New Book!

Got delivery today on 500 copies of my new book. Here they are:

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Peter Lassen: The True Story of a Danish Pioneer in California tells the story of Lassen’s adventures coming to America and settling in California. Steve Ferchaud did the illustrations and Carla Resnick did the graphic design and layout. I thank them for their wonderful work, as well as Josie Reichschneider-Smith and Ken Johnston for checking the historical facts, Gary Kurutz for giving me a great blurb for the back cover, and Christian and Jens Bak for helping Steve and I get the look of old Copenhagen right.

Here’s what Gary Kurutz said about the book:

“Through comprehensive research and gifted writing, historian Nancy Leek brings out the magnetic life of this intrepid Danish pioneer who crossed the country to settle and tame the rugged and remote land of northeastern California. Like Captain Sutter, he was generous and welcoming to immigrants and respected Native Americans, only to be murdered in 1859 on his way to the newly discovered Nevada silver mines.”

(Gary is the former curator of the California State Library and the executive director of the California State Library Foundation.)

Here are a couple of inside pages. That’s Peter Lassen and John Bidwell exploring the Sacramento Valley and hunting grizzly bear.

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Information about purchasing the book can be found on the My Books tab above.

Here are some other blog pages about Lassen: searching out his life and his mysterious death.

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Seeing the Grizzly

Just posting these pictures here because grizzly bears are cool and not very scary at all if you have a nice thick piece of glass between you and the bear. This grizzly lives at the Oakland Zoo.

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The Oakland Zoo has two orphaned grizzly bear cubs. If this is a cub I’m not sure that I want to deal with a full grown grizzly. They can get up to 9 feet long and 1200 pounds. You can read about how the bear brothers came to the zoo in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

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They have a nice big grassy enclosure to live in, with hills and dells and trees and a pool. It can be hard to spot them if they are not in the pool and not close to the viewing platform. My husband Jim was lucky and got these excellent photos.

When pioneers and gold seekers got to California there were grizzly bears everywhere. There was plenty of game and life was good for a bear at the top of the food chain. But they were hunted to extinction — the last grizzly was seen in California in 1924. I am glad they are back in California, in a safe environment.

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And there he goes, over the hill and out of sight.

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The M & T Ranch Water Tower

Here is a little more on the water tower on the M & T Ranch. Liz Stewart and John Gallardo alerted me to the existence of a drawing of the ranch in Butte County Illustrated, a book that was published in 1877. The pictures from this book are available online at Meriam Library Special Collections Historical Photograph Collection.

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Ranch of D. M. Reavis

As you can see, the Reavis Ranch was quite the spread. And you have to admire the fine horses, bulls, and cows that ornament the corners. But it’s hard to see the water tower in this picture, so here is a closeup.

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You can see that in 1877 or a little earlier, when the drawing was made, the tower was no more than a box on stilts. It had yet to be enclosed.

Here is another photo of the tower — other pictures in the album have the date March 21, 1922. By this time the ranch was owned by James D. Phelan, the mayor of San Francisco. The photo comes from the Phelan Photograph Album collection at the Bancroft Library, accessible at Calisphere.

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There are several other photos of the Reavis Ranch in this collection — pictures of a few outbuildings and fields, such as this one.

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Back to Butte County Illustrated — In the upper left corner of the drawing is a picture of Reavis’s famous race horse, Blackbird.

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John Bidwell wrote in his diary in 1874:

Fri. December l8.
Somewhat hazy – & clear – Drove to Reavis’ ranch with Van Vliet — Saw Blackbird

 

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The Ohmura Letter

This is the letter that was in the same box with the Ohmura bowl. It was written from Cleveland, where the Ohmuras had been relocated in 1944. They both found work there, but never at the same level of prosperity that they had had in Chico with the Home Grown Vegetable Market. Mr. Ohmura found a job selling vacuum cleaners and  Mrs. Ohmura took on work as a domestic. Archie McDonald quotes their daughter May as saying, ” They didn’t have the energy to start a business again.”  (The Japanese Experience in Butte County, p. 135)

Mr. Ohmura did his best to put a good face on things for his letter to Robert and Mary Grace DeBeque. (I have retained the original spelling and grammar.)

