Whatever Happened to Sebastian Keyser?

Sebastian Keyser was granted Rancho Llano Seco in 1844 but he never lived there and never made improvements on the land. Why did he take title to a piece of land he never intended to use?

No one knows. But one can speculate. Keyser didn’t have ambitions to be a farmer, like Bidwell. He could have raised cattle and horses, but that wasn’t the life he was accustomed to. Rancho Llano Seco was a long way from Sutter’s Fort and it’s possible he knew he would miss the action and the conviviality of life at the fort.

It wasn’t unusual for a man to take a land grant that was available and hold it until he found a more desirable place. Bidwell tried two other locations until he was able to acquire the land he really wanted all along, Rancho Chico. In 1845 Keyser found a better place too.

When Pablo Gutierrez died in 1845, John Sutter put his land grant on the Bear River up for sale. It was bought by the partnership of William Johnson and Sebastian Keyser. This was an advantageous location, closer to Sutter’s Fort and the first settlement that emigrants from the States came to in California. Emigration was increasing; at Johnson and Keyser’s ranch there was traffic, people to meet and money to be made.

1846 was a busy year on the California Trail. It is famously the year of the Donner Party disaster, but before they were trapped in the Sierra snows, several other parties came in. One of those parties included the Rhoades family, parents and 12 children.

This group arrived at Johnson’s Ranch on October 5, 1846. Sebastian Keyser married 18-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rhoades on October 24, 1846, less than three weeks after she arrived in California. He was twice her age.

Californian 12 December 1846

Keyser was a rough customer and the marriage seems not to have been a happy union. Six months later Elizabeth left Sebastian. He placed a notice in the San Francisco newspaper.

California Star 4 September 1847

But she “returned to make him happy” later that year, at least that is the way Bancroft’s Pioneer Register puts it. She bore him a child in 1848 and twins in 1849, but none of the children survived infancy. (Information on the children is from Familysearch.com)

Keyser sold his interest in Johnson’s Ranch to his partner in 1849 and left the ranch. His wife’s sister Sarah had married William Daylor who had a ranch on the Cosumnes River. I assume the sisters wanted to stay close to each other. Keyser settled on Daylor’s Ranch and ran a ferry on the river.

He drowned in the river in January 1850. Did Elizabeth shed many tears? Somehow I doubt it.

Writing to Edward Kern in 1851, George McKinstry included Keyser when he wrote “The old Sacramento crowd are much scattered by death and disaster since you left.”

Elizabeth Rhoades Keyser remarried three times and had three more children who lived. She died in Kings County, California, in 1899, 49 years after her first husband.

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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