Last Act of Defiance

A dredger takes a stand

A story of better times, and bitter times

Story by John Oates and dedicated to RussAu of Missouri

In the 50's on the Merced River was the tiny town of Bagby at the Highway 49 crossing of the Merced River. It was a historical site as it was Benton Mills before it was given to General John Fremont, founder and conqueror of California. Fremont was led back in chains to Washington by Senator Benton for marrying his daughter.

The Bagby area included the Specimen group of mines, the largest producer in Motherlode history. We had a great house on the river. It was a great place for us 6 kids with a general store and a 5 room motel. In the 50's there were still eight houses in Bagby. We fished, played and panned for gold to trade at the general store to pay for fishing gear, candy and ice cream.

Gold was so plentiful we'd use it in our slingshots because it would kill anything and easy to retrieve. It was a wonderful time to be a kid growing up in California. It was to me, just pure heaven.

Then the Feds showed up with a plan to build Lake McClure. They promised it wouldn't effect us. Then they came back and said our home and town would be blown up and burnt up to make way for the lake. Even though it was a historical site they said this was all for the public good. We were ordered to give up our home, our town and our houses so people in the cities could have unlimited water for their lawns. Then they told u "by the way we need your tunnel site and mill on Highway 49, but we'll pay for it."

More bullshit. We got $26.38 for 6.3 acres and all the equipment. But, they said it was for the public good. Then one night they snuck in and blew up the historic Rock House site, all for the public good.

In the 1980's the BLM invited all the miners from the Merced River claims to a meeting in town to supposedly discuss problems between the miners, BLM and the Forest Service. There had been some friction for a number of years. So we miners, all of us, went to town on the appointed day. While we were at the meeting the Forest Service moved in and bulldozed every miner home up and down the river with all the equipment. When the miners returned it was to just piles of trash.

Did you ever wonder how the Forest Service came up with the same scam in Siskiyou County in 1988? Where they moved in and bulldozed the miner's shacks. Same method of operation once again. It worked and the miners cleared out leaving the river open to a new type of cancer - the club claims.


Down on the Merced we miners sued and we got 10 cents on the dollar, but we won damn it. We still got kicked out so I guess in the long run we lost. Old issues of the California Mining Journal carried the story if you want to read more about it.

So in the mid-80's BLM came up with a proposal to designate the Merced River as a wild and scenic river! We thought this would be no problem because the Merced River met no criteria for designation. A highway runs the length of the river and millions of cars run up and down it every year going to and from Yosemite. The other side of the river has a railroad bed so we figured there was no chance of this becoming a wild and scenic river. If you're a miner you know a wild and scenic designation means no new claims can be filed and eventually all the old claims will be gone, so we were still concerned.

We did some research and felt a little better. The rules for wild and scenic were pretty clear. They'd have to move a road and a railroad and we couldn't see that happening.

Yeah, you guessed it, it became a wild and scenic river. When did rules matter to these people?

Well, the enviros couldn't let an event like this pass, and all the high up bootlickers, including the Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit and a legion of environmentalists descended on the river to have a raft trip, sandwiched in between a highway and a railroad to celebrate this "wild" river.

Like the conquering legions of Rome they descended on our conquered territory to celebrate this huge victory. What better way to celebrate a wild and scenic river than to put thousands of people, press and dignitaries in rafts and float next to a highway jammed with onlookers and security?

As you would expect you couldn't have a significant regime official floating down a river they just stole from the people without hundreds of enforcers. We had the secret service; BLM Cops; Forest Service Cops; FBI; State Cops and local cops. All of these mothers came down the road kicking us miners out of the water to provide clear sailing for this victory parade down the river. We couldn't have any miners to mar this flotilla.

So here comes this huge parade of dignitaries; press; cops; secret service and assorted bootlickers down the river hooting and hollering. Well us miners, about eleven of us, plus two of my sons, were sitting forlorn on the railroad bed, completely bummed out.

Some who know me may say I have a bit of a temper. I may have been known to be rash on a time or two (maybe three). Well, I was pretty pissed to tell the truth.


I took off down to the river and waded out to meet the victory float. Just wheen Babbit and the bootlickers got to within 50 feet. I truned around and pulled my wetsuit down, bent over and theold them they could "KISS MY EVERLOVING MOTHER****** ###."

Whoops, instant reaction from a bunch of under-employed rafting cops; secret service, FBI, NSA, NASA, NOAA and who the hell else knows.

I was drug to shore by dozens of screaming, ranting, foaming cops screaming they wanted to just shoot me on the spot and end my sorry ass. With guns drawn and cocked I had guns stuck in my mouth, ears, nose and eyes. I lost count.

All my mining buddies were laughing their asses off. The officer in charge came up and started yelling at the gestapo to put away their guns because by this time I'd become something of a media attraction, and this whole shoot people thing was best done in private.

There was a moments distratction as all the cops were sorting out who had jurisdiction over me when a few of my buddies took the opportunity to grab me by the wetsuit and hussle me over to the bed of a pickup truck. They threw a tarp over me and took off while the cops were still arguing.

You could hear the cops screaming and yelling "Where is he? Where is he?" As they shoved people out of the way looking for a lone miner in a wetsuit.

The next day the headline in the newspaper read "CELEBRATION ON MERCED RIVER MARRED BY MINERS."

Those of you who wonder why I don't trust "them" or what they say look at it from my perspective and experience. They lied and stole my hometown, the entire thing; they stole my family mine and they stole my river.

I'm still a thorn in their side and they are still taking, lying, restricing, cheating and violating the U.S. Constitution at every turn to achieve their goals. The only thing which stands between them is you and I. Hell, we're old, what do we have to lose?

I'll never get Bagby back, and perhaps we'll never get dredging back, but you all need to be prepared to drop them wetsuits and defy them. Better to defy them to just sit and watch the flotilla go by.