Martin Lowe Remembered

Note:  This newspaper article about a distant relative of Karen Halter is a great story. He must have been quite a character!


THE DAILY PRESS (San Luis Obispo, CA area)
Wednesday. May 22, 1974

“If even a part of the factual stories about early day and long time resident of the San Miguel area, Martin Lowe, are ever compiled and published, many of Mark Twain’s characters are apt to be eclipsed. Few of those who knew or came in contact with this legendary individual whose parents crossed the plains during the gold rush days and later  (1874) settled in Lowe’s Canyon—but could, or still can, relate delightful recollections of him.  Even those who may have been taken in at times by Martin, who was an early day combination Izaac Walton, Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyon, Huck Finn, Lone Rider — with more than a dash of Phineas Taylor Barnum thrown in for good measure, usually considered it an honor to have been selected as one of his “victims”.  And naturally the kids adored and hero worshipped this fellow who could catch more salmon in the Salinas, take more game, cook most everything and lift almost anything, know all the arts of camping, could swim like a porpoise, ride like an Indian, and even better, liked kids well enough to show ’em how to do many of these feats.

Martin’s nephew, Doctor Frank Lowe, who as a stripling had the distinction, instinct and retrieving ability to act as his bird dog in those bygone days of fabulous covey of quail still remembers how his uncle’s goal was at least 24 birds out of a box of 24 shotgun shells, and that his marvelous fly-shot seldom missed.  Doc Frank also chuckles about Martin’s often repeated achievement at Lake Tahoe (he spent the summers there) of diving into the High Sierra lake and catching a trout with his teeth and then collecting all side bets or pledged donations from bug-eyed spectators.  But what few knew was that he previously had captured a number of fish and confined them safely underneath the pier.  After leaving the end of the pier in a mighty dive, Martin returned unseen under the water, inserted one of these fish in his mouth, swam back out a distance and emerged with the struggling trout clamped between his jaws!

Most any of the old timers left around the San Miguel area can still relate yarns of Martin Lowe ferrying folks across the Salinas at flood time B.B. (Before Bridges).  This master river man could evidently cross the angry waters as casually and safely in his trusty row boat as we drive across one of the numerous bridges today.  However, it is said that if an especially attractive new school marm or other pretty gal happened to be the passenger, Martin was prone to get in trouble crossing….with the boat.  With the boat apparently floundering and out of control before he had got across he would leap out into the water shouting, “jump and I’ll save you!”  Sure enough, when the terrified damsel had leaped into Martin’s waiting arms it would appear that he had found solid footing and would wade out casually towing the boat with one hand and carrying the clutching beauty to safety.  Some years ago a “50 years ago” re-publication in a county newspaper related how the huge crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of the new wharf at Avila, heard the shout “make way for Martin Lowe!”. And down the plankway and out to the end of the wharf came this intrepid horseman whipping and spurring at every jump of his racing steed. Not slowing a bit, the horse and man plunged off into the water below in a cloud of spray and emerging, swam back to shore.  Then, when the high waters of the Salinas had subsided, and early day automobiles began  to cross the tricky sands between Bradley and San Miguel, Martin would camp in the  willows nearby with a trusty span of work horses out of sight but harnessed and ready.  Just about the time some bogged-down motorist was ready to give his kingdom for a horse here miraculously appeared two of ’em to pull his outfit to dry land for a suitable fee.

Even when the crossings got so well broken in that business lagged, Martin displayed his business acumen by slipping out unseen and digging a few suitable holes to drum up trade.

Before we today label this slightly on the unethical order, we’d better remember a few things like the late acute and terrible gasoline shortage; or destroying food to get higher prices; or tying up traffic for days or the dozen other methods of making it so miserable for others that they have to give in to demands—just or otherwise Martin’s weakness for the cup that cheers brought about some of the most astounding and almost unbelievable of his exploits. Of superhuman strength and endurance he lifted, carried or pulled loads that would have taxed the strength of a Missouri mule.

He died in the early twenties while on his way to his beloved Lake Tahoe to spend another summer.”