Sloughhouse, Calif., June 6 — Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily routine of our lives that we neglect to realize that a good time doesn’t necessarily have to be an epic two-week journey across three states to be relaxing or revitalizing. Sometimes those comforts can be achieved by just a short little jaunt through the backyard countryside to visit some old haunts or new stomps. This was proven when our clan lit out for a day trip to blow off a little stink along old SR 16 East on the outskirts of Sacramento.
The colorful local history of the string of communities along the Jackson Highway and up Highway 49, made famous in dime novels of the 19th century, continue to struggle for survival. The romantic folklore of the rugged personalities who carved out an existence during the Victorian era continue to entertain us today and fuels the imagination as we hit the road looking for adventure. Cruising past the Davis Ranch produce stand for locally grown veggies and then up into the foothills to Mother Lode communities like Drytown, Amador, Sutter Creek and Jackson is the perfect way to spend the day with riding buddies from Sacramento.
One of our stops was the legendary Sloughhouse Inn and we found ourselves sucked into a place rich with history that time forgot. Originally populated by local Miwok Indians, settler and businessman Jared Dixon Sheldon made friends with the area tribe and built a house near Deer Creek, which was called a slough during that era. His place became a favorite hangout for travelers. Founded as a stage station and hotel in 1850, the Inn became a prominent stop for folks headed to the Amador area and the mines, as well as various gold rush cities in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Such fabled character names from history as Stanford, Sutter and Donner were said to have particularly enjoyed the rambunctious atmosphere of the Inn.
Just down the road is the modern day community of Rancho Murieta, named after favorite bad guy of the gold rush era Joaquin Murieta, who was said to have once been horsewhipped by Inn owner Sheldon.
The building burned down in 1890, but was rebuilt that same year and continued in operation throughout the decades and is now a registered historic landmark. The place was leased by a young couple a few years back who, apparently, didn’t take the responsibility of running such a historically significant building seriously and squandered a golden opportunity. Sloughhouse was closed in 2006, which really pissed a lot of bikers off since this was a favorite watering hole. The Inn sat vacant until last year when an out-of-state businessman decided to take a stab at hosting travelers and locals alike to the Sloughhouse ambiance and reopened the bar and restaurant. On weekends they offer live music. The day we stopped in, the staff was busily straightening the many black and white images that hang on the walls throughout the building. The family that owns the property insisted that the visual history remain in tact with the lease and the new owners were happy to oblige. Apparently the resident ghosts, however, want to make sure the new owners are paying attention.
“The place is haunted for sure, at least that’s what I think,” our bartender explains. “There were two deaths here back in the day; one was a child, the other was a murder right outside this back door. I believe they hung the guy. But there were so many really colorful characters that lived in this area. When we came in this morning, all the pictures were crooked. And I’ve heard the crashing around upstairs at night. It’s kind of spooky sometimes, but it’s also kind of cool. Not everyone here believes it’s haunted, but I do.
“You know, there’s a cemetery just up the road and there is a lot of cool history and it’s also haunted. My daughter just had her birthday party there. The people who live next to it came out and told about the history and about some of the things they have seen and it is definitely haunted. The kids all left as believers.” We were then sent across the parking lot to the beauty shop where they give us a key for entrance into the gated historic burial grounds where some 200 souls have been laid to rest, and we set off on our own ghost hunt.
The rickety cemetery is very rustic. Set atop a hill where cars zipping along Jackson Highway can be heard, it was peaceful as we poked around reading headstones—some more than 170 years old. Of course there are members of the Sheldon family, and fittingly the Inn’s original owner Jared is interred here. He passed after being shot in 1851 while battling with miners over damming up the river. Donner party family members are also resting here, as well as other historically prominent local families. There is a legend of the plots and some restoration efforts have been made.
Returning the key, we mosey back over to the bar and are treated to more homegrown lore when Joby tells us the Inn’s current locals are an eclectic group of colorful characters. From cowboys and ranchers to the golf course elites and all classes in between, the Inn continues to have a boisterous and diversified clientele. It even has its own mayor, a local rancher who’s known to show up in spurs. Last year he came by for a beer after breaking his arm while shearing sheep. We asked if the sheep ended up as mutton stew and he laughs. “No, she didn’t. As a matter of fact, he’s still got that one and he’s shearing her again since it’s shearing season right now.” Apparently time really does stand still out here. For our part, we had a great time cruising the foothills looking for apparitions while soaking up history and getting the hell out of the city. You should give it a try.
(This article Visiting Old Haunts was published in the July 2014 issue of Thunder Press, South edition.)