Settling Yolo

After their marriage in July of 1867, William John Clarke brought his bride, Catherine (Foster) Tenney Clarke, back to Buckeye Ranch, the ranch he owned and resided on in Yolo County near what is now the town of Dunnigan in the Central Valley about 40 miles north of Sacramento. He had purchased this 1,320 acre ranch five years prior with Jack Stewart, an immigrant from Scotland who was Clarke’s business partner in various enterprises dating back to 1850.

When Clarke and Stewart gave up on the pack train business, they became ranchers and farmers. Here is a brief history of their farming experiences as reported by my 2nd cousin-once-removed Joyce Dawley, whose material was used by Jacque (Reimer) Vaughters in her Yolo County History column in the Woodland Daily Democrat, August 29,1999:

In 1862, William John Clarke and John “Jack” Guron Stewart purchased 1,320 acres of land, all fenced, for $5,000. The owner thought that he had made a large sale as he had not made a success of it as a grain farm.

The acreage, near Dunnigan, was named Buckeye Ranch. In 1863 they sowed 160 acres to Barley, plowing and sowing late, as was the custom. They met with complete failure. The first and second year it barely seeded itself, not being worth harvesting.

In 1865 they harvested 30 bushels of barley to the acre and for five consecutive years, they harvested 30 bushels to the acre—all this from the plowing and seeding of 1863.

Land in that section of the county was supposed to be worthless until Clarke and Stewart’s grain farming.

In 1865 and ’66, they dry plowed 500 acres and sowed in the fall. The result was a crop of 45 bushels of wheat to the acre. The next year they had a volunteer crop nearly equal to the original sowing.

From that time the land became valuable. A new mode of plowing and seeding had been introduced that proved precisely suited to the climate and soil.

I’m very interested in the history of what was farmed in Yolo and Colusa Counties, and how it was farmed. In these early days they were dry farming, using no irrigation. The first crops grown in this region on the west bank of the Sacramento River were grains such as barley, wheat, and corn. But I have always associated the area with rice, the crop that came to dominate the area, the crop farmed by my grandparents (and other family members—descendants of William John Clarke and Catherine Foster, a surprising number of whom stayed in the area for generations, and continue to live and farm there.)

Of course, rice cannot be dry farmed—it’s a fairly water intensive crop as the rice fields must be flooded. Water is an issue which has always loomed large in the history of California and is back in the news due to the current drought now into its fourth year. Daily headlines regarding this, the second major drought I’ve lived through as a native Californian, highlight the labryinthian water rights and management systems of this state. There are many references to pre-1914 water rights, which up until now were considered to be unassailable, but that seems to be changing in the face of drought and climate change. As I continue to dig into the history of my ancestors—not just the Clarkes, but the Cains (my grandmother’s father’s family) and the Hoffmans and Boles (my grandfather’s family), who all arrived and began farming in 1800’s Yolo and Colusa Counties—I am also excited about researching water issues of the day. It’s the same curiosity—how did we get from there to here?

2 thoughts on “Settling Yolo

  1. Ana Esquivel

    It is in interesting story about your family and Yolo county’s history. As a truck driver I remember talking on the CB radio with the local rice hauler truck drivers.
    Keep writing!


  2. Barb Schultheis

    Hi Holly! Very interesting topic. It is interesting how vital water has been to the success and survival of so many throughout CA’s history. I was just thinking about the hydro mining that was done (and caused an environmental disaster)-that couldn’t have happened during a drought. It’s great that you are researching your family’s history. I look forward to reading more about them!


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