Another Letter from Amos Frye

Amos Frye drove the cattle John Bidwell had purchased from Nicolaus to Rancho Chico in less than a week. Bidwell sent him off with a letter to brother Thomas on November 6, 1850, saying “Mr. Frye goes up with the cattle.” The letter was a manifest of goods shipped from Sacramento to Rancho Chico. By the 13th Frye was back in Nicolaus, writing to Bidwell, though I am not sure where Bidwell was by then.

Here’s the letter written from Nicolaus on November 13, 1850. I haven’t changed Mr. Frye’s spelling.

Nicholas  Nov. 13th, 1850

John Bidwell, Esqr.

            Sir yours pr Raffell [Rafael] was rec’d this morning and note the same as for the money it can’t be got of Mr. Blake for reasons Nicholas can’t pay him. I shall leave for the Rancho this eve with the boys your brother was not well when I left. Slite fever was all there was. Some four or five sick at the House. 

I will be there soon to assist your brother the cattle I got up all safe and no loss.

Mr. Brown has come in jest above your House with abt (1000) one thousand head of cattle is a building a house [unknown word] you will see by this they are agreeing to give you a trial for the grain Enclosed is a memorandum for some things your Brother sends for

            Respectfully yours, Amos E. Frye

Rafael was a Maidu boy that Bidwell employed as a messenger and translator. His age is unknown but judging by the photograph that was taken of him in 1850 when he went to Washington D.C. with Bidwell, he was a young teenager. He shows up on the 1860 census but after that I don’t know what happened to him.

“Mr. Blake” is probably Stephen Blake, who was working for Nicolaus Allgeier at the time. Later Bidwell would meet his brother, Nelson Blake, who had just arrived in California. When he found Nelson sick at Nicolaus he brought him to Rancho Chico, got him well, and employed him.

Who “Mr. Brown” is I do not know.

Attached to this letter was a list of items that Thomas Bidwell wanted for the ranch. Even though they had just received a large shipment of goods, a few more items were needed.

1 pr. candle moulds for ourselves


(Shoes for the boys)

To sell            good buckskin gloves,




            a few fine combs

and if you can by a pulley and rope cheap I wish you would do it, for when we butcher we have need of such a thing.

I send this fearing lest you should not receive the letter which I sent you, in which I mention the same things. Though I am better at present my fever seems loath to leave me.

                        Yours ever, Thos. Bidwell

“Shoes for the boys” were shoes for the Indian workers. Gloves, leggings, and pipes were all things they could sell to miners and vaqueros. “Mechines” refers to gold-washing machines, otherwise known as cradles. There must have been a high demand for those in 1850.

(I love the picture these letters give of life in Gold Rush California. It is a boon to historical researchers that John Bidwell saved his letters and receipts and that after his death Annie donated his papers to the California State Library.)

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Provisions for Rancho Chico — 1850

Manifest of Sundries sent up pr wagons Nov. 6. John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

John Bidwell sent a letter to his brother Thomas listing the items he shipped to Rancho Chico on November 6, 1850. He had been shopping in Sacramento City, buying provisions for the ranch and items to sell at his store. The letter, or “manifest”, was carried by Amos Frye, who was driving cattle to Rancho Chico.

Nicholas 6th Nov. 1850

Dear Brother

            I send by the wagons

6 Bag – 400 lbs. Sugar @ 18 c                  72.00

6 Tins Biscuit @ 5.50                                  33.00

50 lbs. Coffee @ 35                                     17.50

158 lbs. Iron for Harrow @ 14                    22.12

1500 “  Flour @ 12 ½                               187.50

1 bag Peaches                                             16.50

3 Prs. Shoes                                                 10.50

1  “ Gaiters                                                      4.00

1 Gingham Dress 2 Combs                          6.25

1 Sack Oats                                                   10.20

268 lbs. Salt                                                  16.08

1 doz. Flannel Shirts                                    25.00

4 Prs. Blankets                                             29.50

Drayage                                                           5.25

Freight to Vernon                                         45.60

Ferriage at Nicolaus                                    16.00

Hay Bill                                                          10.00

Provisions for Drivers                                    6.75

My Bill at Hamilton               3.00

     ditto  Nicolas                   11.00

     ditto Sacramento City   10.00           24.00


Enclosed I send the Bills except in a few cases in my haste I have omitted. Recollect the money borrowed from Mr. Alford to purchase these articles must be saved and refunded to him as soon as possible. Mr. Frye goes up with the cattle.