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1911 E. 89th Cleveland 6 Ohio    Jan 21 1945

Dear Mr. and Mrs. DeBeque:

I beg you will excuse my neglect.

Thank you ever so much Mr. and Mrs. DeBeque for the greeting card, thoughtful letters, mental equivalent scrap paper and couple of lovely books which you sent through the unity school of Christianity, Kansas City Mo.

We don’t know how to express our appliciation [appreciation] and delight for your kindness and thoughtfulness. How wonderful you are! We feel very proud to have such a friend. We have a lot of friends in Chico but real friend are not many, even among Japanese people. It seems to be good in personally but when they get together to do something come to different. It was in Feb. of 1943 at Tule Lake Center, W.R.A. [War Relocation Authority] required us registration to find out loyal or disloyal to united states. That time I was put in a hot water. People in the camp were very excited to discuss this registration problem and held mass meeting all over the camp. When they ask me opinion, I express my attitude as an American citizen and maintained what we should do then. Majority express my opinion. One day I received a treating [threatening] poster from these people. Finally one night our apartment was attacked by armed group of people and our windows and door were broken by them. I did not meet these people and did not open the door. Fortunately, policemen came around as soon as hear the noise, and my family was safe. W.R.A. put a few watchmen after this happened and protected us. It was an awful thing. I din’t have any fear of them but felt so sorry for them instead. I know most of them for good many years and I have been good to them and they are good to me in personally and yet when they get together turned out disposition by the few of agitators. Well, that time I found only one real friend and he was willing to fight to death for us. I really felt wonderful of him.

For good many years, most Japanese people who lived in West Coast, especially farmers, make a Japanese colony and din’t get associated with Caucasian much. In other words they lived in Japanese way and get by without speak English. For this reason they did not study English much. In fact they din’t have any chance to get acquaintance each other with white people. I believe this was whole trouble. However, all Japanese love to live in U.S.A., love freedom, liberty, and justice as well as American. Their sons (second generation) are fighting in France, Italy, and south Pacific for their country U.S.A. now. Sacrifices will prove it and will grow.

I am very glad to read such a publication which you send to us. As you know, I live in Chico more than twenty years. During that time I never had a bad feeling yet and I love Chico people. They were very good to us. Now I come Cleveland and living almost one year. I din’t have any friend, every one were stranger to us. Certainly felt lonesome for a while but Cleveland people are different. They are warm hearted especially church groups. For year time I made a lot of friends here and they are awfully nice to all relocated Japanese people.

About 1700 Japanese American ancestry relocated here to Cleveland now, and most every one busy on jobs. Seems to be everybody getting along fine and well satisfied here.

Many times I asked their boys & girls about returning to west coast when I find a chance, but answer was “no.” They are living scatter all over the city, so they have more chance to know each other understanding and own development.

I have not made any decision yet to stay here or go back to Chico.

Cleveland met a bitter winter this year. People who live here last thirty years says din’t need this weather as yet. Snow fall started last Dec. Ever  since see ground covered with snow, and stop snowing day or two repeat again. Mercury went down to 3 below zero too. Snow view is certainly beautiful but hard on communication.

May was home for a month from Nov. 27th to Dec. 26th and Paul was Dec. 19th to Jan. 3rd for their vacation. We all reunion and enjoy holiday season.

Please excuse my poor writing.

Thanks again for your kindness and a lot things you have done for us.

Hope you are well this weather.

DSCF6611Sincerely yours,

Shigeto Tom Ohmura

Chiyo Ohmura

 

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A Visit to the M & T Ranch

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The water tower — isn’t she a beauty!

