By Greg Trott/Staff Writer
The Reporter, Vacaville, CA 707.453.8145
Reprinted with permission
The dirt road wound like a coil through the Guinda Hills above the Capay Valley. On a wet day, a four-wheel drive vehicle would have a go of it on this dirt path.
Luckily, the day was dry and gorgeous.
"Just a little farther," said Bill Petty, 77, the guide. A little farther means about five miles by Guinda measurement. Driving through gates, pastures, washouts and nudging confused cows aside, five miles seemed more like 500.
Finally, the truck rolled to a stop on a grassy point overlooking the Capay Valley. It was a view worth the drive. Cache Creek flowed down below, intersecting almond and walnut orchards. The roofs of farmhouses sat like dice that had been rolled on the green of the valley floor. Is this heaven?
"Here it is," said Petty, getting out of the SUV and walking to a small, wire-fenced area.
It wasn't much. Inside the fencing were a few headstones and rocks. Nothing else. This was all that was left of a small community that thrived just a 100 years ago. This little piece of loneliness was called The Summit by some and a more derogatory name by others. That name included a racial slur indicating that it was a "heaven" for blacks.
Why? Good question.
Ask around and you'll get different answers. Some thought it was called that because of this small cemetery where black homesteaders were buried; others suggest that it was what movie theater balconies were called back when blacks were not allowed to sit on the main floor.
Petty knows different.
Petty is black. His relatives grew up in these hills perched above the tiny town of Guinda. His explanation of the now-derogatory name? "It's because they lived so good up here."
"They" are black families who moved to the hills above the Capay Valley in the 1890s to homestead. Green Berry Logan, who is buried in the small cemetery, was the first and most prominent black homesteader to arrive. He brought his family from Dunnigan. There was musician/barber Charles Simpson who moved here with his wife and daughter. There were other black families, too. Like the Hacketts, related to Petty by marriage, the Hemphill clan and the Longrus family.
They found the Guinda hills, at 1,200 feet, to be nirvana - a place where they could escape from oppression, own some land and make some money. These weren't urban dwellers. They came from the farmlands of Missouri and North Carolina. Their parents had been slaves. Logan, for instance, had a white father and black mother.
They were seeking paradise, and found it in this remote corner of Yolo County.
Yet it wasn't just black families in these hills attempting to eke out a living in land better fit for rattlesnakes than crops. There were white families, too. Black and white, they had one thing in common - they were poor. This would bind them forever.
Esparto's Alfred Hayes grew up in the Capay Valley. His grandfather, George Hayes, was one of the white men who homesteaded in The Summit next to Green Berry Logan.
Hayes, 82, said there was a reason blacks congregated in the hills. The place to grow crops was in the fertile Capay Valley that lay below them. But that land was already spoken for by white homesteaders.
"There was nothing they could afford in the valley, so they went to the hills. They didn't have whites telling them what to do up in the hills. But the white people who lived up there were just as poor as the black people. They didn't have nothing but their hands to work with."
For $1 an acre, most of the homesteaders bought plots of about 160 acres. They helped each other on their farms, teaming up to build homes, cut wood, plant orchards, dig wells and build a school (Summit School) for their kids.
Yet now there is barely a reminder of The Summit. There are a few old boards where a cabin stood. Charlie Simpson's fig trees still stand scattered, dying, on his homestead. And, yes, there's this old cemetery, barely worth a mention.
"That there is Green Berry Logan's grave," Petty pointed out. A soft breeze bent the weeds around the headstone.
A few other Logan family members are buried here, too. Simpson was also laid to rest in the Logan plot. His wife was a Logan. He has no headstone. Just a few rocks mark his sunken grave.
Born in 1847, Logan came to the Capay Valley in 1891 with his wife, Mary Dix, a Shasta Indian. With them were four children, two from his first marriage that ended in divorce.
Mary and Green Berry had a son named Bill. When Green Berry died in 1905, Bill inherited much of the land. Hayes' father, Roy, was near the same age of Bill. They became fast friends.
"They (Logans) were good neighbors," Hayes remembered, "as good as any can have.
"Bill Logan, he and my dad (Roy) were just like brothers. In fact, my dad used to say that he was as good a brother as his own brothers."
"They got along out there," agreed Petty. "It was real cohesive."
"Our kids," said Hayes of his two daughters, Lynda and Judy, "called him Uncle Bill. Black and white - it didn't matter to us. He was just a good person."
When Bill Logan passed away in 1967, instead of leaving the land to family members who had all moved away, he deeded the Logan land to the Hayes family. There were, and still are, hard feelings on the Logan side.
Bill Logan, unmarried with no children, thought his family had deserted him. When he needed help, Roy Hayes and his family were always there.
Petty said he didn't see a problem with Bill Logan deeding the land to a white family. "Shoot," he said, "they were the ones helping out Bill Logan."
Eventually, as their children grew older and they made more money, The Summit settlers began to move down to the valley or to Woodland where their youngsters could go to high school. As families left the hill, the Summit School , where Green Berry Logan and George Hayes were successive district clerks, closed down in 1912.
Yet many of the Guinda Hills people didn't stray too far. For blacks and whites - it was their home.
Sure, there were problems, but they were quickly solved. Petty, whose family moved here in the 1930s from North Carolina, said that a white woman tried to stir up trouble at a community dance in the 1950s.
"She said that if any blacks showed up at the dance, the band wouldn't play. Well, Guinda constable Dick Bloom went to her and said, 'That's not going to happen. Don't come here and start this up. If they come, the band's going to play.' "
About the same time, Petty happened to be in a real estate office looking at a Yolo County topographical map when he noticed the old, disparaging name identifying the area above Guinda. He was upset and on a mission.
"I went to the county assessor's office," Petty recalled, "and I told them it was offensive to the black people. The next map they made didn't have it on there."
Angelo Stanton, who is related to the Logan family by marriage, moved his family to Guinda from Oakland in 1975. As a boy and a young man, Stanton had spent many of his summers in Guinda. He enjoyed the rural, friendly lifestyle of the Capay Valley so much that he left his job as teacher at McClymond High School to live in Guinda.
Now a preacher and drag racer, Stanton has no intention of ever leaving.
"You could almost say if America could be like this," Stanton said, "we wouldn't have any (race) problems. This is different here. I don't know how to explain it."
Maybe it can't be explained.
Thrust together 110 years ago, poor blacks and whites were looking for something to call their own. They found it in the Guinda hills. There are still 29 black families living in the area with white families, Stanton said.
"We (neighbors) kid each other that if they ever did a DNA test, we might be related," Stanton joked. "I lived in the Bay Area and I barely knew my neighbors. We were very cordial but we did our thing and they did their own thing. In the valley, I can't think of any home I haven't been in or anybody who hasn't been in my house. When you come here, you go back in time."
And to heaven.