The Spirit of Diggins

Happy Holiday! It’s been another year full of adventure, fun, tears, hiking, arguing, drinking, love, driving, dining, and more for us. #RTXIX is in the books (or more literally on this website). We jumped into our dream of some day living in SW Colorado with both feet after finding the perfect property there. We’ve all grown through another school year and shared the daily experiences that go along with that. We share enough about our lives here that I don’t think too much more of a recap is necessary. So instead, as a special treat for the Holiday season we wanted to share with you the full and wonderful story of El Dorado Diggins and the Spirit with which he has touched the world.

Molly shared the story of how we became acquainted with Mr. Diggins in the post she wrote while we were staying in the room named for him at the Ahwaunee hotel in Yosemite last summer, but we haven’t yet shared his own story. Although many details, and his original name, have been lost to history, it is known Mr. Diggins first arrived in California around 1880. He was probably about 20 years old and had traveled as a part of the wave of immigrants from France1 after hearing about the gold strike near Bodie, CA2.

Like many overly enthusiastic miners of the era, Diggins had little luck as a prospector. To support himself he took on a job as cook for the Standard Consolidated Mining Company3. He was known as a quick learner and excellent cook. It was also likely during this period when he adopted the name “El Dorado” to mark his own quest for gold in his adopted home4.

In Bodie, Diggins had the serendipitous opportunity to meet John Muir who was visiting to raise support and funds for the Sierra Club5. Muir found Diggins to have a “delightful optimism,” a refreshing, but rare, trait in the harsh West. Muir must also have been impressed with Bodie’s cooking since he recommended him for a position as a cook at the newly established Yosemite National Park6.

Diggins embraced the opportunity and blossomed in his new position preparing meals for park staff. He rejected the expectation that camp food would consist solely of the types of foods that were common to the frontier. Utilizing connections he’d made in Bodie, he was able to bring in seafood from the coast as well as a wide range of produce from Southern California and even as far as the Midwest. Diggins also experimented with cooking techniques from his home continent. One of his most successful dishes, a braised lamb osso buco is still frequently served in the park7.

The staff Diggins cooked for was deeply appreciative of his efforts and a tradition of offering him congratulations when his new dishes were especially successful was born. The word he suggested they use, felicité, was from his native French and had connotations of congratulations, but also surprise and pleasure8. When architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood traveled to Yosemite to prepare plans for the Ahwahnee Hotel9 he had the good fortune to meet and dine with Diggins. He was also taken by the spirit Diggins’ cooking and personalty imbued in the rest of the staff.

Upon the 1927 completion of the hotel, one of the crown jewels of the National Park System to this day, El Dorado Diggins was promoted to head chef of the main dining room. He continued to cook with an inventive passion as he delighted and surprised visitors to Yosemite. Visitors regularly thanked Diggins with cheers of “felicity”, a word now transferred to English thanks to the unmatched Spirit of Diggins.

Although Diggins passed away in 1930 he continues to be honored at the Ahnahwee. At the end of Prohibition in 1933 a private dining room was converted to a bar and given his name10. During a later renovation this same space was altered again to become the El Dorado Diggins suite. The suite is home to the only Jacuzzi tub in Yosemite11, as well as several other unique features that continue to be a source of happiness for its guests.

Felicty! May the unexpectedly apt happiness imbued in Spirit of Diggins be with you!

Footnotes

1 Tisserant, E. P. (2016, June 14). Rush to Gold: The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848–1854 by Malcolm J. Rohrbough (review). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/621009/summary.

2 Bodie: Gold Mine and Ghost Town: Museum and Tours. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/bodie/.

3 Guide to the Bodie Consolidated Mining Company Records, Guide to the Bodie Consolidated Mining Company Records1–45 (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/1080/files/fa_324_001.pdf

4 Cooper, D. J. (2013, January 14). El Dorado: The truth behind the myth. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20964114.

5 Wood, H. (n.d.). John Muir: A Brief Biography. Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/life/muir_biography.aspx.

6 Yosemite National Park established. (2009, November 24). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/yosemite-national-park-established.

7 The Ahwahnee Dinner Menu. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.travelyosemite.com/media/821933/dinner-menu-the-ahwahnee.pdf

8 felicity. (n.d.). Wiktionary. Retrieved from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/felicity

9 National Park Service: Biography (Gilbert Stanley Underwood). (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/sontag/underwood.htm.

10 Ahwahnee Hotel. (2019, November 18). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahwahnee_Hotel.

11 Ahwahnee Hotel map. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2019, from https://marydonahue.org/ahwahnee-hotel-map.

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