                                                J. Bidwell

Sugar, flour, coffee, salt, peaches (dried) — foodstuffs for the workers at Rancho Chico and maybe some to sell. Iron for making a harrow for working the fields. Shoes, shirts, and blankets.

I wonder who got the gingham dress and two combs?

How did John Bidwell transport these goods? Those costs are listed at the end of the manifest.

To get the goods to Nicolaus, Bidwell had them shipped by boat from Sacramento to Vernon at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather Rivers. In 1849 Vernon was as far up the Sacramento as a boat could go. A thriving, but short-lived, community grew up there as a supply and departure point for forty-niners.

(I went down a rabbit hole trying to figure out where Vernon was. My thanks to the Sutter County Historical Society, who printed an article about the town in their Spring 2020 Bulletin. Only a one-room wooden schoolhouse is left today. More about Vernon some other day.)

Vernon (today called Verona) was just ten miles south of Nicolaus, where Nicolaus Algeier had a ferry across the Feather River. You can see from Bidwell’s manifest that “drayage” (hauling the goods to the boat at Sacramento) cost him $5.25. Transport up the river cost $45.60 and ferrying across the Feather River cost $16.00 (several trips, no doubt). It wasn’t cheap to get the goods to Chico. A dollar in 1850 had a purchasing power of about $35 today.

He also had to pay for provisions for the drivers and hay for the animals (probably mules). It cost more to feed the animals than the men. The goods were hauled by wagon from Nicolaus to Rancho Chico, a distance of 64 miles. It would have taken several days. But judging by a subsequent letter, the goods were there within a week.

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Adios to Amos Frye

Amos Frye’s death made him famous in a way that his life never would have. The story appeared in the Shasta Courier, the Sacramento Daily Union, the San Jose Republican, the Daily Alta California (San Francisco), and others around the state. It even showed up as far away as New England (last paragraph in the second clipping).

Sacramento Daily Union 5 July 1852
Buffalo Commercial 16 Aug 1852, posted on

Notice that the first article says Frye was “of Missouri” and the second “of Mobile.” It’s likely that he was born in Mobile, Alabama; it is known that he came to California by way of Missouri, where he may have lived for some years. The date of “12th July ” is wrong. The fight took place on either June 28th or 29th, 1852.

Weekly Butte Record 3 April 1854

Amos E. Frye was buried in a plot that John Bidwell set aside on the ranch for the Chico Cemetery.

Bidwell, as Frye’s employer, became the executor of his estate. Frye’s few possession were sold at auction in January 1853. An entire year went by until probate was settled in court.

Note that the court is located “at Bidwell.” That would be Bidwell Bar, which at that time was the county seat.

Here is the inventory of Frye’s property sold at Rancho Chico. My thanks to “Rooty” who posted this on

Amos Frye’s entire estate consisted of six horses, two weapons, saddle, bridle and halter, a coat and a cloak, and an old pair of boots. According to Measuring Worth, one dollar in 1853 had a purchasing power of forty dollars today, in case you would like to calculate the value of his estate.

Who inherited? Amos Frye had a nephew living near Stockton, who wrote to Bidwell in November 1853 that he was contemplating returning to the States in the spring and would like to have the estate settled by then.

