Lot 99

Garfield Park, Santa Cruz, California

June 15, 1893 

Celia Clarke, taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.
Celia Clarke, taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.

A young woman—a girl, really—with wavy chestnut brown brown hair sat next to a window at a writing table in the front room of a cottage. She appeared faded and wan in comparison to the brightness of the late afternoon light playing on the leaves of the trees across the road. Closing her eyes and and turning her face to the west she imagined the diamond sparkle of the ocean waves, which were actually just out of her sight.

Close-up of embossed border of a photo taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.
Close-up of embossed border of Celia’s photo taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.

Her attention returned to the room, and to the pen and paper before her. She rested her forehead in one hand while she wrote with the other, her note paper lit up by the sun streaming through the window.

My Dearest Brother, 

I don’t suppose you will have time to answer this, but then I’ll write anyway and you must write if you can possibly spare the time. 


She sighed and gazed out the window for several long moments, then returned to her writing.

We haven’t been any place today, we intended going to Capitola, but my head has ached all day so we stayed at home, maybe we will go tomorrow. 

Her awareness of her headache faded a bit as she thought of her brother, Foster, nicknamed Posy in his younger years although he disdained the sweet moniker now. He was two years her elder, her only remaining brother. Little Georgie, three years younger than herself, had been taken by typhoid six years ago when he was only 7. Her eldest brother, Willie, had bled to death after a hunting accident three years ago, leaving behind a young grieving widow, Anny (Stover) Clarke.

The letter Celia was writing would find Foster back home on the family ranch in the northern Sacramento Valley. She smiled fondly as her words took on a teasing tone.

It has been quite warm today. You must have had a scorcher up home. How do you like ploughing? Quite nice and pleasant on warm days!

A breeze wafted in off the ocean, through the open window. Celia lifted her head to feel the cool breeze on her face, tasted the salty tang on her lips.

Celia Clarke, undated photo
Celia Clarke, undated photo

She was now several weeks into her stay at the cottage, having come with her elder sister Katie. They took a train from Colusa to Sacramento to Oakland, and then on to the most scenic part of the trip on the South Pacific Coast line through the mountains to Santa Cruz. The cottage, part of a retreat center developed by the Christian Church, sat on one of about 100 small lots—just large enough for tents or small dwellings—laid out on streets that wrapped around the church tabernacle in concentric circles.

1931 map of Santa Cruz with the original numbering of the lots. Can you find 99? Its on Wilkes.
1931 map of Santa Cruz with the original numbering of the lots. Can you find 99? Its on Wilkes.

Previously the Christian Church had had no retreat center of its own. They had held their state conference in Woodland, California, but this location was voted down in 1887 (no doubt due to the Valley heat). Meanwhile, in the mid-1880s, the Methodists had built a retreat center in nearby Pacific Grove that was considered the finest in the West. The city of Santa Cruz, having decided to stake their economic future on tourism, was actively recruiting other denominations to build similar retreats. By 1889 ten acres of land in Santa Cruz had been donated to the Christian Church for the purpose of creating a retreat center.  The tabernacle, an imposing wood-frame building with a 100-foot bell tower, was dedicated in 1890. It could seat 2,000 people, the largest auditorium in Santa Cruz. There were doors on all sides that could be opened for overflow crowds, or to turn it into an open-air pavilion. That same year the church sold the surrounding lots. Celia’s father, Will Clarke, had purchased lot 99 and had the small cottage constructed.

The family used the location as an escape from the valley heat during the summer. It was an especially helpful locale for young Celia, who suffered from tuberculosis. It met many of the criteria for the ideal living situation for consumptives: Not too hot nor too cold, the ability to spend much time outdoors, as well as providing the recommended opportunities for rest, recreation, amusement and peace of mind. The little community surrounding the tabernacle was known as Garfield Park, named after the recently assassinated president, James Garfield who had been a preacher in the Christian Church at one time.

