Kit Carson

uewb_03_img0149I have enjoyed riches and suffered the pangs of poverty. I saw General Grant when he was little known. I baked bread for General Fremont and talked to Kit Carson. Nancy Kelsey

When Nancy Kelsey was remembering her adventurous life, three famous Americans were top on her list of celebrities: Grant, Fremont, and Kit Carson, the celebrated scout, trapper, and frontiersman.

Last week I made a visit to Taos, New Mexico. It’s a lovely town to visit, especially if you like window-shopping among art galleries, which Taos is chock-full of. I didn’t have time for that, but for history buffs Taos has the Kit Carson Home and Museum.

(It also has Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, well worth a visit.)


Hard to get a good picture with our tour bus parked right in front of the museum.


The courtyard of the Kit Carson Home.

The house is a typical Southwestern-style one-story adobe structure surrounding a courtyard, with a flat roof and small connected rooms. The large cooking and heating adobe stove is two-sided, for versatility.


The museum consists of four rooms of Carson’s home, full of family photographs and artifacts, plus a gift shop. Carson was a devoted family man, in spite of his many journeys away, and he was never happier than when he was home with his wife Josefa and their lively bunch of children.

DSCF7856Kit’s writing desk. I don’t know how much writing he did, since I am told that he was illiterate. He did learn to sign his name. Nevertheless, he had a writing desk.

Since Carson’s home was in Taos, what is his connection to California? Well, it was considerable. Maybe someday I’ll write about it.

The museum director asked our group, “What do you know about Kit Carson?” I said, “I know he was with John C. Fremont in California.”

The director said, “It might be more accurate to say that Fremont was with Kit Carson in California,” and he was right. Without Carson’s knowledge and quiet leadership, Fremont probably never would have made it.

So if you ever get to Taos, say hello to Kit and Josefa from all of us in California.

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A Russian in California

800px-SudzilovskySan Francisco, Sacramento, Soapweed — the travels of a Russian in California.

Nikolai Konstantinovich Sudzilovsky came to California in 1891, but not under that name. When he left Russia, he adopted the English-sounding name Nicholas John Russel, the surname being a nod to his homeland. His description of his travels in California, written in Russian for a Russian audience, was never published in his lifetime — indeed, he never completed it. It languished among his papers in a Moscow archive until discovered and translated by Terence Emmons.

Around California in 1891 was published by the Stanford Alumni Association in 1991. I picked the book up in a used book store, another one of those serendipitous finds.

Russel (I’ll call his that, since it is easier to type and the name he used most often) was born in Belarus in 1850. He studied medicine at Kiev University, where he also got deep into revolutionary politics. When the political situation became too heated for the young rebel, he left for Bucharest, where he completed his medical education and continued his activities in left-wing politics. Expelled from Romania, he bounced around Europe until 1887, when he emigrated to the United States. Wherever he went he wrote travel articles for Russian magazines that were published under pseudonyms.

In 1887 he came to California and for a few years practiced medicine in San Francisco. In 1891 he decides to go to the mountains for a summer vacation. He begins his account with these words:

Surely, one of the unique features of American life worthy of imitation is the widespread practice of spending summer vacation in the wilderness camping or wandering. . . .  “Camping,” “tramping,” and “roughing it” as the Americans call this custom of summer traveling, will not lose their poetic charm and will continue to be the inexpensive and popular source of a multitude of healthy and varied pleasure.

And here we are, over 100 years later, still taking our family camping trips and enjoying the wilderness.

The business man and the “aristocrat,” though, will not be found enjoying the summer in the rural isolation. Americans, according to Russel, are obsessed with getting rich, and the man of business does not have time for leisurely vacations.

As he travels, he remarks on the ubiquity of advertising, “whether on the railroad, ferry boat, or country lane, it flies into your ears and nose like mosquitoes in the swamp or woods.” He doesn’t forget his socialist roots — he is sensitive to the excesses of American business and “the predators of capitalist feudalism.” But to be fair, it was the Gilded Age of the robber barons and the “Big Four.” There was plenty to criticize.

Russel starts his travels in San Francisco, takes the ferry to Oakland and then the train to Sacramento, describing all the sights, sounds, and smells along the way. His object is the mountains — he plans to spend the summer among the pines. To this end he had put an advertisement in the papers, looking for a place where he and his traveling companion could stay for the summer and do some hiking and fishing.

He ends up with a Mrs. Golden, who “offered us, for a reasonable price, room and board in a comfortable apartment with a small family at the elevation of 3,000 feet, in a forested, healthful area covered with mountain streams.” Sounds inviting!

