In May 1885, a 24-year-old Englishman named John Parkinson arrived in Napa County. While here, until January 1889, Parkinson honed his carpentry skills and launched his career in architecture. He would eventually become a leading architect in Los Angeles. Later, he would write his autobiography that included his memories of Napa County, its people and his experiences here.
Although Parkinson worked hard, he played with equal enthusiasm. In his unpublished memoirs, Parkinson recorded his hunting experiences and antics he enjoyed with his Napa friends.
Parkinson began, “In the fall of 1885, Frank Chapman, Rockwell Chapman, Ed. Church and myself organized a hunting party. With double-shotguns and one hundred cartridges each, we started for Gordon Valley located in the mountains east of Napa Valley.” He added, “I had never fired a double-barreled shotgun and its was my first hunting trip.”
As he continued his story, apparently, neophyte Parkinson was not at a disadvantage. “We started up the trail through one of the canyons on the Napa side and found plenty of quail — thousands of them — and the party of four blazed away, but never a quail fell. Finally, I told the fellows I would try independently on a branch road, and soon a lot of quail arose. As I fired the gun, one quail dropped.”
He also noted, “One of the others shot a rabbit. That was the only game shot by the crowd in a two-days hunt.”
Parkinson added, “When we arrived at the (Gordon family) ranch with the quail and the rabbit, I claimed to be the best shot, having shot the quail, and told the fellows none of them could hit my hat. I threw it into the air and they all fired at it, but missed. On its dropping to the ground, Ed. Church put his gun into my hat and blew it to pieces.”
He continued, “The Gordon family, who owned the (east Napa County) valley, had a son named Frank, who was a cousin to the Chapmans.” Shortly after Church destroyed Parkinson’s hat, Frank Gordon escorted his guests out on another hunting expedition where he handed Parkinson and friends some humility. Parkinson wrote, “Frank Gordon then took us over the valley, carrying along his gun, and he brought down quite a number of quail.” But the Napa hunters returned to the Gordon homestead empty-handed.
Parkinson concluded his first hunting trip recollections with an amusing notation about their overnight experiences. “That night we all slept in the attic of the Gordons’ farm house. Church was quite a noisy sleeper and kept us awake by his snoring. Rockwell Chapman claimed he could see the rafters and roof rise and fall in unison with the snoring.”
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Many years later, Parkinson met another of his Napa buddies, a man he simply referred to as Dr. Mansfield, in the Sierras for an extended hunting trip. At its conclusion, Parkinson decided instead of immediately returning to Los Angeles, he would accompany Mansfield to Napa in order to visit more of his Napa friends. By that time, both men were sporting a new appearance, which they used to their advantage and amusement.
Parkinson elaborated, “We each had a crop of whiskers of about three weeks growth, had on overalls, slouch hats, and looked the part of miners perfectly.
“Bob Lamdin, another Napa boy, had a grocery store (on Main Street) near the bank of which Henry Brown is now the head. We walked into the grocery store, made ourselves known, and then thought we would try a joke on Henry.”
All three men walked into the bank together. Lamdin portrayed the role of the pretend miners’ escort and spokesman “to see if we could get a loan.” Parkinson added, “Henry did not recognize us.”
The story continued, “Bob told him we were a couple of miners who had struck a good gold prospect up in the hills and wanted a loan of about $100,000 dollars. Henry shrunk down about a foot in height and looked almost like a dwarf before Bob got through telling him what a good loan it would be. Finally, we had to laugh and Henry saw the joke.”
Parkinson added, regarding his friend and lifelong Napan, “Henry is a shrewd, safe banker and has been very successful.” Also, once he had recovered from the practical joke, Brown, “looks good for another 10 years, at least,” wrote Parkinson.
The Englishman recalled many other interesting Napa Valley memories as part of his autobiography. Some, or all, of these recollections may be featured in future columns.