Celia found the town of Santa Cruz to be much to her liking. Just the previous year a book detailing the history of Santa Cruz county had been published and had this to say about the area:

Because of the combination of mountain and marine scenery and climatic and other advantages…Santa Cruz has become the Mecca of thousands, who spend the heated term here during every summer season. The beach is very fine, and surf bathing can be indulged in with comparative freedom from danger. Life at Santa Cruz during the summer is one round of pleasure. The city is thronged with visitors, and every day possesses a gala appearance. In the afternoon many of the visiting multitude, and such of the resident population as are not otherwise engaged, congregate at the beach. It is no unusual sight to see several thousand people seated upon the sand of the bay shore, walking or riding, or indulging in the afternoon popular entertainments of bathing in the surf. The evenings are devoted to hops at the halls and some of the leading hotels, to lawn parties, to boating on the San Lorenzo, and other forms of innocent pastime, which make the days pass all too quickly for the tired and overworked portions of humanity who here seek recreation during their vacation.

As much as she enjoyed herself, her health permitting, Celia did at times get a bit lonely this early in the season and looked forward to later in the summer when thousands would attend the two week annual church conference. Families who did not own cottages would erect tents or sleep in their wagons. A large kitchen tent was set up with big kettles, ovens for baking, and pits for roasting. Over 1,000 meals a day were served. Temporary restaurants and stores were set up. Essentially, a small city was built, inhabited and torn down each summer. That was the high point of the season. Foster and other members of the family would all come down for the retreat.

She complained in her letter to Foster that

there are more old folks at the park than you can shake a stick at. I haven’t seen a young person yet. 

She went on to tell him changes she had observed in the town since last season.

The casino is not in running order yet, there are several men working on the grounds and kind of cleaning up around, so I suppose it will be in full trim by the time you get ready to come down. You know the Museum that used to be down on the bathing beach? They have moved it up right across the road from the casino. You remember that house that was being built there last year, well, that is the “Free Cliff Museum.” They have things fixed up pretty nobby there and have a large ice cream parlor. You can get soda and I suppose any other kind of a drink you wish to have. 

The Sea Beach Hotel, Santa Cruz, CA
The Sea Beach Hotel, Santa Cruz, CA

Again she directed her gaze out the window and saw Mrs. Langford and Mrs. Williams—friends of her mother’s—strolling arm-in-arm towards the Sea Beach Hotel, no doubt for afternoon tea. They waved to Celia and she waved back before returning to her letter, now twitting her brother about his female admirers.

Oh yes, I saw your girl in at Grants the other day She has improved a great deal in looks the last year. If you remember rightly, there was a great deal of room for improvement. She said she met a couple of fellows last summer but had forgotten their names. I have not seen any of your other “biddies” yet, but hope to before I go home. 

Celia smiled at this last bit, but she was tired and had at least one other letter she wished to write, to her cousin Jennie. She signed off.


Hoping to hear from you soon,

I remain,




College City, California

August 23, 1893

College City residence of William John and Catherine (Foster) Clarke, built in 1879.
College City residence of William John and Catherine (Foster) Clarke, built in 1879.

The Santa Cruz cottage was shut up, and the family had returned home to the Valley, after a wonderful and relaxing time catching up with old friends, showing first-timers the ropes at the camp, and enjoying the many speakers at the two-week retreat in Santa Cruz. It was now a very busy time at the ranch near College City, Colusa County, with harvest coming on. Foster had gone up to work on the Clarkes’ cattle ranch in the Sierra (Plumas County) while his father worked with his hired men to harvest the wheat and the orchard fruits.

Catherine Clarke fretted over her daughter, Celia, who had not been feeling well the past few days. “I had hoped to see a change for the better in her after her time by the sea,” Catherine confided to Will. “I did think she was better in Santa Cruz but now I wonder if I imagined it. She’s restless and fretful.”

“I’ve been working every hour of daylight and have hardly seen the mite.” Will sounded remorseful. “Should we call the doctor out?”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Catherine. “But do write to Foster, won’t you? She’s been asking after him an awful lot.”

“I’ll do it tonight,” promised Will.

My Dear boy,

We are about as we were when you left, but dear little Celia is not feeling as well as when you left. She had a bad chill yesterday. 

She feels very anxious to see you. She inquired about you several times, when her chill was on yesterday.

I think when you rest a few days, you had better come home. She seems so anxious to see you, don’t think there is any immediate danger or at least I hope so.

My regards to Anny Clarke.