John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

Stockton No 18th 1853

Mr. Bidwell ser

            I received a line from you a short time a go statin that you had not got threw with the settling the estate of of my deseast uncle you will send me a statement of the settlement and oblig me I intend going home in the spring and I want something to show how the thing was settled.   Yours etc. John Frye

If he went home in the spring of 1854, he must have returned at some point. John Adolphus Frye is listed on the California Great Register (voter registration) for the years 1871 to 1888. For some of those years (1871-73) he is at French Camp, now a suburb of Stockton. He was born, probably in 1828, in Alabama, which ties him nicely to his uncle’s place of birth.

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A Tour of Johnson’s Ranch

That ridge was the site of Camp Far West

Yesterday was my lucky day! I got to visit historic Johnson’s Ranch in Yuba County. You can’t just drive out to the ranch and look around because it is on private property, the AKT Ranch. I was given an invitation by the Wheatland Historical Society to join their tour and I was very happy to go.

The weather could not have been more perfect. Blue skies and white puffy clouds with none of the rain that fell the day before. The grass was still green and the wildflowers were blooming, with beautiful vistas of rolling prairie and distant foothills all around.

Johnson’s Ranch lay along the Bear River (which has moved its course over the years, due to dredging and hydraulic mining). This was the terminus of the Truckee Route of the California Trail. Reaching Johnson’s Ranch meant you had arrived in California at last. It was a welcome resting place. From here emigrants could proceed to Sutter’s Fort, or to Nevada City, or to Marysville, all of which were between 15 to 40 miles away. Most famously it was the site where the survivors of the Donner Party convalesced.

No buildings remain from pioneer days but you can see where they once stood. We visited the sites of Camp Far West, Johnson’s Adobe, and the Burtis Hotel. There is a cemetery, where four soldiers who died in the winter of 1849 are buried, along with several pioneers. The wall around the cemetery was built in the 1940s. The monument in the center of the cemetery has unfortunately been vandalized over the years, but there are plans to replace the four missing plaques that commemorated the soldiers. Simple white-painted crosses made of rebar mark the graves in the cemetery.

The site of Johnson’s Adobe

That’s our guide, Bill Holmes, standing next to the marker for the Johnson’s Ranch Adobe House. The posts and barb wire around the marker are necessary to keep the cattle from pushing down and tearing up the marker.

It hard to spot, but there is a slight rise or hump in the ground extending from my position to the couple in plaid shirts. That’s where the adobe walls once stood. The adobe was an L-shaped building; the rise continues to the left of the marker, with the marker in the angle. Artifacts like pottery and eating utensils were found in the earth here.

Our vehicles followed the same trail that countless wagons traversed. It’s a bumpy ride, even in the best truck or SUV. I can only imagine what a rough ride it would have been in a wagon. That’s one reason almost everyone walked.

The dip you can see in the ground is a swale, a depression caused by all the wagons that passed over this ground. Just beyond those trees is the old bed of the Bear River and this is where the wagons crossed and headed for Sutter’s Fort or Nicolaus or Nevada City. This was the end of the Emigrant Trail.

If you would like to read more about Johnson’s Ranch, I have written about it in previous posts. Read about the first owner of the land grant (who was not Johnson), or William Johnson himself, or what the future might hold for this historic site.

Thanks for visiting Johnson’s Ranch with me!

My thanks go to the Wheatland Historical Society, especially Kristin who invited me, and Bill Holmes, who has done so much to preserve the history of this beautiful site.

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The Death of Amos Frye

Close-up of John Bidwell with native and other employees in front of his store c. 1852

. . . shot in artery and died instantly. One man killed, had to bring him on a horse and he was the 1st man buried in Chico Cemetery. Great indignation that I let a white man be killed and did not kill all the Indians.

from Annie Bidwell’s notes to John Bidwell Dictation, John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

That one man was Amos E. Frye. The record for “Internment No. 1” in the Chico Cemetery states, “This grave must be located in Section 4; site otherwise unknown; the monument has not be found.” There may have been a marker at one time, if so it has been lost.

