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American FolkloreAMERICAN LORE & LEGENDS

Hunger Valley

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By Charles M. Skinner in 1896

 


San Pablo Bay, CaliforniaEast of San Francisco is a narrow valley opening to the bay of San Pablo. In spite of its pleasant situation and fruitful possibilities, it had no inhabitants until 1820, when Miguel Zamacona and his wife Emilia strayed into it, while on a journey, and, being delighted with its scenery, determined to make it their home. In playful mockery of its abundance they gave to it the name El Hambre [Hunger] valley.

 

After some weeks of such hardship as comes to a Mexican from work, Miguel had built an adobe cabin and got a garden started, while he caught a fish or shot a deer now and then, and they got on pretty well. At last it became necessary that he should go to Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was then called, for goods.

 

His burros were fat and strong, and there should be no danger. Emilia cried at being left behind, but the garden had to be tended, and he was to be back in exactly three weeks.

She waited for twenty-two days; then, her anxiety becoming unendurable, she packed an outfit on a burro and started on the trail. From time to time she called his name, and "Miguel!" echoed sweetly from hills and groves, but there was no other answer, save when an owl would hoot. Rolled in a blanket she slept on lupin boughs, but was off at peep of day again, calling--calling--high and clear among the solitudes.

Burros

Burros

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During the second day her burro gave a rasping bray, and a hee-haw answered from the bush. It was Miguel's burro. He had come at last! Leaping to her feet, in her impatience, she ran to meet him, and found him lying on the earth, staring silently at the sky. All that day she sat beside him, caressing his hand, talking, crying, bathing his face with water from the marsh--the poison marsh--and it was not until sunset that she could bring herself to admit that he was dead--had been dead for at least two days.

She put the blanket over him, weighted it with stones, and heaped reeds upon it; then she started for home. A wandering trader heard her story, but years elapsed before any other settler entered Hunger valley. They found her skeleton then in the weedy garden. The adobe stands tenantless in the new village of Martinez, and the people have so often heard that the ghosts of the Zamaconas haunt the place that they have begun to disbelieve it.

 

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September, 2016.

 

 

About the Author:  Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the complete nine volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in 1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works, which are now in the public domain.

 

 

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