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Adopted dad inspires pair of plaques

She marked her love and memories with two plaques, 21 miles apart.

Eight-year-old Mae Helene Bacon Boggs came west from Missouri with her widowed mother in 1871. They lived with Mae's bachelor uncle, Williamson Lyncoya Smith.

Mae adored Smith and he quickly became her hero, the father she'd hardly known.

By the time the fatherless family arrived, Smith already had lived in California for more than 20 years. He had left Missouri in the spring of 1850 and rode into the Hangtown mining camp on his 20th birthday, Aug. 6, 1850.

After following all the other get-rich-quick young men up the Sacramento River, through the Redding diggings and on to the Trinity River country, he finally realized gold mining wasn't for him.

He became a packer, loading horses and mules with freight and crossing over the Siskiyou Mountains into Oregon. In 1854, he is said to have carried the first mail by horseback between Jacksonville and Canyon City.

With the formation of the California Stage Co. in late 1853, regular stagecoach service began between Sacramento and Yreka. Smith signed on as a driver, beginning a career that would last until the railroad was completed from Sacramento to Portland in 1887.

Early on, Smith was appointed division road superintendent of what had become the Oregon-California Stage Co. He was in charge of everything from Shasta City, Calif., to Jacksonville.

Mae Bacon's life with Smith was full of exciting adventures. She met the tough men who drove the coaches and sometimes even traveled the line with her adopted father.

"My playhouse was a Concord coach," she would tell her friends, and that's what she named her book. Published in 1942, the book is packed with more than 780 pages of news stories and documents, telling the story of the stage line and the people she had grown to love in Shasta County. She said it was a personal tribute to Williamson L. Smith.

Mae married a wealthy lumberman named Angus Boggs in 1899 and moved to San Francisco, but her thoughts were never far from her Shasta City home and the father figure she loved.

Smith died in 1902 and Mae spent the next 61 years preserving his memory and the places they both cared so much about.

On the centennial of Smith's birth, Aug. 6, 1930, Mae unveiled a plaque she had commissioned alongside Highway 99 near Bass Hill, a favorite place for stagecoach robberies.

The plaque begins with a dedication to Smith and then remembers all the men who had driven the stage.

"In loving memory to these pioneers who 'held the ribbons' but have turned the bend in this road." Below, names of 144 men who drove coaches for the stage line are listed, including two of Mae's brothers.

A likeness of Smith and his brief biography are molded into the bronze, flanked by a miniature stagecoach and team racing toward him.

One year later, on June 8, 1931, an exact replica of the plaque was mounted on a stone in the town of Shasta, the home Mae remembered as "the Queen City of the North."

In 1963, six months after her 100th birthday, Mae Boggs took her last turn around the bend in the road.

With any kind of luck, her adopted father was waiting nearby.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

Honoring her adopted father and the 144 other men who drove stagecoaches in Oregon and California, Mae Helene Bacon Boggs erected two identical plaques to their memory, including this one in Shasta City, Calif. - Bill Miller