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Memories from the summers of 1850

Growing up at Spanish Ranch

Eleanor Josephine Harvey, was born May 27, 1853.  In the winters, Josephine and her family lived in Marysville where she and her older sister, Sophronia, attended Mrs. Postman’s School for girls. 


In the spring and summer she lived with the family at Spanish Ranch where her father, Isaac, owned and operated a hotel and, visitors stopped on their way to the gold fields.  The short stories below, her keen observations, memory for detail, and sense of humor provide us with a lasting legacy and unique insight into these exciting and unusual times.

Spanish Ranch was registered as a California Historical Landmark (no. 481) on November 11, 1950 and ranks as one of 'the oldest and most important settlements' in the region.


My parents came to California in 1852 by ox team.  They had no trouble from Indians, although they were making trouble for emigrants at that time.


My father had brought cattle across the plains.  He rented a small ranch on the Feather Rivers above Marysville for the winter.  The little house was so far from the banks that it didn’t seem possible that even high floods could reach it, but they learned better when the snows began to melt in the spring; the water rose until the flow was flooded – and still rising.  Some men came and made a raft to take the family away across the river, but when finished it would only support four people so my mother and second brother, a boy of six, and two men started across, leaving behind, my father oldest brother (Bennie) and sister (Fronie), a little girl of four.  When the party was about 200 yards from the other bank the raft began to break up and soon they were knee-deep in water.  A man swam from the shore with a rope and the part was pulled nearly in when it sank and they had to wade the rest of the way.


The men took my mother and brother to their cabin a mile away, often wading through deep water.  They built up a big fire, gave her a suit of men’s clothes and a flannel shirt for Willie and went out into the storm until she could change, then returned and cooked supper.   Her clothes were hung about to dry and during the night the men shifted them as they made the fire.  


The next morning was sunny and bright and a search was made for a boat to cross the river to bring the rest of the family, if still there. A boat was found and the family united before dark.  The water had risen in the house after the raft party left until tables and chairs floated about, then subsided.  My brother, Benton, had lost his left hand a month before, and Father didn’t want him to get wet, so as the water rose he walked him from one room to the other where the trunks were, by placing one chair in front of the other, then put him on high ground.   Father passed a horrible night, not knowing what moment they would float off or whether the raft party survived.  He often said afterwards that he never thought of his cattle at all.  He lost quite a number.

Our Arrival in California


One day my first Chinese woman appeared. 


Why she was brought to Mother’s room I don’t  know - perhaps there was not fire anywhere else and it was a cold day.  She was the wife of a Chinese storekeeper at Silver Creek a mile away.  Her clothes were of fine heavy blue broadcloth and the long outside garment came well below her knees.  She could only speak a little English.  She kept looking at our baby Mabel, who was about four months old then.  She suddenly began to cry softly, hiding her face with her sleeve.  After a time she seemed to control herself and made us understand that she had a baby that old, but it had died recently. 


She went away, but about once a month for several months would come, stay 15 or 20 minutes, then  go – almost without speaking.  But she always brought something for Mabel, and once or twice held her on her lap.  Then we didn’t see her for several months when she again appeared, smiling and happy, with a six-month old Chinese baby boy.  He was dressed like a man from cap to shoes and was the funniest little creature I ever saw. 


She told us “All Happy now.  He no got papa, no mama, I got me no baby.  Now he got papa, mama, me got baby.  All good now.”   They had gone to Marysville and found this orphan baby and took it for their own”.

Photo downloaded from, Push & Pull: Motives for the Immigration of Chinese Woman to America by Chung-Yu Hsieh

All Happy Now


One spring there was great excitement over some new gold mines and everybody talked prospecting.  I concluded I must try it, too.  I think I was about six or perhaps seven.  But I had to have a pick and Kellogg thought he couldn’t make one light enough, but he fashioned me some kind of a little shovel and also gave me a small pan that miners used in testing out small quantities.  He put a good stout string through the hole so I could hang it on my belt or to my shovel.  A miner, who had his leg hurt in a cave-in, made me a wooden pick that he thought would help me.  Now I was ready to start.


A nice little stream ran through our place and I know it came from the surface miners further away.  So along its banks I dug and washed the dirt as I had seen men do, but no gold.  Each day I began a little farther from home, each night I talked with my miner friend while he repaired my wooden pick.  He would ask “Any luck today?” and I would answer “No, but I got black sand.”  Black sand was nearly always found with the gold, and I know it was a good sign.


One day when I was nearly a mile from home, far beyond the limit set for my wandering alone, and was working away with my prospecting, a man from the mines above came along and asked the usual question, “What luck?”  and I had to tell him “No luck” – and I expect I said it as if I was getting discouraged.  He took the little pan, saying “Let me try.  Maybe you haven’t the right shake to make the gold stay in the pan.”  Then he sent me a little way down the stream to get or do something.  


When I got back he seemed excited, “See, here it is, here is some gold.”  And sure enough there was an inch of gold flakes in the water, found a piece of paper somewhere and put the gold in it.  Then he said I had better stop for the day and go home to show it.  I don’t remember going prospecting anymore – something else must have taken my fancy.  It was years before it occurred to me that the young man had “salted” my pan of black sand while my back was turned.  It would not have been surprising if I had really found gold as nearly all the streams had some.

Going Prospecting

What are we to call her?

When I was about three or four years, the sister of a Southern man, who was mining in one of the bars, came out to live with him.  Her name was Sophia Hodkins.   She saw his miner’s cabin and nearly died.  “She couldn’t live there, she wailed.  “She, a gentlewoman and a Southerner!”  She appealed to Father, “Couldn’t she live with us and as a compensation teach Fronie and Willie and help Mother with the sewing?  Then she could see her brother every Sunday.”  As the children did need teaching and a companion with good upbringing would be acceptable to Mother, he said that such an arrangement would do very nicely.     


Then, to us children, up rose a funny question – what were we to call her?  As she was (to us a least) as old as Mother, we thought Miss Hodkin was proper.  “Oh no!  That made her a prim old maid school teacher, and she wasn’t that, was she?”  Now, she was tall. And angular, and wore long curls each side of her face and her style of dressing was prim and exact – and we thought she was describing herself pretty well.  Should we say Aunt Sophie?  “Mercy, no!  I am not old enough to be called ‘Aunt’, yet.  But you can call me Cousin Sophie”, and Cousin Sophie she was to the day of her death fifty years later. 


She made so much fuss about her possible age that the men who live at the Ranch and those that visited every Sunday tried by every possible means to trap her into telling.  We children were bribed in to asking her in various ways, but our attempts end in our being told that “it was not good manners to ask people’s age.”   Mother also said we were not to inquire.  We never knew – nor did anyone else. 

She married a man by the name of Job Taylor*.  While she lived with us I remember she was Mother’s companion – not a real teacher or seamstress.


*Jobe T. Taylor, who was the founder of Taylorsville (Furiss & Smith, page 209).

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