Frye’s death occurred in June 1852, during Bidwell’s only excursion against natives. As Bidwell recounted in 1891:

I never went on an Indian killing expedition except on one occasion. The Indians came to my place and stole cattle. I had a few domesticated cattle of better breed, bought from emigrants, and they were very valuable and of course they were easily driven off. I wanted to punish the Indians and communicated the fact to my neighbors. They were all willing to help me, but I did not want to kill. I wished to arrest them and have them punished according to law. For some time I was unable to get any one to assist me unless I would, as they expressed it, “wipe them out.” Finally about a dozen men volunteered and promised to do just what I said.

I waited a month perhaps before I made my move, for I wished to find out as near as possible who took the cattle. Finally two mountain Indians came down. I seized them and locked them apart so that they could not talk to each other. Asked each one if he knew who stole the cattle, and one of them replied that the Indians had, and gave me the exact names. The other did likewise, withholding his own name. I said we would go and get those Indians. I thought we could surround the village and wait until daylight. We had the two Indians with us, and had agreed that their lives would be safer if they helped us to catch the others.

John Bidwell Dictation 1891, pp. 20-21

American cattle were of higher quality than the local Spanish cattle and were thus more valuable. The county sheriff was willing to deal with Indians in town, but had no desire to go after natives in the mountains. That left Bidwell or other settlers on their own if they wanted to retaliate against Indian theft and depredations. There was little sympathy for the natives among most settlers. They expected the indigenous people to give way to the newcomers, and punished those natives who did not. The Indians took livestock because they had seen game and other food resources destroyed by the influx of miners and farmers.

Bidwell desired to work within the law. As Michele Shover states in her book California Standoff, “he was determined to be deliberate, show restraint, and model a peaceful resolution to the problem.” (58) But this was a problem that neither side could solve.

After the loss of his cattle, Bidwell waited until late June to make his move. With an armed band of ranch Indians and white employees, including Amos Frye, he proceeded up Chico Creek Canyon with the aim of surprising the Indians village at dawn.

Just as it was getting light, one of our men accidentally discharged his gun. Then the Indians were roused and they ran in all directions. I had stationed one man on the outside to see that none of the Indians escaped. In the excitement he was shot. The men were greatly excited and wanted to kill the Indians. I would not allow it, and we returned home, without the thieves. I was blamed for the loss of a white man’s life in comparison with which 1000 Indians were as nothing. That was the only Indian expedition I ever engaged in.

John Bidwell Dictation 1891, pp. 21

Michele Shover suggests that it may have been one of the ranch Indians who deliberately fired his gun to warn the mountain natives. Whichever it was, the shot destroyed the element of surprise.

Amos Frye was shot in the neck with an arrow and died instantly. John Bidwell regretted the incident for the rest of his life. His decision to go against the mountain natives had caused the death of his friend. He had not retrieved his property and he had not been able to set an example of his ideal of American justice. His neighbors blamed him for Frye’s death, but he felt that the death of native men was just as great a loss.

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The Adventures of Amos Frye — Part 2

Amos E. Frye was now in his forties, working for John Bidwell on Rancho Chico. Bidwell was often away from the ranch, serving in the California senate in San Jose and looking after business in San Francisco and Sacramento. John Bidwell left his ranch in charge of his younger brother Thomas, age 29, and other employees like Alfred H. Stout.

Frye turned out to be a good employee. He probably had considerable experience in farm and ranch business. Thomas wrote on January 6, 1851:

Mr. Frye has proved a most useful man to the ranch and is deserving both of commendation and reward. He thinks that the hog speculation would be altogether too uncertain to engage in. There will in all probability be “a rush” towards the Scot River mines [in Siskiyou Co.] in the Spring and as mules are selling pretty low at Marysville Mr. Frye thinks it would be a good investment to buy a few. He has accordingly gone down to purchase a few.

Bidwell’s aim was to make money selling beef, flour, and produce to the mining camps. A letter from Frye to Bidwell on May 19th 1851 gives some idea of how business was going at Shasta Valley.