The rest of his unfinished account is a description of their summer at Soapweed. There is no town of Soapweed now (if there ever was), but there is a Soapweed Creek, about 16 miles from Placerville in the El Dorado National Forest, and that is where he enjoyed California country life.

Russel never completed the book. After a dispute with the Russian Orthodox bishop of San Francisco (thoroughly covered in the book in an article by Terence Emmons), he went to Hawaii, where he became the first president of the Hawaiian Senate, under the name Kauka Lukini!

Never one to settle anywhere, he traveled to Japan, and then to China, where he died in 1930. His papers eventually made their way back to Moscow.

The book is too brief to tell us much about life California in 1891, but it gives an idea of how the Golden State looked to the eyes of a revolutionary Russian.


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Tehama County Jubilee!

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Look at that! Top billing at the Tehama County Museum’s 38th Annual Jubilee.

If you like a good old-fashioned fair, not too big but with plenty to do for old and young, then the Jubilee was the place to be today.

I was their featured author, and I had a table inside the air-conditioned annex (lucky me!) where I talked to local folks and sold and signed books.

You can tell from this array of signs that there was plenty going on, and that wasn’t the half of it. I was sitting next to the Fiber Arts ladies, who were spinning away on their spinning wheels, making yarn to craft a shawl.

There were craft booths, a pancake breakfast, a picnic lunch, vintage trucks and tractors, raffle prizes, an art show from Corning High School, and plenty of toe-tapping music. Something for everyone!

Here are a few pictures:



The Tehama County Museum, in the town of Tehama, just over the Sacramento River from Los Molinos. I hope you all know where Tehama County is. (I have to admit that I didn’t until I moved to Northern California.)


Every county needs a jail.



Ladies, start your spinning wheels!


Look at those beauties! Vintage trucks on display.

History comes alive at the Tehama County Museum!


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California Admission Day


Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers

Here’s Cuffy in a cartoon from 1850, reading the news of California’s admission into the Union.  The drawing comes from the Society of California Pioneers, but I don’t know anything else about the source of this picture. The SCP has a treasure trove of California items.

In September 1889 — 39 years after the event — John Bidwell wrote to his friend E. Nelson Blake:

Your memory is good — true, 39 years ago we brought the news of California’s admission into the Union. Where are those who were our fellow passengers? Except for yourself, I cannot recall the name of one living! We ought to be thankful that our lives have been spared to behold the wonderful march of events of this prolific age!

Unfortunately, Blake’s letter to Bidwell recalling the great day does not survive. Blake had a very good memory for his California days — I wish we had his recollections.

Bidwell and Blake were both passengers on the steamship Oregon, arriving on October 18, 1850 with the news that California had become the 31st state. Bidwell was traveling in a first class cabin, while Blake, a farm boy on his way to the goldfields, was in steerage.

Bidwell carried with him the statehood documents, but fearing their loss to unknown men who opposed the admission of California as a free state, he gave the document into the keeping of Mrs. Elisha Crosby and her daughter Helen. Miss Helen slept with the packet of papers under her pillow and hid them in her blue silk umbrella as the crossed the Isthmus of Panama.

You can celebrate Admission Day with the Bidwell Mansion Association at Bidwell Mansion on Sunday, September 8th at 4 p.m. and hear the whole story of how John Bidwell brought the news and the documents safely to San Francisco.



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A Visit to the Haggin Museum

I travel quite often from our home in Chico to our son’s home in Livermore (because that’s where the grandchildren are). Traveling down I-5 we pass through Stockton. I have never had any reason to stop in Stockton, until I found out about the Haggin Museum.


What a gem! Stockton is very lucky to have such a fine museum. And luck has played a significant role in the creation of the Haggin Museum. According to Wikipedia:

The San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Society wanted to build a history museum, but was unable to raise sufficient funds to do so. Robert McKee offered the group $30,000 in honor of his wife, Eila Haggin McKee, if the museum would be named for her father Louis Terah Haggin and if they added a wing to house his art collection. The museum opened its doors to the public on 14 June 1931, Flag Day.

So Mr. Haggin never lived in Stockton, but his fine collection of 19th century European and American does reside there. It’s an especially good place to see paintings by Albert Bierstadt.


Sunset in Yosemite Valley, by Albert Bierstadt

The museum also has an extensive collection of the works of the American “Golden Age” illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker, which also came to them by luck. Leyendecker never lived in Stockton either, but his sister did, and she left her collection to the museum. If 19th century French art is not your thing, then go to the upstairs gallery to see Saturday Evening Post covers and advertising art for Kellogg’s cereals and Arrow shirts.


