Calaveras Enterprise

The skirl that stopped the kill

The true story from which Glencoe, Calif., got its name

McDonalds around the world, come Feb. 13, will, albeit vicariously, once again return to Armadale Castle, their spiritual home on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The grand old castle, long since vacated but still standing as an architectural icon, remains to this day the embodiment of Scottish culture.

So, while some might see it as a highly unlikely proxy, nevertheless, come the weekend of Feb. 3 through 5, a weathered old American Legion Hall nestled in the heart of California’s Mother Lode will become a Clan Donald haven.

Hidden away in the outback of Calaveras County’s community of Glencoe, the quaint old veterans hall will become the Armadale Castle for McDonald faithful gathering from throughout the Pacific Southwest.

Jan Carpenter, a McDonald at birth and long term resident of Glencoe, once known to Calaveras operatives as “Mosquito Gulch,” sized up what will be the 41st annual Calaveras County Clan Donald Memorial gathering in Calaveras County. In her words, “It is an astonishing collaboration of history and tradition, exploring the ultimate limits of human kindness and the plundering depths of human brutality.”

It is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of human emotion! ALl of this is spun into a delightful renaissance of the lore of Scottish culture by the transformative skirl of the ever-present bagpiper.

It lays bare the vain arrogance of an insecure monarchy and restores family pride to the betrayed victims who offered their killers an almost angelic generosity and kindness.

The Clan Donald commemoration at Glencoe is a heart rendering eulogy to a saintly few, whose unselfish hospitality cost them their precious lives.

All that having been noted, the whole affair is an anthropological river of intrigue and redemption that flows through the very heart and soul of the Calaveras gold fields of yore. Following the uneasy coronation of William and Mary as kind and queen of England and Scotland, the crown offered indemnity to all Scottish clan chiefs who swore an oath of allegiance. The deadline for such swearing was set for Jan. 1, 1692.

A messenger arrived in Glencoe, Scotland, with the royal news just three days prior to the deadline.

Alexander, chief of the McDonald clan, journeyed to take the oath but was waylaid and held incommunicado for a full day by soldiers of the enemy Campbell clan. The waylay caused the well-meaning McDonalds to miss the deadline.

Informed of this faux pas, an enraged king’s secretary of state in Edinboro ordered that all McDonalds under 70 years of age be killed. On the very day the decree was issued, a deadly winter storm ensued. For the next 12 days, while the storm raged, the obliging McDonalds took soldiers from the loyalist Campbell clan, who were acting on behalf of King William III, into their homes, extending sheltering hospitality.

Feb. 13, 1692, on the 11th day the storm broke and the befriended Campbells wrathfully turned on their gracious but unsuspecting hosts with a loathsome intent to slaughter all! By day’s end, 38 McDonalds, including Chief Alexander, lay dead.

Still, many were saved by the heroics of the bagpiper who, quick to recognize the carnage, imperiled his own life by rushing to the hill above the village piping the warning skirl, “There is an enemy among us.” Without the piper’s alarm, most assuredly, many more would have perished.

Subsequently, another 40 or so McDonalds would die from exposure and starvation.

Years went by, and the bloody massacre at Glencoe, Scotland, was all but forgotten. In legal parlance, the Glencoe atrocities have come to be addressed as “slaughter under trust.”

And so the story goes, some 200 years on and 5,000 miles away in the Calaveras County mining camp of Mosquito Gulch, a sourdough miner, confined to his cabin by a winter blast, chanced to pick up a discarded, dog-eared book and began to read. It contained an account of the long forgotten massacre of so many years ago, back in Glencoe, Scotland.

Overwhelmed by his sense of justice that was never proffered, the miner vowed he would not allow the tragic saga of the good Samaritans of Glencoe to remain forgotten. And so it was that this impassioned miner was able to persuade the sympathetic Calaveras County authorities to rename Mosquito Gulch to Glencoe in memory of those whose acts of kindness had cost them their lives.

On the lighter side, the Glencoe extravaganza is a delightful opportunity to demonstrate the “money don’t matter” measure of your means. So, while the Scotch is not free, it does flow freely among the revelers.

Also, the Saturday night bon appetite dining, while optional, does go off at a hefty $65 per setting.

For more information, call (650) 200-5460 or email

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