Weather nice and cool. Will go to Buckeye today to make trays. 

This is for your Mother, she asked me to write you.

Goodbye, God help you my son.

Yours Ever Lovingly,


I can only assume that Foster did come home to visit his sister, given the affectionate relationship they seemed to share. Celia died five months after this letter was written, just a few months shy of her 18th birthday.


This piece was inspired by a recent visit to Santa Cruz where I spent some time searching for information about a property owned by the Clarke family in Santa Cruz in the 1800s. The property was mentioned in at least two wills but always as “Lot 99 in Garfield Park, Santa Cruz.” I went around in circles between the Santa Cruz Public Library, the Santa Cruz County Recorders Office and Assessors Office trying to figure out exactly where this property might have been located. The neighborhood is still there, same circular streets, and there is still a church in the center although the original tabernacle burned down in 1935. It was the old Sanborn insurance map available online through the UC Santa Cruz Library that eventually showed me where Lot 99 was located. The lot has a different physical address now, and the original cottage is sadly gone, replaced by a newer house, although a few of the original cottages do survive.

The letters are actual letters written by Celia Clarke to her brother Foster, and by her father Will Clarke.

My great-great-grandfather, Will Clarke and his family were members of the Christian Church. They very likely had attended retreats in Woodland as they lived very near there. Celia was diagnosed with TB right around the time the Santa Cruz retreat center was being developed so I speculate that they purchased the lot with Celia’s health in mind. I know the lot was passed from Will to his wife Catherine upon his death in 1894, and from Catherine to daughter Maggie upon her death in 1897. I don’t know what happened to it after that. Another project for another day…

I have always felt that I didn’t know much about Celia, who would have been my grandmother’s aunt (had she not died 10 years before my grandmother was born to Celia’s oldest sister, Elizabeth). But in my attempt to put what I knew into a story instead of a dry retelling of facts, she began to come alive for me. I wish she had lived and enriched us by contributing more stories to our family history as well as progeny to our family tree.


The Circles at 100: The Story of a Church and a Neighborhood by Pastor Steven DeFields-Gambrel, 2007 (available at the Santa Cruz Public Library, local history collection).

History of Santa Cruz County by Edward Sanford Harrison, 1892.

Climate and Tuberculosis: The Relation of Climate to Recovery by John W. Trask in Public Health Reports, 1917.

UC Santa Cruz Library website

Santa Cruz County Public Library website

Letters and other information about Celia Clarke and the Santa Cruz house are from information compiled by Joyce Dawley, a descendant of Foster Noble Clarke.

The Clarke Family Takes Root and Expands

The next decade or so after their marriage in 1867 finds William and Catherine Clarke—or Will and Katie, as they were known—building their family, their farming and ranching enterprises, and their community involvement in Yolo County. At the time of their marriage, Catherine’s daughter from her previous marriage, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Tenney (my great-grandmother), was four. Two months after the wedding a son, William Dougal Clarke was born (recall that Lizzie as an adult wrote in a letter that she had learned that brother Willie was in fact her full brother, not her stepbrother as everyone had been led to believe, i.e. he was not the son of WJ Clarke but of Catherine’s first husband, Willard Tenney). Two years later a daughter, Margaret Jane, was born (1869). In 1871 another daughter, Catherine May, followed by a son, Noble Foster, in 1873. Two more children came along, Celia Violet in 1876 and George W. David in 1879. Twelve years after their marriage the Clarkes had seven children.

Although William and Catherine Clarke have plenty of descendants living today, these descendants all came from three of their seven children: My great grandmother Lizzie bore nine children, all of whom lived into adulthood; Margaret bore three sons, two of whom lived into adulthood; and Foster Noble produced a son and two daughters, all living into adulthood.

A tragic event occurred just five months prior to William’s marriage to Katie. William’s partner Jack Stewart was killed in a bar fight in the Knight’s Landing Union Hotel, stabbed to death by Charles A. Brown, who was convicted and sentenced to six years in state prison. Clarke subsequently bought out Stewart’s heirs—siblings still living in Scotland whom I’m sure had no use for wheat fields in California—for Stewart’s shares in the ranch. In 1870 the 60 acres that had been Stewart’s share were purchased by Katie (Foster) Clarke’s brother, James Washington Foster—the only one of her siblings to be born in the U.S. (Illinois) after her family emigrated from Ireland.

