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

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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