J.C. Leyendecker — Is it any wonder that we all eat cereal for breakfast now?


Charles Weber, member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party and founder of Stockton

And then there is local and California history, farm machinery, boats, old fire engines, a World War II Jeep (one of 275 bought by the students and teachers of Stockton High), and traveling exhibits. Something for everyone!

The museum is easy to get to — close to I-5 on Pershing Ave. Directions and hours are here.  Put it on your list of places to visit soon.

The museum is set in a city park so you can have a picnic or run some energy off the kids. There is also a lovely rose garden.



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A Saturday Evening Post cover by J.C. Leyendecker 

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A Quick Visit to Rough and Ready

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DSCF7688 MIf you drive along Highway 20 from Marysville to Grass Valley, you see a sign that points left and says “Rough and Ready 2 miles”. I have meant to take that turn for a long time now, and last Friday I finally did.

The town of Rough and Ready was once a thriving mining community of over 3000 people. Now there are only a few hundred in the area, but they are an independent-minded bunch, and proud of their little town.

They have quite a sense of humor too.



A copy of an original painting depicting Rough and Ready in gold rush days.

Rough and Ready got its name from General Zachary Taylor, known as “Old Rough and Ready.” The first settlers were a company of gold seekers from Wisconsin who arrived in the fall of 1849, led by Captain A. A. Townsend, who had served under Taylor during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Townsend’s company of 49ers was the “Rough and Ready” Company in honor of their leader and the President.

Discontent and disputation over a proposed mining tax and no government services led to an independence movement. On April 7th, 1850, at a mass meeting, the townsfolk voted to secede from the Union and declared itself the “Independent Republic of Rough and Ready.” Colonel E. F. Brundage was elected president of the new republic and a Constitution was written and signed.

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The original blacksmith shop

Alas, the republic was short-lived. As July 4th approached, the miners began making preparations for the big day (and the 4th of July was a very big day at that time, the biggest and noisiest holiday of the year.) How could they celebrate the independence of a nation they had left? What was worse, as “foreigners”, they were running into refusals when they tried to buy liquor from nearby towns for the celebration. The independence movement was called off and Rough and Ready rejoined the Union, just in time to celebrate Independence Day.

Rough and Ready still has a few old buildings from the Gold Rush era. Mr. Weldon Travis, who stopped his pickup truck to see what we were doing, kindly invited us up to the grange hall to learn some history of the town.

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The Secession Days Celebration takes place on the first Sunday in June (June 2, 2019.) Formerly it was the last Sunday in June. This is a family-friendly event with a pancake breakfast, chili cook-off, craft fair, blacksmith demonstrations, kids’ activities, and The Original Saga of Rough and Ready re-enactment melodrama. Go to Rough and Ready for a fun-filled day of history and excitement!


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August 27, 1847


John Sutter in 1850

John Sutter needed lumber. He was always building — on his fort, around the fort, up at his farm. He also planned to sell lumber to the settlers who were coming into California  in increasing numbers. He needed a sawmill.

In his New Helvetia Diary, where he kept a daily record of events and comings and goings at the fort, John Sutter wrote:

Aug. 27: Made a contract and entered in partnership with Marshall for a sawmill to be built on the [American] fork.

John Bidwell wrote out the contract, although he had his doubts about the advisability of the plan. He had inspected the site at Coloma himself, and thought that the American River canyon was too rocky and narrow for safely rafting lumber downstream to Sutter’s Fort. Later he would write:

I wrote the contract between Sutter and him [Marshall] to build the mill. Sutter was to furnish the means; Marshall was to build and run the mill, and have a share of the lumber for his compensation. His idea was to haul the lumber part way and raft it down the American River to Sacramento, and thence, his part of it  . . . . down to San Francisco for a market. . . . It is hard to conceive how any sane man could have been so wide of the mark, or how anyone could have selected such a site for a sawmill. Surely no other man than Marshall ever entertained so wild a scheme . . . and no other man than Sutter would have been so confiding and credulous as to patronize him.

But in the end it didn’t matter. Marshall, who was a skilled carpenter and wheelwright, hired Indians and soldiers from the Mormon Battalion to get the sawmill built. It was coming along nicely until January 24, 1848, when Jim Marshall found little flecks of gold in the tailrace of the mill.

And the rest is history.

sutter's millCSL

Sutter’s Mill



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