday, he can still see his father rolling into Murphys with his fourteen-mule team lathered and dusty at the end of a long day’s work.

“I’d run out to meet him and he’d throw me on behind him over the lead horse and I’d ride with him the rest of the way to the barn.”

Glenn’s father, Joe Schachten, probably learned his teaming skills from his own father, Antone Schachten, who settled on several hundred acres near Double Springs Road in 1860. Antone built a two story boarding house to accommodate the teamsters and travelers that plied the road to gold country. Antone’s wife, Lena, held down the boarding house and raised the family while Antone started a freight line from Stockton via Valley Springs to drop-off points in the gold country. Much of what he hauled was mining equipment and food.

As a young man, Joe hauled freight from Milton up the Big Trees Road and over the pass to Silver Mountain. The gold country attracted opportunists that wanted to get rich without working and robberies weren’t uncommon on that road and the deeds of Joaquin Murietta, Black Bart and others were still fresh in mind. No teamster went into that line of work without being fully aware of the dangers and hard work involved.

“My father was never robbed that I know of,” said Glenn, “but he did have an attempt made on his load. He was put up for the night in a cabin where he kept his team at night and someone tried to break in. The guy found a rifle in his face and he left. My dad wouldn’t have shot him though, I don’t think,” says Glenn.

But Joe was an excellent shot. In the 1880’s before he was married, he would join the men of the Murphys area in the turkey shoots that were held down by the creek about where the park is now.

“Their target was a white circle nailed to a board. He could hit the nail band drive the nail out every time. The target would fall to the ground. They finally barred him from the turkey shoots because he’d always win the turkey.”

Joe Schachten eventually switched to hauling logs and lumber almost always using a double wagon and the twelve-mule-team with two lead horses. The logs and lumber were as necessary to mining as a shovel and the heavy logs were the hardest to load and haul. The dust was a constant aggravation for a teamster as well as the townspeople and Glenn remembers when the dust would get too thick the townspeople would dam up the creek and divert it to run down Main Street in Murphys to settle the awful stuff down. Glenn knows that his father, Joe Schachten was an excellent teamster because others have said so.

“He wasn’t the only one; there were many of them, Amile Lombardi, Charlie Williams, Deitz, and Asbury. They created a lot of excitement when they came riding into town. Some of them carried these big blacksnake whips and they’d snap those whips. My father never used a whip. He just talked to his animals. They were well trained.

“These men made mining possible. The mines and the flumes had to have lumber and my dad hauled one and one half million board feet of lumber himself to make the thirteen mile flume down at Camp Nine. It took a certain knack to control those animals with nothing but a jerk on the line. It was two jerks left and a steady pull for a right turn. They always kept those big heavy horses called wheelers, one saddled for the teamster, next to the wheels to move that heavy tongue. A single chain ran down the middle of the twelve mules that made up the fourteen animal team. When going down that windy road to Camp Nine, you had to be careful that the second wagon didn’t go off the edge on a sharp turn. When he got to a certain point in the turn, he’d holler and the mules on the outside knew to jump the center chain. Once you got a heavily loaded wagon going downhill, there was no stopping. The brakes they had on those things didn’t hold. I know my dad would chain a board to the back wheels and the wagon would skid all the way down hill for a brake. If he didn’t the heavy wagon would run right over the team.”

In 1888, Joe Schachten formed a partnership with John, Ernest and Richard Raggio. The Raggio Brothers secured a contract for logs to be delivered to the sheep Ranch Mine and Raggio’s logged from the Miller place next to the present day Red Apple. In a couple of years the Raggio Brothers were supplying all of the logs for the Utica and Lightner mines in Angels Camp. Securing the timber was the key to any logging operation, of course and timberlands were in demand so the Raggio Brothers worked out a system with their men, according to a manuscript written by Lester Raggio before his death.

The Raggios asked their workers to take up timber claims and homesteads. The Raggios furnished the money required to “prove up on them.” They paid fifty dollars to each man for the timber rights and homesteads plus a free trip to Sacramento to sign the papers. A homesteader was required to build a cabin and they were supposed to live in the cabin for six months of the year. The Raggios built rudimentary cabins on each piece using poles for frame work and hand cut cedar shakes for the roofs. They didn’t bother with a floor. They were adequate for summer shelter but the log peelers also used them in the wintertime.

These claims ran from the top of the canyon below the Forester place, up the San Domingo Canyon and over to Cowell Creek. With the worker’s claims, homesteads and a few strategic land purchases, the Raggios acquired 5,000 acres, of timberland that kept them working for years. His camp and animal barn which took care of fourteen animals, plus a blacksmith shop, four dwelling houses, a flock of cabins and other barns were built at the top of the canyon. He built the road into the place with a one horse slip scraper, pick and shovel and wheelbarrow. He kept six-fourteen animal teams working bringing logs to Angels Camp. The Lester Ragio manuscript also described his best teamster, Joe Schahten.

“Of all teamsters Raggio Brothers hired, or long line skinners as they were called, Joe Schachten was the outstanding one. At the end of the season, he delivered more logs to the mines than any other. The roads were narrow, the turns sharp. Dust a foot deep in summer. Joe Schachten ate plenty of it as the team moved, the mules and horses kicked up clouds of it. Riding the rear wheeler and braking the front wagon at times you could not see(your own) stock ahead. In the horse and buggy days the teamster was looked up to as somebody. It was quite a feat to control fourteen animals with a jerk line attached to the rear wheeler or saddle horse and running to the lead animal which had to be a well trained, noble animal and with a noble animal on the off lead as his mate. They never let their stretcher or pulling chain touch the ground. (They were) In the collar all day setting the pace for the ones behind to follow. Sam a black horse, Flora a chestnut mare were the greatest pair of leaders of the Big Tree Road. My father (John Raggio) said there was never a better pair. A steady pull on the jerk line, the leader knew he was to go to the left. The teamster went to work as soon as the roads were dry enough to support the loads and until the rains came in the fall. July 4th and 5th were the only days off. A teamster day started at three in the morning. Went to the barn, fed his horses grain, put some fresh hay in the manger with a hand lantern for a light. The next was to throw the harness on the animals, fourteen of them.  Some mules, as the saying goes, would kick the hat off your head. All the years Joe Schachten was around stock for Raggio Brothers I never heard him being kicked by one. All he had to do, (was) speak to them. He was kind to them. Never abused them. They would put the last ounce of strength they had in a hard pull for him. He always got there with the load. After harnessing them he went to breakfast and after they were led to the watering trough to get their drink, and (they) were hooked to the wagons. They were on the road about six o’clock. They got back about six o’clock in the evening. Caring for their teams after supper, I would say about fifteen hours a day. For eighty dollars a month and board, Sunday included. They were hard days. But I would say they were good old days.

“Joe Schachten delivered the first load of round timbers for Ragio Brothers to the mine in Angels Camp in 1889 and the last one in 1910. The teams were kept on the Big Tree Road till 1917 hauling lumber. Trucks took over after that.

“Amile Lombardi and Charley Williams were long line skinners on the Big Tree Road. They retired at Murphys. Both have passed away. I do not know of a teamster left that drove on the Big Tree Road for Raggio Brothers.”

There are none left to tell the story and we at The Enterprise are thankful  to Glenn Schachten, who so vividly remembers his dad and Maisie Schachten, Glenn’s wife, who wrote out the Schachten family history and also supplied us with Lester Raggio’s manuscript with its wonderful portrait of the hard working men and animals of the old days on Big Tree Road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *