Debbie Croft: A run-in with Coulterville's famous 'Wyatt Twearp'

August 18, 2012 


It was a day I'll never forget.

Like a scene from an old western.

In a town caked with dust and as decrepit as the hills surrounding it, the sun stood high in the sky. Tumbleweeds rolled, accompanied by the stifling breeze. A lone fiddle could be heard faintly in the distance. My mouth was parched and my feet weary from traveling along the old 49.

I stopped to chat with a few of the locals. Said I might sit a spell at Mary Lou's. I found it with no trouble a'tall. Not many establishments open in these here parts anymore. Walked in, set myself down, and had a look around. After polite conversation and a bit of a wait, the wooden door swung open on rusted, squeaky hinges.

"There he is!" someone whispered.

"It's him! I'd know that form anywhere," someone else agreed.

Should I run? Should I hide? Or should I stand my ground and face the famed hero? The men around me felt for their guns. The women swooned.

But me? I gathered up my courage, pulled out my notepad, and turned around to look.

It was him alright. Dark, handsome and short. Very short. Maybe 4 feet tall and dressed mostly in black, he appeared to be right serious about the business at hand.

I stepped up and introduced myself.

"Hi, there," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Wyatt Twearp."

Soft-spoken and humble, Branden Morey is a 12-year-old Coulterville resident known as Wyatt Twearp, one of the honorary mayor's assistants.

Last year when the community wanted to raise money for local

nonprofit organizations and civic projects, an idea was borrowed from Groveland. A race was held for Honorary Mayor.

Every dollar donated was a bribe, er, I mean, a vote for the candidate of choice, and went to each candidate's designated nonprofit group.

Fannie D'Flame, otherwise known as Debbie Cook, won the race -- bringing in $2,400 for her nonprofit sponsor, the Mariposa County Fire Department. Cook is a firefighter and public information officer for the agency. She's a busy lady, and a regular participant at the many events held in Coulterville.

Every mayor needs a couple trusted deputies, and she's got 'em.

Miss Kitty, aka Terri Kelley, is another assistant to the mayor. Owner of the Old Johnny Haigh Saloon, this feisty gal wants Coulterville and Greeley Hill to stay alive.

She's a member of the Claim Jumpers, a nonprofit group that exists to provide educational entertainment about local history. The Jumpers perform Old West shootouts for visitors and tourists every Saturday during the summer.

Coulterville's population rises and dips, as oldtimers pass away, kids grow up and move on, and folks from other parts of California move in to retire. Some open or manage businesses.

"With the new people we're getting new energy and ideas that are good for business," Cook says.

Morey is the son of Chris and Melynda, owners of the new coffee shop on Main Street. Mary Lo's Cup of Brew has become the local hangout and headquarters for Wyatt Twearp.

In his stump speech, Twearp promised never to spin tales, never to approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction. "Being mayor of this town will be easier than lickin' butter off a knife."

He twirls a mighty fine lasso. Just ask for a demonstration next time you're in town. He finds the West fascinating, and enjoys meeting people.

"I've wanted to be an actor since I was 6 years old," he says. His name is on the list for an acting school in Summerville. Running for mayor sounded like fun. Says he plans to do it again next time.

Yep. Looks like Coulterville's in good hands. 'Twas a moment in time I'll not soon forget. The day I met the honest, courageous, well-respected and non-notorious Wyatt Twearp.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at

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