John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

Chasty Vally [Shasta Valley]  May 19th 1851

John Bidwell

Dear Sir  I have been here for the last five days this is a bad speculation for us the flour brot 50 cts and Dull Beefe 20 to 35.  We have put up and opened a Butchers for sale of the Beefe and as soon as I can rais out of Beefe & Flour 1000$ I shall start for home and leve Keefer to sell out the balance as for Mr. Hillman & Morford they have behaved very bad. Morford is of all men the poorest and smallest Specimen of men I ever saw and quarrelsome I have stood everything from Morford but closed all Transactions and do not allow him to speak to me.

I don’t know what “Dull Beef” is; maybe I am misreading the word. He goes on to call Morford “a Dam Rascal” and says “You will see me as soon as I can rais the amt before mentioned” which was $1000. They were certainly making money, but not as quickly or easily as hoped. In another short letter in August 1851 Frye says, “the prospects are bad for the sale of all kinds of Provisions.”

Here’s another Frye to Bidwell letter, dated January 7, 1852.

John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

Yuba City Ja’y 7, 1852

Maj. Bidwell

            I am abt making an arrangmt for a Lot of Hogs say from one hundred & fifty to 60 and shall no doubt make the arrangmt if so I shall bring 30 sows home and leave the balance of the hogs in this place for sale. Taylor left a horse for me here but the horse was stolen or got away. I sent a mule home please put the [double F] Iron on him and turn him out. the buyer is an acquaintance of mine please say to Barber to charge his bill to me and if he wants to go to the mines let him have some hoss or mule to ride on my a/c [account] and oblige. I advise him to go to the Butte Mines [?] or where Nelson was. please direct him out and if you can give him any advise you will much oblige etc.

                                                                                    A.E. Frye

These letters deal mostly with livestock, but it is also interesting to see who he mentions. Taylor was Charley Taylor, a skillful cowboy who worked for Sam Neal, and Nelson Blake was another young man employed by Bidwell. The Iron he mentions would have been Frye’s own brand. Barber is Alexander H. Barber, who also worked for Bidwell and was appointed postmaster at Rancho Chico in 1851.

John Bidwell Papers, California State Library

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The Adventures of Amos E. Frye — Part 1

Amos E. Frye led an adventurous life, but left very little record of it. He is more noted for his death than his life — he was the first man buried in the Chico Cemetery. How he came there, and speculations about where he started from, will be the subject of the next few posts.

Amos E. Frye first turns up as a member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, the first group of American emigrants to head to California. But he didn’t make it to California, and it seems he didn’t have any intention of going that far. When Bidwell listed the men in the company at the beginning of his journal he noted “A. E. Frye and Rogers on a pleasure excursion.” After they crossed through South Pass and were on the Green River, Bidwell recorded:

Sunday, 25th. Left the rendezvous this morning, 6 of the company, viz., John Gray, Peyton, Frye, Rogers, Jones, and Romaine, started to return to the United States.

John Gray and William “Lord” Romaine were an interesting pair and I have written about them elsewhere. Frye and the others were men who wanted to spend the summer viewing the West, hunting buffalo, and enjoying the great outdoors. According to Father Nicholas Point, a member of the missionary party that traveled with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, a group of French Canadian trappers coming the opposite direction “painted a picture so little encouraging that many of our party thought only of taking advantage of the opportunity to turn back.” They had seen enough; time to head back to the States.

Who was Amos Frye? He was probably born in 1809, making him 32 years old on this expedition. He might have been born in Mobile, Alabama, if one notice of his death is correct. He might be the Amos E. Frye (although confusingly, there is a New Englander with the same name and the same death date) listed as a trader on this New Orleans port immigration record.

By 1841 he was in Missouri, but countless men passed through Missouri, and in 1841 almost none of them had been born there.

So in 1841 John Bidwell goes on to California, and Amos Frye returns to Missouri. What Frye did between 1841 and 1850 is unknown. But in 1850, somehow and somewhere, Bidwell and Frye meet up again. Bidwell had gone to Washington, D.C., to lobby for California statehood. He visited his family in Ohio and traveled through some of the other states. Perhaps Frye read his name in a newspaper, remembered his old trail mate, and sought him out. Maybe he was looking for a better job or a way to get to the goldfields. In any case, he returned to California with John Bidwell, steaming into San Francisco Bay on the Oregon, the ship that brought the news of California statehood.

