Whistling Billy and the The Hanging Tree

Whistling Billy is one of the most noticeable relics from Coulterville’s mining days. The eight-ton Porter Locomotive’s final stop was beneath the branches of the town’s old hanging tree. This little steam engine was shipped around the Horn and came to Coulterville in 1897 by mule team. Purchased by the Merced Gold Mining Company for $3,500, Billy ran on thirty-inch gauge track and was capable of hauling fifteen ore cars, each weighing five tons when full. Its four-mile route ran from the Mary Harrison Mine to the “Forty-Stamper” located at Black Creek. It was a steep and twisting climb, for which it earned the title, “Crookedest Railway in the World.” At one point where the track crossed Maxwells Creek, the train was fifty feet high on a wooden trestle.

The Hanging Tree which now shades Whistling Billy rather than the dangling corpse of some badman swinging in the breeze, is a giant gnarly oak which the old-timers insist was once the town’s official hanging tree. Of the many hangings this noble tree has supported, one of the most dramatic occurred at daybreak on March 16 of 1856, when Leon Ruiz was hanged for the vicious robbery and murder of two Chinese miners at Bear Valley, from whose sluice he had stolen more than $600 in gold.

Return to Coulterville

HomeThe Virtual California Gold CountryBuy the Book(s)!