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Jeff Ackerman: Bar fight adds to Downieville lore

I have to hand it to Sierra County. They may be in the middle of nowhere, but they know how to party.

I got a call Monday from a guy who said the district attorney of that neighboring munic- ipality had been arrested following a bar fight in Downieville early Sunday morning … 12:30 to be exact.

Downieville, you’ll recall, is mostly known for being one of the first towns in the state to ever hang a woman. Her name was Juanita and she was tried, convicted and hanged from a bridge above the Yuba River all in one day.



They were efficient in those days and I’ll guess they didn’t want to spend too much time away from the saloon.

According to the caller, Sierra County’s top law enforcement official, Larry Allen, had been drinking inside the 150-or-so-year-old St. Charles Place saloon much of the evening and “was looking to pick a fight.” One thing led to another and a woman got caught in the middle of the fracas and was hurt, according to the caller. Allen’s friends got him out of there and into a motel, where he was reportedly discovered, according to the caller.




I called Allen, who took office as Sierra County’s 37th district attorney in 2003, at home (he leaves his home number on his office phone) and except to say he was at St. Charles Place at the time of the alleged incident, he had, “no comment.”

Sierra County Sheriff John Evans confirmed that a complaint had been filed, but that, “no arrests have been made.” He said the complaint is “under investigation.”

So you have a small-county sheriff investigating a small-county district attorney. Some not me, mind you – might suggest a classic carpet sweep.

I called St. Charles Place and a nice woman who answered said, “I wasn’t here, but I heard about it.” I don’t think bar fights at St. Charles Place in Downieville are rare, even when they involve a high-ranking county official. The woman said there was a big Clampers event over the weekend, which helped explain how alcohol might have been involved.

Clampers pretty much run Downieville. They have their own monument and everything. The organization was started in the Gold Rush days because some thought the Masonic Lodge and Odd Fellows were too “hoity-toity” for them. Lions and Kiwanians feel the same way about Rotarians today.

So far as I can tell, Clampers mostly just drink. In fact, one newspaper hack wrote that Clamper meetings were generally conducted in “libation emporiums” where they “reached stages of well-being, free from pain and distress.”

There’s a good chance District Attorney Allen had reached the stage of “well-being” and was “free from distress” up until the moment he felt like punching someone’s lights out. Many say that’s the difference between whisky and marijuana. Pot smokers would rather eat an Oreo than fight. And since marijuana is unofficially Sierra County’s No. 1 crop, there’s a good chance the Clampers and pot growers socialize at establishments like St. Charles Place.

I’m not sure if Allen is a Clamper, but I suspect he has a red shirt or vest somewhere in his closet. Clampers chose red as a “remembrance of the red union suits of old,” according to Clamper lore.

Sierra County has fewer than 4,000 residents, but it does have its own “Drug and Alcohol” department with a Downieville telephone extension.

Such incidents were common in Nevada. I remember one of the Silver State’s most popular politicians ever was former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, who got his leg blown off in Korea. They say Mike took his wooden leg off during a bar fight in some small Nevada mining town and clubbed his adversary over the head with it. He never had another drink. Mike was a friend of mine who was executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun when he died a few years ago.

Nevada’s current governor, Jim Gibbons, was reportedly shacked up with a former Playboy Bunny. He and his wife Dawn have filed for divorce and she’s been sleeping in the guest quarters of the governor’s 23-room mansion in Carson City. I know Jim and Dawn and can’t even believe what’s been happening since I last saw them.

I’m not making this up.

But I do appreciate color, especially in politics. And I tip my cap to Sierra County, if the latest from the Downieville bar scene is true. It’s good to see there is still some life left in government and that Downieville is still …well… Downieville.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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