William and Katie Clarke each had siblings who settled nearby—remember that both the Clarkes and the Fosters immigrated initially from Ireland and came to California by way of Illinois, although I don’t yet know if the two families knew each other prior to their lives in California. Perhaps not, as a letter from one of William Clarke’s cousins who remained in Illinois asks William about his bride, “Where did you find her?”

One of the things I’ve found to be common in my own family history, and is probably common to many families in early California, is the intermarrying of families, i.e. two brothers from one family marrying sisters from another, or cousins marrying sisters, etc. This situation sometimes creates confusion, especially around names when the tendency for kids to be named after aunts, uncles and grandparents is added into the equation. Katie Clarke’s mother was Margaret, and she had a sister also named Margaret. William Clarke also has a sister Margaret, and he and Katie named their daughter Margaret. Katie’s brother James Foster married a woman named…wait for it…Margaret.

Noble Clarke, brother of William John Clark
Noble Clarke, brother of William John Clark

In any case, by the 1870s William had two siblings living in the Yolo/Colusa Counties area, his brother Noble and his sister Margaret. Katie Clarke also had two siblings in the area, her half-sister Elizabeth Little, who married William’s brother Noble, and her brother James Worthington Foster, a Civil War veteran who is shown to be living with Will and Katie Clarke in the 1870 census.

The pattern of my family’s immigration followed that of many other families: Siblings following siblings across the ocean and across the continent. By the 1870s both William and Katie have relatives who remained in Ireland as well as relatives who remained in Illinois—parents, siblings and cousins. Fortunately, some correspondence between the family groups has survived into the present day and sheds light on family events. Letters from a cousin of William’s inform him that his mother had died, and then his father. Letters from Katie’s half-sister Sarah in Illinois comment on the floods and loss of crops that the Clarkes endured over the years. In 1874 she writes,

“I do not see how you can live out there with so much water around you. I think it must be very unhealthy and then [to] lose so much wheat. I do not think that pays very well.”

In spite of Sarah’s misgivings about the area, it seemed to suit Will and Katie Clarke and they lived out their lives in Yolo and Colusa Counties.

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?

A Trip Back in Time: Plumas County, California

My family’s history is closely intertwined with the early history of California. Three of my four grandparents were born in California, as well as three of my eight great-grandparents. I know of at least four ancestral family groups or individuals who came to California by wagon train, for gold or for land, or perhaps just in search of new opportunities. I find myself more and more fascinated by these pioneering families, and not just those whose blood lines I carry, but others I keep uncovering who are more distantly related by marriage. Although I fear I may have snoozed through more than one California history lesson in my school days, it all seems terribly intriguing now. I want to delve into their stories and get a picture of what their lives were like both before and after their emigrations. Perhaps that is what history buffs have in common, the desire to understand what people’s lives were like during a particular era that has passed. It’s also why we need to be aware that our own histories are also important. Believe it or not, people in the future will want to know what our lives were like. As a budding genealogist I feel fortunate that my family has been in Northern California for generations, mainly because it’s so easy to travel to the areas where they lived. Ancestry.com is a great source of information up to a point, but to get down to the nitty gritty, fill in some of the details and flesh out the stories, it’s best to visit the county where one’s ancestors lived. County courthouses, museums and archives provide a wealth of information in the form of official records—birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, divorces, property deeds, etc.—as well as photos, historical publications that can’t be found anywhere else, and the collected reminiscences of old timers. How grateful I am to the letter writers, the letter savers, the journal keepers, and the interviewers for leaving a wealth of information to sift through. Recently when my wife and I got one of our frequent urges for a little road trip, I suggested Plumas County as a destination. We had back-packed in that area a few years ago but that was before I had any awareness of the historical connections my family has there. My maternal grandparents (and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents) were primarily farmers in the northern end of the Central Valley, in Yolo, Colusa, and Sutter Counties. I’ve only recently become aware that Catherine and William Clarke, my great-grandparents, drove their cattle up to Plumas County for summer pasture every year back in the later 1800’s. My great-grandmother drove a wagon, probably filled with supplies and some assortment of their seven children—at least those too young to help with the cattle drive. They spent summers up in the mountains, as did many other Central Valley families. As roads to the area became more developed, hotels were established and tourism began to flourish in the area, families came to escape the heat of the Valley as well as illnesses such as malaria, diphtheria, and cholera. By the 1870’s entire communities were camping together each summer, coming from such Valley towns as Gridley, Chico, and Red Bluff. As I was putting together the facts and family relationships using Ancestry.com, I could not help but notice that two of William and Catherine Clarke’s offspring married into the Stover family. I could see that the Stovers were early arrivals to an area called Big Meadows in Plumas County. It was my desire to dig deeper into the story behind these marriages and the Stover family that put us on the road to Quincy recently. The Clarkes and the Stovers were both cattle ranchers, but while the Clarkes made their primary residence in Colusa County and thus retreated back to the valley come fall, the Stovers were permanent residents of Plumas County. This county sits at the far northern reach of the Sierra Nevada, while Lassen Peak, which is the southernmost peak of the Cascade Range, sits just to the north. A portion of present day Lassen Volcanic National Park is located within the northwest boundaries of Plumas County. It was and is a stunning area of forested mountains, expansive alpine meadows, and creeks which feed into the Feather River. It is the Spanish name for the river, Rio de Plumas, that gives the county its name. Many miners were attracted to this area during the California gold rush, and although the Stovers did initially come west seeking gold, they eventually settled in this area for the purpose of cattle ranching and dairying.