Today I was lucky enough to get a tour of the M & T Ranch to the west of Chico. The tour was arranged by April Morehead Pryor for her OLLI Butte County history class. The tour was led by Les Heringer, the ranch manager. He gave us quite a lot of information, both historical and current.

M & T Ranch comprises 8500 acres bounded on the north by Big Chico Creek and on the west by the Sacramento River. It is part of the original Farwell Grant of 22,000 acres, or five Spanish square leagues. That ranch was granted to Edward Farwell in 1844, but he was not to enjoy it long. In 1845 he sold the northern half (on which the M & T sits) to the Williams brothers, James and John, and going back east for an eye operation, there died. John Bidwell administered his estate and sold the southern half of the ranch to John Potter.

DSCF6616The handsome water tower which you see above was built by David Reavis sometime in the 1860s after he acquired the ranch. Although no longer used to store water, it is carefully maintained by Les and his crew.

Reavis grew wheat and bred horses. From the top of the tower he could watch his horses being exercised. and get a bird’s-eye view of races at the ranch’s nearby racetrack.

In his diary, John Bidwell records in December 3, 1872, that “D.M. Reavis paid me $25 towards recording Farwell patent.”

Reavis went bankrupt in 1878 and the ranch was sold. I am not sure who acquired it at that time, but sometime around 1900 it was bought by James D. Phelan, the mayor of San Francisco, who had it until his death in 1930. It was bought by partners from San Francisco — M and T — whose names I can’t remember. Their name has remained on the ranch, although it is now owned by PacTrust of Portland, Oregon.

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Along the Sacramento River

The 8500-acre M & T Ranch has some 6000 acres in production. More than half of the acreage in is walnuts, and it seems as if there are walnut trees as far as the eye can see. They also grow almonds, prunes, and a little rice. A large portion of the land along the Sacramento River is a riparian reserve.

If anyone knows more about the history of that beautiful water tower, please feel free to contribute a comment.

 

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The Ohmura Bowl — part 2

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View of barracks with Castle Rock in the background, Mar. 20, 1946, Tule Lake concentration camp, California. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (Densho Encyclopedia)

Evacuation of Japanese residents in Chico began in early July of 1942. Evacuees from Butte County were sent to the camp at Tule Lake in Siskiyou County. May Ohmura, who had just completed two years of study at Mills College in Oakland, joined her parents and brother there. They lived together in a one-room “apartment” in a hastily constructed barracks.

May described the camp site as a “desert-like spot with endless dust storms, the place enclosed by barbed wire, gun towers and guards pointing machine guns at the internees.” May found a job as a nurse’s aide in the hospital and her father was given a job hauling coal. Paul enrolled in the camp high school. (McDonald 105-106) Two-thirds of the internees were American citizens, like the Ohmura family.

In February 1943 the U.S. Army sent a recruiting team to sign up Nisei (second-generation Japanese) for the draft. There was a good deal of resistance, with less than half of the military age men willing to register. The questionnaire that was devised to assess the loyalty of Japanese internees contained questions that were confusing, demeaning, and problematic for both citizens and non-citizens. The issue caused a division between the internees who wished to demonstrate their loyalty and those who protested their incarceration and loss of rights.

(For more on the Loyalty Questionnaire, see this article at the Densho Encyclopedia.)

Shigeto Ohmura was vocal in stating his loyalty to the United States, drawing the anger of protestors. In a letter to the DeBeques he described the outbreak of violence against him in the camp.

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Letter written January 21, 1945 by Shigeto Ohmura to Robert and Mary Grace DeBeque

We don’t know how to express our appliciation [appreciation] and delight for your kindness and thoughtfulness. How wonderful you are! We feel very proud to have such a friend. We have a lot of friends in Chico but real friend are not many, even among Japanese people. It seems to be good in personally but when they get together to do something come to different.

