Cowboy poet remembered by Dutch Flat community
Every time Jessica Lee sees the post office in Dutch Flat these days, she's reminded of the loss of a friend.
Until recently, Herbert Thomas Schotz, known by people in the Dutch Flat community simply as "Herb," could be found standing at the corner of the post office striking up conversations as people passed.
"He was never loitering, he was just Herb hanging out," Lee said. "It's hard to look over there now and not see him standing there."
Lee and her husband, Rick Sisher, moved to Dutch Flat about a year and a half ago. It was May of last year when she first noticed Schotz standing by the post office, so she invited him to a barbeque she was having.
Though Schotz came over, he didn't eat anything at the barbeque and took his leave eventually. Lee didn't realize at the time her family had gained a friend out of the encounter.
"He just wanted to hang out for a few minutes and socialize and meet new people, and he did that and went on his way for the evening," Lee said.
After that, Schotz, with his long, white beard and eye patch, would stop by Lee and Sisher's home when he made his weekly visits to Dutch Flat to do his grocery shopping. Sometimes he would even stay with the couple.
Lee said Schotz had lived in an encampment by the Bear River and was a prospector for the last 27 years. She also said Schotz, who turned 75 on April 1, was having some health problems, so when he was missing from his camp recently, Lee and her husband were naturally worried.
"When we couldn't find him that Thursday we knew something was wrong," Lee said.
That's when she started making phone calls to the Placer and Nevada County Sheriff's offices to try to find her friend.
Earlier this month, Placer County Sheriff's deputies found human remains just over the county line near Dutch Flat. After that Nevada County Sheriff's deputies took over the investigation, which overturned a skull and bones.
Sheriff's officials said at the time the bones had some tissue still attached and had been found 45 minutes from Schotz's campsite as though they had been scavenged by an animal.
The identity of the person found has yet to be confirmed by investigators, as DNA samples had to be used to do so, but Lee and the rest of the community in Dutch Flat say they know that the remains have to belong to Schotz.
"We know it's him. We all know that," Lee said.
Rob Putnam has lived in Dutch Flat for 30 years and said his two children referred to Schotz as "Uncle Herb." Putnam remembers Schotz for his intelligence and his love of poetry.
Every year for his children's birthdays they would get a card with a special poem from Uncle Herb and $40.
"He was sharply intelligent," Putnam said.
Lee also remembers Schotz's love of cowboy poetry. He even had a poem about bears, which had come close to his campsite in the weeks before his disappearance.
"Bears and miners get along; they're pretty much the same. If you're standing downwind, the only difference is in the name," Lee recites.
Lee said Schotz was born in New York and lived in multiple places before living in San Jose. She said he held multiple degrees, but she could not say from which college, and that he never mentioned family members except that his sister was killed in a car accident.
"He never really specified a reason for being alone. He just kind of wanted to get away from people and be able to talk to people on his own terms when he wanted to," Sisher said.
Though Schotz had a deep appreciation for the outdoors, Lee said he had come to the realization that his health was starting to deteriorate, so he was trying to get into a senior living facility. Sisher had been taking food and supplies down to Schotz's campsite when he was unable to make it out of the canyon.
That was a difficult realization for someone used to caring for themselves and living in the outdoors for the last few decades.
"He was sad he was going to have to leave it, but I think he was sadder that he couldn't take care of himself anymore," Lee said. "He didn't like to rely on other people."
Behind him, Schotz left a community that remembers him for his poetry, his passion for learning and a love for nature.
"He was very into the earth. He loved plants; he loved growing gardens, flowers. If you pointed out a plant to him, he could tell you what it was," Lee said.
A memorial ceremony for Schotz is being held on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Odd Fellows Hall in Dutch Flat.
"He's back with the earth now and I think that's exactly how he would have wanted it," Lee said.
Contact Amber Marra at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.