Chief Louis Kelly

Treasure Hunting at the City Dump.


Bonnie Wayne McGuire


Mel loaded the last can of garbage into our old Dodge pickup; then climbed into the cab. "Anybody want to come along? We're going to the dump!" A couple of tow heads bobbed a response and our two young sons clamored into the truck. Funny as it seems...everyone enjoyed the ride to the Nevada City dump situated in some old hydraulic diggings at the edge of town.

Within a few minutes we left the paved street to the short, dusty stretch of road that led through the gates to the dump. Just ahead of us was the wide turn-around overlooking the diggings. Choking clouds of smoke hovered near the ground. A couple of other vehicles were parked close to the dump's edge and the drivers were unloading trash. To the left was a collection of old refrigerators and washing machines, while facing them on the right was the caretaker's weather beaten shack surrounded by odds and ends rescued from the dump. Further back was a chicken house. It's occupants running loose scratching and pecking between the fires that dotted the circle of the dumping area. Stray cats and an occasional dog searched the area for the scanty morsels that sustained them.

Mel turned the truck around and backed close to the edge of the incline. Then he climbed out and began dumping our cans. A huge white rooster (that looked like he was molting) protested while walking stiff legged nearby. We admired his size, and laughed that he must be the original barnyard buzzard Mel was always referring to. I glanced towards the old shack and waved to the old caretaker who sat in a rocking chair in the shade. He waved back and grinned toothlessly; then got up and slowly walked down to the dumping area where he began to rake the debris so that it would burn better.

Louie Kelly wore a dark hat to shade his head from the sun. It partially hid the deep lines that etched his fine Indian face. In this humble, degrading environment little did I, and others realize the vast heritage, goodness and wisdom possessed by this fine old   Indian Chief whose ancestors had roamed the peaks and valleys of the mother lode.

Not long after the city dump was closed (in 1974) in favor of the landfill several miles away, old Louie began failing physically. With the help of his friend Doris Foley, he took up residence in a local convalescent home in Grass Valley. My parents visited him while he was there, and even brought him up to their home on the Republic to visit them. The picture of mom, Louie and the dog Mike at the right was taken in 1978. During this period they suggested I visit him also, since I was interested in local history.

It was a nice Fall afternoon as I maneuvered my car into the parking lot of the convalescent home. The nurse at the desk told me I could find him at the end of the corridor. Louis was in a wheel chair looking for something in the night stand next to his bed....sort of humming to himself. After a few futile attempts to get his attention, I realized he was deaf. when he finally noticed me, his face lit up in the wide toothless smile that made his many visitors feel welcome. In a loud voice he explained his condition and handed me a writing pen and pad, which was his way of communication. His eyes strained at my writing, which isn't that good, and he told me he also had trouble seeing. Rummaging through the drawer, he came up with a magnifying glass.

This was my first experience conversing with someone who couldn't hear and had trouble seeing what I wrote. What Louie had to say was very interesting, so I decided to make our communication easier. Following my first visit I searched for a page magnifier with a light to give Louie. The Nevada City Western Auto proprietor very generously supplied one. During one of my visits I was able to fix Louie's television so his family could watch it while visiting with him. One day he handed me some goose feathers someone had given him, and asked if I'd make him an Indian headdress with them. He had many visitors who wanted to know the local Indian history. Most wanted a picture of him. The historic Indian headdress had fallen apart. I agreed to make it, although skeptical about my seamstress abilities. I found some Indian designed material and sat down to sew it onto the feathers. The sewing machine kept knotting the thread, so it needed some adjusting. Eventually, the task was completed. Louie was delighted and I took some pictures of him, because he said that he liked to give them to his visitors.

We talked about many things. His grandparents saw the first white people who came to this area, and how he learned to play the violin when he was young. I thought about something I wanted to ask Louie. One day, when our oldest son Mike was around four years old, he came running into the house excited about what he'd seen outside. Would we come and see. When we went outside and looked at the hill across the road, he seemed a little embarrassed. I asked what it was that he wanted us to see. He replied that he'd seen a big snow covered mountain with huge rocks at the bottom. Since the ridge and valley across the road produced echoes....and the last rays of the sun bathed the hill top with a golden hue just before dark, I wondered if it had been a special place for the Indians. Also the neighbors who lived at the foot of the hill on the former Bridges property found Indian grinding stones and many arrow heads.  So I asked Louie if he knew anything about the place. He was silent, and told me he'd think about it. The next time I visited him (Tues. 5/16/78) he told me that there was an Indian camp where the old barn on Bridges Lane now stands. "The Indians always used places where the sun shone all day for healing...They believed that the echo's were the voices of spirits, not your own." So little Mike had more or less "tuned in" to it's spiritual significance.

Louie told me about logging with oxen (left), and how wonderful they were. Some men whipped them to make them work, but he never did...because they would do almost anything for you if they were treated right. We discovered the same thing with our horses. It's sad that so many people don't realize these things. I've been meaning to write this story for many years, but finally got around to actually doing it. The purpose of it is to show that  often the greatest treasures on earth can be found in the most humble, unlikely places when least expected. That's what Chief Louis Kelly was for me.