It was in Feb. of 1943 at Tule Lake Center, W.R.A. [War Relocation Authority] required us registration to find out loyal or disloyal to united states. That time I was put in a hot water. People in the camp were very excited to discuss this registration problem and held mass meeting all over the camp. When they ask me opinion, I express my attitude as an American citizen and maintained what we should do then. Majority express my opinion. One day I received a treating [threatening] poster from these people.

Finally one night our apartment was attacked by armed group of people and our windows and door were broken by them. I did not meet these people and did not open the door. Fortunately, policemen came around as soon as hear the noise, and my family was safe. W.R.A. put a few watchmen after this happened and protected us. It was an awful thing. I din’t have any fear of them but felt so sorry for them instead. I know most of them for good many years and I have been good to them and they are good to me in personally and yet when they get together turned out disposition by the few of agitators. Well, that time I found only one real friend and he was willing to fight to death for us. I really felt wonderful of him.

May Ohmura also described the experience in a letter to Archie McDonald:

What I remember, when I returned from the evening shift at the hospital, via the ambulance, the barrack door was opened quickly and I was told to come quickly. There was a crowd surrounding the building shouting. I remember blowing a whistle hoping this would bring help. I do not recall anyone being injured. (McDonald 107)

May’s whistle was mistaken by the attackers for that of a warden, and the gang fled.

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Four Tri-State High School leaders (L to R) Minoru Mochizuki, Shigeo Nakanishi, Yoshimitsu Hada, Paul Ohmura. UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

The Ohmuras spent a year at Tule Lake, and then were transferred to the Amache camp in Colorado. Later they were released from the internment camp and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio. They never returned to California.

 

Next: The Ohmura Letter

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The Ohmura Bowl

DSCF6607This bowl was a gift to my husband’s maternal grandparents, Robert and Mary Grace DeBeque, who lived in Chico during the 1940s and ’50s. I don’t know everything I would like to know about the bowl, but the letter accompanying it tells a great deal about the givers and about a significant period in Chico and American history.

The bowl was a gift from Shigeto and Satsuyo Ohmura to their friends, the DeBeques. For over twenty years Mr. Ohmura, who used Tom as his American name, was the proprietor of the Home Grown Vegetable Market, and a leader in the Japanese community in Butte County. The market was located at 171 E. 2nd Street, between Main St. and Wall St., and their produce was considered the finest available in Chico.*

DSCF6604The metal bowl is 6 ½ inches wide, and sits in a cushioned box covered on the outside with brocade fabric. The box also contains a pair of chopsticks, although I can’t imagine actually eating rice from this bowl. It seems more decorative than practical.

A label in the box indicates that it came from the Fukuya Department Store in Hiroshima. Established in 1929, the store survived the war and is still in business today. The bowl can’t have been imported during World War II, so either the Ohmura’s store also carried Japanese fancy goods, or this was one of their personal possessions. I assume they gave it to their friends the DeBeques before their involuntary departure.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Ohmura were American citizens, born in Hawaii when it was a territory of the United States. Shigeto Ohmura had gone to Japan for education and then emigrated to the United States. His wife followed a similar pattern. I am not sure what year they came to Chico, but they were living in Chico by 1922 when their first child was born. They had two children, May (b. 1922) and Paul (b. 1925), who as teenagers were popular students at Chico High School.

The attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941 shocked Americans, and fear and suspicion ran high. Suddenly every Japanese person was regarded as a possible spy or saboteur. The call to remove all Japanese, whether U.S. citizens or not, from the West Coast, was immediate. Responding to the general hysteria and calls for action from all levels of state and national government, President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment of all Japanese residing in areas designated as military zones. Evacuation of Japanese residents in Butte County to the Tule Lake internment camp began in early July.

Next: The Ohmura Family at Tule Lake

*Information about the Ohmura family and the internment of Japanese residents of Butte County comes from The Japanese Experience in Butte County, California, by Archie McDonald (Association for Northern California Records and Research, 1993). The book is available from anchr.org.

 

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