Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Notorious Romargi Clan

Three years after gold was discovered in California, John and Jane Romargi, Italian gypsies from Florida, appeared in Goodyear’s Bar. They moved onto the top of the mountain, and kept what was known as “Floridian House”. Later they moved further on and built a house and barroom that took on the name of Nigger Tent, in a location that was previously settled by a black man who had set up a blacksmith shop under a tent.

John Romargi is described in an early newspaper as of “slim build, wizened face, and a most villainous countenance-a hardened criminal”. Jane Romargi was described as large and fleshy, showing her Italian gypsy blood. She was said to have had a smooth, oily manner, wheedling her customers. The two Romargis were alleged to have been genuinely wicked persons, extending their activities over three decades.

The couple had two children, a son, James, a daughter Jane. James was arrested twice for murder, but was not convicted.

Jane, the daughter, married a man name Hutchins. They had a son who was christened Algie D. Romargi. The daughter died early and Hutchins stayed on for a while, but there was constant quarreling. The story was told that he fired four shots into his mother-in-law and she carried the bullets in her body the rest of her life. She had attacked him with a knife. Later, Hutchins quietly disappeared-no one seemed to know where, or cared.

During these earlier years, everyone passing by was expected to stop and patronize their bar. Indeed they found it safer to do so. If Madam Romargi was not pleased with anyone, she would take a shot at him-a “gentle” reminder to do better by them.

Stage robberies and holdups became more frequent. Algie was old enough now to do his share in the business. The Romargi’ decided a barmaid would help increase business, so they hired a handsome young woman from Nevada City. She went by the name of “Spider Bite”. They did not conceal anything from this girl and she soon went on to Downieville, probably for her own safety.

Wells Fargo Express had charge of shipments of gold from the miners in the vicinity, and of the money sent in for the miners’ payroll. These were times when stage robberies were apt to occur. But time was running out for the Romargis. Wells Fargo and Co., the heaviest losers by holdups and robberies, sent their detective, Captain Charles Aull, to investigate.

After a stage robbery on the La Porte Road, Captain Aull learned an ex-convict, Jack Brown, alias O’Neill, had been stopping at the Romagis. Aull found, too, that “Spider Bite” was living in Downieville. She was reluctant to talk about the doings at the Romagis, but on being reassured of protection, she told what she knew. Now it was alleged to be clear that the crimes originated there, and that Algie Romargi was the main culprit.

Algie was arrested and tried in the Superior Court before Judge Howe in Downieville. “Spider Bite” was the chief witness for the prosecution and told an amazing story. Algie was convicted and sent to Folsom.

Eventually, John Romargi was found dead at 72 years old. Jane suffered acute blood poisoning from a wound on the back of her hand. She died at the age of 78 years. The notorious Romargi clan and Nigger tent came to an end.
Discarded by the Romargi's ?


  1. I'm shocked! Wasn't it REALLY called Negro or African American Tent?

  2. Great piece of history Rick. The gold camps attracted a variety of people , some to make their fortunes preying on the unsuspecting miners. MAX