Our trip to Plumas County was a fruitful one. I had made an appointment with Scott Lawson, the archivist at the county museum in Quincy, and by the time I arrived he had pulled out all the information he could find on the Stovers and the Clarkes. The Stover name continues to be well-known in the area, and there is a Stover Mountain, Stover Creek, and even a strip mall in the town of Chester called the Stover Creek Center. I waded through historical tomes, newspaper clippings, transcribed oral histories, and photographs—scanning them all using an app on my iPhone. Talk about striking gold! We also visited a small museum that was part of the public library in Chester, and found many more photos and information about the Stovers in particular, and life in Plumas County during the 19th and early 20th century in general. Unfortunately, the archivist was not in but I did get her phone number. I also learned that my great-grand-aunt, Catherine May (Clarke) Stover was the first librarian when the Chester library was first built in 1929, the same building that is in use today.

We left Plumas County well-satisfied with our visit, laden with maps, books, historical and tourist information as well as all the documents I had scanned. We only spent three days there but in addition to our family history treasure hunt we took three lovely hikes, drank some good locally-brewed beer, had several delicious meals, and met many friendly, helpful folks. A return visit is certainly in our future as there seems to be so much more to explore.

The Miner-Turned-Farmer Takes a Wife

I’ve gotten bogged down in telling William John Clarke’s story like a Conestoga wagon mired in the mud. I’ve got to move this thing forward because I have so many other tales to tell, including a recent family history road trip to Plumas County, California, where I learned so much more about the Clarke family’s interconnection with the Stovers, a pioneering family who ranched near what is now Chester beginning in 1859.

Truth be told, the next part of Clarke’s story is a bit of a mystery to me, one (or several) I’m dying to unravel.

The facts I know are that Clarke got married on July 5, 1867, at age 47 to Catherine Foster Tenney, age 25. It was his first marriage, her second. At this time Catherine had one child, aged 4, by her previous husband, Willard Tenney, and was seven months pregnant with a second child. The four-year-old was Elizabeth. “Lizzie”, as Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 6.36.43 PMshe was called, was my Nana Marge’s mother, i.e. my great-grandmother. Here’s how the record of William and Catherine’s marriage license in Alameda County appears (see last line–and you can click on image to enlarge):

The boy who was born two months after Catherine’s marriage to Clarke was William Dougal Clarke, or “Willie” as he was known. He was always passed off as Clarke’s son. But I have evidence to the contrary in the form of a letter written in 1897 by Lizzie Tenney Clarke to a cousin on her mother’s side back in Illinois. This letter was written one month after her mother’s (Catherine Foster Tenney Clarke) death. The tone of this letter is distressed, and Lizzie voices longing for connection with her mother’s side of the family.