Daily Alta California 18 October 1850

A. Frye is listed just before J. Bidwell and servant (that was Rafael, a Maidu boy) and Mrs. and Miss Crosby. Further down the list is Thos. Bidwell, John’s younger brother. Thomas’s letters will give us a glimpse of Amos Frye and life on Rancho Chico.

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Nancy Kelsey’s Last Two Wishes

Grave marker installed by the Native Daughters of the Golden West in 1937. Photo from The Church of the Open Road Press

Nancy Kelsey’s long and adventurous life came to an end on August 10th, 1896. She died and was buried at her last home in Cottonwood Canyon in the Cuyama Valley in Santa Barbara County, California. Her friend, Minnie Heath, later said:

Finally she became ill herself with a dreadful cancer. She told me that she got it while riding in a stage when she was thrown against the side of the coach. She was taken out to Santa Maria and operated on by two pioneer doctors of the community — Doctors Lucas and Bagby; but it had gone too far, and Nancy was taken home to die. 

Nancy had two last wishes: One was to be buried in a coffin, not in something scraped up with old boards. The other was to be buried with her husband. Her first wish came true, because one of the neighbors drove clear out to Santa Maria and got the coffin. Those were tough days in the Cuyama. He had but one horse, but he was able to borrow another horse from another neighbor to make the trip. No one had any money. We all put a little money into a collection and this was added to in Santa Maria, and the friend brought the coffin back and left it at my house. I told Nancy we had it, and I know she was pleased because she just squeezed my hand.
“Nancy Kelsey’s Two Last Wishes” by Judge L.C. Drapeau. The Grizzly Bear, February 1937.

Benjamin Kelsey had been buried in the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. Her friends were unable to fulfill Nancy’s wish to be buried next to her husband. Instead, on either side of her grave, are the graves of two infants, one marked Clanton (a grandchild) and the other Plummer (another source says Blummer).

In 1937 members of the Miocene Parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West erected a handsome marker honoring Nancy Kelsey over her grave.

In 1967 further work was done to honor Nancy’s memory by Boy Scouts from Troop 567 of Lomita, California. They cleaned up the area, planted trees, erected fences, and arranged rock borders around the path and the grave site.

The grave is on private land so it isn’t usually possible to visit it. One person who has is the gentleman and motorcyclist who writes a blog called The Church of the Open Road, where you can read more.

There’s an accessible marker in the town of New Cuyama, just off of Highway 166. This marker was erected by E Clampus Vitus, in 1994. It is listed in the Historical Marker Database. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it. We used to drive through the Cuyama Valley on our way to and from Bakersfield when we lived in Santa Maria, but the marker was erected after we left Santa Maria.

It’s nice to know that there are still those who know and care about pioneer Nancy Kelsey.

(The photo on the left is also from The Church of the Open Road Press)

In Honor of Nancy Kelsey Marker
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Helping Mrs. Kelsey

After interviewing her in early 1893, Addison Powell stayed in touch with Nancy Kelsey. He was distressed by her poverty and a year after the interview he wrote to John Bidwell, seeking aid for the widowed Mrs. Kelsey.

Society of California Pioneers

Santa Maria, California  April 22, 1894

Hon. John Bidwell,

                                    Dear Sir,  I believe it is my duty to again call your attention to the beggarly condition of old Mrs. Kelsie. She is destitute and I fear she will die from hunger. I am too poor myself to do more than I have and if you can get the Pioneers to contribute $5.00 per month I will receipt for it & see that she gets it.

                                    Yours respectfully,

A.M. Powell U. S. Deputy Surveyor, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County, Cal’a.

