The Fifteen Mile House
But first, since Friday Fictioneers is all about fiction, I’ve asked Ula Grace if I could use the play she wrote about this house. For those who have followed my blog, they may remember that Ula was Tedbook’s Foreign Correspondent for many years. Now she is a student at Rutgers University (an honor student I might add… that’s what grandparents do) and in her living room, on their hearth, there is a ball and chain from Folsom Prison, she wanted to know all about the history. Here is the story she wrote for a creative writing class. I know it’s over 100 words, live with it…
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Prison Break… by Ula Grace
California, late 1880s. The barn at the Fifteen Mile House, not far from Folsom State Prison. A convict is attempting to saw through the chain holding the ball to the shackle around his ankle. He is wearing black and white prison stripes.
Whilhelmina Deterding walks into the barn. He doesn’t see her.
Convict: (muttering) Almost there, almost there…
Wilhelmina gasps and hides
Convict: (breaking through the metal) Finally!
He turns around and sees her
Convict: (still holding saw) Don’t scream. I won’t hurt you if you cooperate. I’m gonna need new clothes. You’re gonna find ‘em for me.
Wilhelmina: (pointing to the door of the tool shed) Th-there should be some clothes in there.
Convict: Go git ‘em for me.
Wilhelmina walks to the door of the shed. The convict follows behind. She reaches in and pulls out a pair of coveralls and a coat
Wilhelmina: (quietly) Are you from Folsom? How did you escape the chain gang?
Convict: (taking off his uniform) It’s better if you don’t know.
Wilhelmina averts her eyes as he strips and puts on the coveralls, leaving the striped uniform on the ground next to his shackle
Convict: I’m gonna leave now. Yer not to make a sound or a fuss til I do. Nor leave this barn til ten minutes after I leave, ya hear?
Wilhelmina: (to herself) What am I supposed to do with these prison rags…?
The Convict hears her as he leaves with the coat over his arm
Convict: (calling back) Make ‘em into a quilt or something!
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Well, Wilhelmina never did meet the prisoner in real life, but there really was one, and he did escape from Folsom Prison in the late 1800’s and cut off the chain attached to his leg to free him from the heavy ball in the barn at her ranch. He exchanged his striped uniform for a pair of coveralls and that supposedly made it’s way into a quilt she made.
The Fifteen Mile house was about 16 miles from Sacramento, California and was the second pony express stop from the city going east.
My Great-Great-Grandparents William and Wilhelmina Deterding came to this country from Germany in 1846, traveling across the plains in a covered wagon. They eventually established a ranch in 1857 near what is now the town of Folsom. They had 5 sons and 5 daughters and one of the daughters was my Great-Grandmother Matilda, she was born in that house. In addition to being a pony express stop, stage coaches would stop off there, travelers often staying overnight. Dances were held there too, judging by the ticket stubs we have.
A look at Wilhelmina and William in my sister Marja’s house today. In the center is a hair wreath she made in 1877. It would have been mine, but I made the mistake of wondering how much it might fetch on eBay within earshot of my mother.
We are fortunate to have an actual photograph of The Fifteen Mile House, and when I took a snap with my cell it took on an eerie appearance due to the reflection in the glass. “Perfect for Friday Fictioneers!”
Presently, across from this historical marker, a Costco stands in place of the old house.
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If you would like to read another story by a then 14 year old Ula Grace… Best Friends
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This week Rochelle choose my photo for the Friday Fictioneers writing prompt… always an honor. To read all the stories this old house prompted, click on the frog…