 My mother never even told me that Willie was my brother. He always felt nearer and dearer to me, than any of the rest, if I do say it my self…I never can forgive my mother for not telling me things she ought to have told me…

So, it certainly sounds like Willie—who died tragically in a hunting accident at age 23, a young married man with a pregnant wife, Anna Louisa Stover—was not Clarke’s son at all but was likely Willard Tenney’s progeny. From all accounts Clarke appeared to dote on “his” son, in any case.

Catherine Foster was born in Ireland, northern Ireland specifically, and not so far from where Clarke was born and raised.

Unsolved Mystery #1: Did their families have any connection back in Ireland?

By 1848 Catherine had emigrated to the US with her parents and siblings, as a brother was born in Illinois that year (Catherine’s mother was also married twice, once to Edward Little and then to James Foster, and had children with each). The 1850 census finds the family living in Rock Island County, Illinois, where Clarke also lived for 10 years prior to striking out for California. Given the difference in their ages Catherine would have been a child of 7 at the time he left Illinois for California at age 29, but I wonder if their families knew each other? I suspect they must have but I can only speculate at this point. One of Catherine’s half-sisters, Elizabeth Little, married William John Clarke’s brother, Noble Clarke, but so far I don’t have the date or location, only that they eventually lived in Yolo County near William and Catherine.

Unsolved Mystery #2: What, if any, was the connection between the Little/Fosters and the Clarkes in Rock Island County, Illinois?

Catherine’s first marriage occurred in Illinois on September 27, 1861 to Willard Tenney, whose family can be traced back to the Yorkshire district of England from whence they traveled to New England in 1638, to escape “religious persecution”. (They were apparently much aggrieved that King Charles had ordered that “no hindrance should be thrown in the way of those who wished to dance or shoot at the butts [a target] on Sunday afternoons.” Hmm.) By the 1800’s some of the Tenneys had ended up in Illinois via New Hampshire and earlier, Rowley, Massachusetts. Records indicate that Catherine and Willard and their infant daughter Lizzie came to California via wagon train in 1864. I hope to eventually discover which route they traveled and where they first settled. The next piece of information I have is documentation of Catherine’s marriage to Clarke in 1867. What happened during those three missing years? How did Catherine Foster Tenney and Clarke meet? Inquiring minds want to know.

Unsolved Mystery #3: What happened to Willard E. Tenney?

He just seems to disappear from all records. It seems clear from some of Lizzie’s letters to her cousin Eddie in Illinois that her mother was not widowed, but had left her father, whom she says she never remembers seeing (i.e. she was too young at the time of the divorce to retain any memory of him).

 Do you ever hear of any of my fathers people. Don’t you know, I just get to thinking of him. Sometimes knowing how terrible he felt, when mama left him for another. I don’t see how she could do it, for she told me he was just as good and kind to her as he could be. The other one [William John Clarke], was not, but it best not to talk of the past, when it is so unpleasant. But you have no idea how I feel when I think of poor old father. I never knew whether he died or was killed or what became of him. My how I would like to have had him with me in his old days.

Lizzie never knew what happened to her father, nor do we. I find this very puzzling in light of all the records that are available to us now. He does not show up in census information, no death certificate, nothing on Find A Grave (a wonderful website for finding where people are buried). I haven’t given up, however. Still searching.

Our story ends today with William John Clarke and his bride, Catherine (Foster) Tenney Clarke settled on their ranch in Yolo County where they proceed to produce five more children in addition to Lizzie and Willie.

 William John Clarke
William John Clarke
Catherine Foster Tenney Clarke
Catherine Foster Tenney                         Clarke

Day 47 of William John Clarke’s Westward Journey

The following is an excerpt from the diary kept by WJ Clarke as he traveled by wagon train from Illinois to the California gold diggings in 1849. One hundred and sixty-six years ago today…

May 12, 1849

Started on the west of Crab Creek. I was much surprised to see the remains of what is called the Bluff Ruins. The bluffs here bears the most picturesque appearance of anything I ever saw. They rise like large cities above the flat to the height of from twenty-five to four hundred feet. They are all shapes, some form a cone and others of every description. We today crossed the beds of several dry creeks, from four to twenty rods wide. Passed several emigrants wagons left on the way. We are now in sight of Chimney Rock, one-fourth to one-half mile from our camp.

