Much Scattered by Death and Disaster

One of the most entertaining letters on California history that I have seen is one written by George McKinstry Jr. to Edward Kern in December 1851. Kern was John C. Fremont’s cartographer and artist on his expedition to California in 1846. McKinstry and Kern had known each other at Sutter’s Fort, but Kern returned to the United States with Fremont at the end of the Mexican War. He never came back to California. In spite of his short stay, the Kern River and Kern County are named for him.


George McKinstry Jr. in 1880

McKinstry, who had moved on to San Diego, gives Kern updates on long list of men they had known at Sutter’s Fort. It is astonishing how many of these men are no longer in the land of the living. I don’t recognize all these names, but I will give notes on a few that I do know, and links to ones that I have written about.

Since you left this country a most astonishing change has taken place. The new Yankees would say for the better, but not we old fellows from Captain Sutter down to old Bray!*. . . Times are not what they “useter was.”

The old Sacramento crowd are much scattered by death and disaster since you left. William Daylor by cholera; Jared Sheldon shot in a row with miners; Perry McCoon by a fall from his horse; Sebastian Keyser** drowned; Little Bill Johnson*** – x – Kin Sabe? Captain “Luce” missing in the mountains; Olimpio, Sutter’s Indian messenger, shot by miners; Old Thomas Hardy, rum; John Sinclair, cholera; William E. Shannon, cholera; old William Knight,**** rum as expected; Charley Heath, rum and missing; Bob Ridley,† fever I think; and others too numerous to set down.

Our good friend Captain John Sutter has fitted up the Hock Rancho in superb style but I regret to say his reign seems smashed to flinders; old Theodore Cordua, tambien; Daylor and Sheldon estates said to be insolvent; our old and particular crony, John L. Schwartz,‡ still inhabits the Fishing Rancheria and has finally built that two-story house to escape the mosquitoes which he talked about so much. God know how he stands the pressure; he goes it, though, more than ever on the rum.

Old Kitnor is Captain Sutter’s mayordomo at Hock – he made a fortune and went bust; William A. Liedesdorff, dead; old Eliab Grimes, dead; Jack Fuller, ditto – also Allen Montgomery. Montgomery’s widow married the man who called himself Talbot H. Green, formerly with Larkin at Monterey and afterwards W. D. M. Howard’s partner in San Francisco. His real name was found to be Paul Geddes some time back, a bank robber from the United States. He departed to clear up his character, which was the last seen of him.

And there is much more — so stay tuned!

*Bray – Irish immigrant in the Stevens party of 1844.

**Sebastian Keyser – an Austrian trapper who came overland with Sutter. He was the recipient of the Llano Seco grant and later ran a ferry on the Cosumnes River, where he drowned in 1850.

***Bill Johnson – owner of Johnson’s Ranch on the immigrant trail. Bancroft notes he either died or went to the Sandwich Isles. If McKinstry knew anything, de’s not saying.

****William Knight – for whom Knight’s Landing is named.

†Bob Ridley – managed Fort Ross for Sutter before Bidwell took over the task.

‡Schwartz – member of the 1841 Bidwell-Bartleson Party, who had a grant on the Sacramento River where he established a fishing station.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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