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Madame Holt

Among early-day Jacksonville's host of colorful characters, Madame Jeanne DeRoboam Holt loomed large.

Never mind that she was a diminutive woman from Bordeaux, France.

A wine aficionado who also enjoyed her snuff, she had a powerful personality that left an indelible mark on the town, as well as on a U.S. president.

She ran the Franco-American hotel — which doubled as a saloon and gambling hall — with her first husband, an Italian named Charles Langier. After he died, she married Irishman John Guilfoyle in 1865; he died seven years later. Within 18 months, she wed an Englishman named George Holt, a bricklayer and hotelier. At her urging, he built the grand, two-story, brick U.S. Hotel.

As a businesswoman, she took no prisoners.

In 1867, the Oregon Sentinel newspaper in Jacksonville reported a tiff between Madame Holt and an Applegate Valley farmer named Thomas Davis.

His beef was that he had to wait six months to receive his payment after selling her 300 pounds of butter.

What's more, she paid only $100, which was $17 less than the agreed price, and she paid in "greenbacks" instead of the customary gold coin of the day, he wrote to the paper.

"I would advise one to look out for her, 'for she won't do,' " he warned.

Holt wrote the paper that the "dirty butter" was rancid and had disgusted her customers.

"You promised fresh butter — not rancid and old. So I gave you greenbacks — go sell them for gold," she concluded.

On Oct. 1, 1880, some very special guests arrived at the U.S. Hotel: President Rutherford B. Hayes, first lady Lucy Hayes, Gen. William T. Sherman and the president's physician and his wife.

Madame Holt supplied the presidential entourage with special food and furnishing in their rooms. The next morning she presented them with a $150 bill; the poshest hotels in the region charged no more than $6 a day per person, according to the June 2000 issue of the Southern Oregon Heritage magazine published by the Southern Oregon Historical Society.

"Madame, we did not want to purchase the hotel; all we wanted to do was stay in it," Hayes reportedly said.

The president's secretary handed Madame Holt $25 in gold coin.

"She may have her faults, but lack of generosity was not among them," a Democratic Times obituary said on April 18, 1884, after Madame Holt died at age 63, "and many a hungry wayfarer who has partaken of her bounty still lives to remember her hospitality."

Although no longer a hotel, the U.S. Hotel building still stands at the corner of Third and California streets.

Madame Holt