Day 46 of William John Clarke’s Westward Journey

The following is an excerpt from the diary kept by WJ Clarke as he traveled by wagon train from Illinois to the California gold diggings in 1849. One hundred and sixty-six years ago today…

May 11, 1849

Rolled out as usual and afternoon we camped on Bluff Creek. Last night all well and in good heart. We took one of our horses out of the team and two drove her. At 10 o’clock, met two Indians belonging to the Shawnee tribe, one of them could speak good English and boasts that their tribe never killed a white man. He sold 300 bushels of corn to emigrants, the last he sold at six dollars per bushel. On the west side of the road is the grave of Margaret Lynch, was killed by wagon wheel running over her. Lived four hours after. Roads sandy and heavy, camped on Crab Creek making today 25 miles.

Day 45 of William John Clarke’s Westward Journey

The following is an excerpt from the diary kept by WJ Clarke as he traveled by wagon train from Illinois to the California gold diggings in 1849. One hundred and sixty-six years ago today…

May 10, 1849

Being camped last night on Camp Creek rolled out this morning at 7 o’clock. All well with the exception of Cernel Finch has a slight attack of fever. Drove 13 miles and again nooned on the north bank of the Platte. Crossed the Sand Bluffs which is about one mile long but very heavy wheeling as we was stopping to noon there was two men belonging to the Missouri company which got a little behind of their teams, was surrounded by Indians and their only salvation was to take the river and come to us. The river is about 3/4 of a mile wide at this place. After dinner we passed the lone tree on the north bank of the Platte about three miles and a half from our dinner camp. Crossed Castle Creek at Castle Bluffs at three o’clock PM. Passed the grave of a California emigrant what belonged to Dr. Wells company. He died of cholera. The name of decedent, Snacletor, Adams County, Illinois. There was three Indians forded the Platte River and hailed our train, an old chief and two young men, they are friendly to white and had several recommendations from California emigrants [something indecipherable]. They are more genteel in their manners then the Pawnees. Crossed Bluff Creek and camped. The two men that crossed the river when surrounded by the Indians returned again. Made it today twenty-six miles.

California: The Dream Realized

Our William Clarke arrived in California on July 11, 1849 after a journey of 107 days. I have lately been reading accounts of journey by wagon train and it seems like horrifying things happened frequently: In Catherine Sager’s account of her family’s journey West by covered wagon when she was a young girl (Across The Plains in 1844), she recounts how her leg was crushed when she was thrown under the wagon, her father and her mother died of ill-defined diseases halfway through the journey, her sister’s dress caught on fire and she nearly burned to death, and her brother’s powder horn blew up, badly burning him. Many pioneers died of illness—mainly cholera as well as scurvy—there were drownings during the many river crossings, and horrendous injuries occurred with little medical assistance available. I suppose I assumed that every journey west was one of hardship and tragedy. The hardship was probably fairly universal, but Clarke’s journey does not read as being terribly fraught nor tragic. The more striking theme is the amount of tedious travel, and the sheer hard work required. They had to both hunt for food and negotiate buying supplies when they were available. Wagons got stuck in mud and sand and had to be pulled out. River crossings sometimes required wagons to be unloaded and repacked. There were wild animals and occasionally hostile Indians to fend off. In fact, I believe there were only two deaths in Clarke’s party which occurred during a skirmish with Indians.

I will continue to post occasional excerpts from Clarke’s journal over the next three months (May, June, and July) on their corresponding dates 166 years after the original events. Meanwhile, let’s continue on with Clarke’s adventures in California.

Here is a letter written in his journal with no date but appears to be written while he is trying his hand at mining:

My Dear friend I once more take my pen in hand to inform you of how gold digging goes. I have now mined about 40 days but have not got my pile as yet. Nor don’t know [how] soon I shall get it as it is much more difficult to find than I anticipated but those great tales we hear off at home ain’t all gospel nor yet the epistles of inspired men. I have worked harder since I came here than I ever did at home or anywhere else and have about as good success as any of the diggers and I have never had more than sixty dollars in one day and that seldom.