Why John Bidwell? He had been a leader of the 1841 Bidwell-Bartleson Party in which Nancy Kelsey came to California. In 1894 he was a prominent rancher and politician, one of the most famous men in the state. As Nancy said in her interview, “A boy by the name of John Bidwell was in our party. I understand he has grown to be a great man and ran for President.”

Bidwell forwarded the letter to the Society of California Pioneers.

Chico, Cal.  April 27, 1894

Hon. C. V. S. Gibbs, Prest.

Society Cal. Pioneers, San Francisco,

            Dear Sir,

The enclosed letter relating to Mrs. Benjamin Kelsey, the first woman to cross the plains to California – in 1841 – explains itself. I have confidence that Mr. Powell the writer of this letter is acting, and will act, in good faith should anything be confided to him for Mrs. K.

I have sent him an item for her, and would do more if I could – in such time as this. Hoping the Society may grant the needed relief asked for in this very exceptional case, I have the honor to be

                                    Yours very sincerely, John Bidwell

He sent her “an item” but we don’t know what it was. Presumably money, but he doesn’t record anything about it in his diary. Then in March 1896 Bidwell noted that he sent ten dollars to A.M. Powell for Mrs. Kelsey. In 1896 ten dollars would have had a buying power of about $250, an amount that surely would have been welcome to Nancy Kelsey in her last year of life.

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Nancy Kelsey’s Last Years

San Francisco Examiner 5 February 1893

Nancy Kelsey was 65 years old when she moved to the Cuyama Valley to be near her daughter Martha Ann Lewis. In 1889 the age of 65 was considered elderly and Nancy had certainly seen a good deal of hardship during her life. Not that she was gloomy, far from it. Life could be tough, she knew that, but she had always faced up to whatever life handed her. She never complained.

Another daughter, Nancy Rose, was also living in Cuyama at the time. She was married to John Wesley Clanton, the oldest son of Newman Clanton, patriarch of the notorious Clanton family of Tombstone, Arizona. John Wesley stayed clear of his brothers outlawry and was living in California at the time of the famous “Gunfight at the OK Corral” in 1881.

Only a few ranching and farming family lived in Cuyama, a remote corner of Santa Barbara County. The nearest town was Santa Maria, 60 miles over rutted road to the west.

Minnie Beatrice Heath, who had known Nancy when she was a young schoolteacher in Cuyama, later wrote of her:

Always ready to help others in time of need, she never had a selfish thought in her fine old head. Up until a few weeks of her death, she would mount her pinto pony to ride across the mountains to help bring a baby into this world, bind splints on a broken leg, or minister to a fever-ridden child. Her knowledge of herbs was so extensive that rarely did she fail to help in her care of the sick.

The Grizzly bear, February 1937

In 1893 Addison M. Powell, a surveyor in Santa Maria, heard of Nancy Kelsey and rode out to her little home to interview her. He described her as “a cheery old lady, still sturdy” who would talk “with spirit” about the early days of California. His article, published in the San Francisco Examiner on February 5, 1893, consists almost entirely of her own words, as she told the tale of her overland journey, her travels in California, and a number of encounters with natives.

I have enjoyed riches and suffered the pangs of poverty. I have seen U.S. Grant when he was little known; I have baked bread for General Fremont and talked to Kit Carson; I have run from bear and killed most other kinds of smaller game.

Since Mrs. Kelsey wanted to go to town (Santa Maria), Mr. Powell gave her a ride in his wagon. “The trip of sixty miles in a buckboard over a mountain road was made in ten hours. Although seventy years of age she did not complain of being tired.” Which just goes to show that she was made of sterner stuff than I.

Mrs. Kelsey, though burdened with years and poor, has all her pioneer pride unimpaired and asks for nothing, but as one who knows and esteems her said when she set out for her mountain refuge:

“The generous men who have made their fortunes in the Far West, and were enabled to do it by the risk of lives such as hers, might well extend their generosity sufficiently to enable that modest old heroine to live in a comfortable cottage and free from want or care during he few days that are left to her.”

Next time: How Addison Powell found help for Nancy Kelsey

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