Clarke left the mines after about six months due to illness. He went to Sacramento and there he went to work as a carpenter (he had been a cabinet maker in Illinois). He worked on the first brick building in Sacramento, called the Anchor House, for which he earned $20 per day. The Anchor House was a hotel built by George Zins, a German who had come to California with John Fremont in 1846. The location of this building was Front and M Streets.

In October of 1850 Clarke partnered with John Guron Stewart, an emigrant from the Isle of Whithorn, Scotland, for the purpose of starting a horse packing business. Apparently they figured out that selling supplies to miners would be more lucrative than mining. They were right, as they cleared $10,000 their first year.

Perhaps the most significant event that came out of their packing enterprise was Clarke’s discovery of the fertile land in Yolo County. Clarke and Stewart passed through this area on an aborted trip up to Oregon, where reports were emerging of gold washing up on the shores with every ocean wave. Deep snow around Shasta and the realization that the reports were bogus resulted in them turning around, but Clarke was so impressed with the area that he decided to settle there. He and Stewart bought a ranch just outside Knights Landing and began farming, stock raising, and making Spanish saddles. Clarke made the wooden frames while Stewart did the leather work, and as this item was quite in demand they sold all they could make.

Clarke was reportedly instrumental in demonstrating that northern Yolo County, which had been considered worthless land, was indeed suitable for farming. From these humble beginnings as well as the efforts of other ancestors who journeyed west and settled in this area around the same time, came the roots of my family’s generations of farming in Yolo, Colusa and Sutter Counties.

I’ve often wondered why Clarke left Illinois. A possible clue is contained in one of his diary entries, when he describes the Carson Valley: “…it is a beautiful place. The clover is here some three feet long and thick. If I had such land in Illinois I would stay there.” Perhaps he wasn’t able to find good land in Illinois. Perhaps it was always his intention to become a farmer in California after trying his hand at mining. I do not know.

Still to come: The farmer takes a wife and raises a family, while other branches of the family also settle in the area.

*The Diary of William John Clarke, 1849 (both transcribed version and the original)
*Additional material in the back of the transcribed diary as compiled by Marilyn Kelly Ornbaum
*Sacramento, An Illustrated History 1839 to 1874, From Sutters Fort to Capitol City, by Thor Severson

May 1: Journeying West with William John Clarke

The following is an excerpt of William John Clarke’s diary. This was day 36 of their journey, and they were traveling through Nebraska. They had left Council Bluffs, Iowa (at that time known as Kanesville) some ten days prior.

As usual rolled out and drove twenty-five miles of the most unpleasant road I ever saw. We had to wrap our handkerchiefs over our eyes. Johnathan Emes and me started on horseback after some antelopes at which time we lost our road and got into the sand mounds where we rode for six or seven hours without success. We first took a south west direction rode god knows how far and almost discouraged turned to the right and left but still our hope was blighted. After wandering about between hope and despair but still I did not like to give up the chase, rode up to the top of a sand hill and while there was as it were flung from one danger to another, for there I was surrounded by about eight or ten large wolves which seemed as though they would have liked to taste Irish blood. I was in a desert and depended altogether on my eyes and a rifle and only four bullets which I did not like to waste with wolves, as I had not yet got dinner and depended altogether on my eye and rifle which I knew if it ered it was the first time in my life. We at last took as it were, a north easterly direction which brought us to the Loup Fork of the Platt River which I knew as soon as I saw although it was twenty-five or thirty miles from our way which we left to our right and at four o’clock struck the road at which time our team was twenty miles ahead. We rode onto almost discouraged again. Johnathan was thoroughly fatigued and hungry, was for lying down on the road, but hope seemed to grow brighter with me for about six miles ahead I saw a light. I knew that in all it must be our camp. I encouraged Johnathan and whipped the horse until I arrived in camp.Our camp was all in consult what to do wheather to depart or go in search of us. Some of them was going to leave. One was James Gilmore of which I not expect it of his hand, but there are still some merciful men. Out of sixty-three men only three was willing to leave us. When we came to camp one of our men had killed a fine buffalo cow. Camped on Wood River. Made to on my race about eighty miles. Teams made about thirty four.