LEWIS M. SCHRACK
No history of northern California would be complete without a record of Lewis M. Schrack. He carved his name deeply on the annals of reason of his active and honorable association with events that contribute toward the substantial upbuilding and progress of this portion of the state. He is numbered among the pioneers of 1850, and for many years Calaveras County accorded him rank among her best citizens, a man whom to know was to respect and honor.
He was born in the town of Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on the 25th of July, 1818. His parents, Lewis and Phebe (Griffith) Schrack, were both natives of the Keystone state, and our subject was of German and Welsh lineage. His father and mother spent their entire lives at Norristown, the former dying at the age of sixty years, the latter when fifty-eight years of age. They were members of the Episcopalian church and their daily conduct was in harmony with their professions, honor and integrity characterizing them in all life’s relations. Thus they commanded uniform confidence and respect, and to their children they were examples of righteousness. They became the parents of nine children, about half of whom lived to mature years and had families of their own.
Lewis M. Schrack acquired his education in Philadelphia, and in early manhood removed to Red River County, Texas, where he engaged in merchandising for a number of years. He was married in Paris, Texas, on the 6th of May, 1849, to Susan Bartlette Holman, and six weeks later crossed the plains to California. While en route they were attacked by Indians, were robbed and had to fight their way through. Mr. Schrack brought with him to the Pacific coast a company of forty men, who arrived in California in the spring of 1850. He had purchased the oxen, secured the outfit and altogether expended about ten thousand dollars, which was to be paid back to him, but he received back not a cent of what he had expended.
One of the Indian chiefs possessed a written record, stating that he was a good Indian. This record had become badly worn and the red man promised not to molest Mr. Schrack and his party if the former would write a new record for him. Mr. Schrack then inscribed on a piece of paper that it would be best to look out for this chief; but one of the boys reading over his shoulder laughed at what was written. This angered the Indian, who attempted to scalp him and would not receive the paper. Mr. Schrack was then obliged to write a record similar to the one that was worn out; but he believed that the chief merely wanted to use this to get the confidence of the emigrants and put them off their guard. When the writing was given to the Indian the party continued on their way, considering they had a narrow escape.
They arrived first at San Diego and came up the coast to San Francisco, where the father of our subject engaged in the hotel business until the following June, when the hotel was destroyed by fire and he lost everything he possessed. He then went to Vallejo, built a hotel and there entertained the members of the legislature. Subsequently he made his way to the Mokelumne River, where he engaged in mining, spending the winter at Mokelumne Hill. On the 21st day of August, 1851, he camped on the site of the farm. He saw that there was water there; and as the place was on the direct trail from Stockton to the mines he decided that it was a favorable location, and entered from the government one hundred and sixty acres of land. He established a stage station and conducted a wayside hotel, which was well patronized, for there was much travel in those days and a pressing need was felt for such a place of entertainment, many guests taking accommodations there for the night. Mr. Schrack thus became widely and favorably known, his qualities being such as to commend him to the friendship and confidence of all. In his business affairs he prospered, gaining a very desirable competence. He spoke several languages and was a gentleman of talent and ability, capable of filling almost every position in life.
In his political views he was a Democrat, and his fitness for high official honors was regarded by the public when in 1872, he was chosen a member of the assembly. He left the impress of his individuality upon the legislation of California and had marked influence upon public thought and opinion, his fellow townsmen having a great respect for his ideas and views. He had been the editor of the Register, established at San Andreas. His editorials indicated marked ability, keen discrimination and logical thought. He was the author of a history of Calaveras County, which he wrote in 1880, and it was published in the San Francisco Call, being spoken of as a production of superior merit. He departed this life on the 7th of February, 1883, at his Golden Gate ranch, where he had so long resided. He had been an invalid for twenty years and was confined to his bed for twenty-seven months before his death, during all of which time he was faithfully attended by his devoted wife, whose care for him did much to alleviate his suffering. His influence in public affairs was always of a beneficial character and proved a potent element in the upbuilding and material advancement of the community with which he was connected. He had attained the age of sixty-four years, six months and twelve days, and his loss to the community was one widely and deeply felt throughout his section of the state.
In September, 1852, he had returned to the east for his wife, and in 1853 they came to California together by way of the Isthmus of Panama, bringing with them their first born, a daughter, Nellie, then in the third year of her age. She is now the wife of Julius Toda and resides on a ranch adjoining the old homestead. There were born to them in California eight children, namely: James B., who died in his twenty-sixth year and was laid to rest in their private burying ground on the ranch; Blanche, who is the wife of Julius Milton and resides in Fresno County, California; Annie, who died in infancy; Henry Clay, who is at home with his mother; William, who died at the age of nineteen years; Albert J., who died when a year old; Jefferson D., who also is at home; and Maud, now the wife of Frank Washburn, a resident of Valley Springs.
Mrs. Schrack is now in the seventy-third year of her age and is one of the most highly esteemed pioneer women in the state. She experienced all the hardships and trials incident to the establishment of a home on the frontier. At first they lived in a tent, with canvas windows and a dirt floor, which in the rainy season became saturated with water so that her shoes were often very wet. Afterward, however, they erected the house in which they entertained the traveling public. She cooked for the teamsters and bravely did her part in helping her friend to gain prosperity. In those early days Joaquin Murietta, the Mexican highwayman and desperado, with his band had a cave in the mountains not far from their home, and he and his followers often came to their house for a meal. Everyone stood in terror of the band, but Mrs. Schrack prepared the meal for them and Murietta usually gave her twenty dollars and would accept no change.
On one occasion when Mr. Schrack was returning home through a narrow path on a dark night he was stopped by the Mexican, who drew his revolver. Mr. Schrack was surprised, but said Amigo, which means friend. Murietta then got off his horse, offered him a purse and made all kinds of apologies and ordered his men to dismount and take off their hats while Mr. Schrack passed on his way. He declined the gold and was glad to escape with his life. It was believed that Murietta was captured, and on one occasion the authorities thought they had his head in a jar of alcohol; but Mrs. Schrack has been informed that he is still living, in Mexico, where he has a large stock ranch and fifty ponies. As the years passed such wild scenes became less frequent and civilization replaced the chaotic condition of the early times.
Prosperity also came to the farmer of whom we write; but in 1878 their large, two-story log house in which they had resided for twenty-five years was destroyed by fire with all its contents. It was replaced, however, by their present good frame residence, which stands in the midst of beautiful forest trees planted by Mr. Schrack. He had the first peach orchard in the county and also had a fine vineyard on his place, for which he was at one time offered twenty thousand dollars; but he declined to make the sale. Another year they lost considerable wood and much of their farm products by fire, and on a third occasion their barn and two horses were burned; but with characteristic energy the family have prosecuted their labors and have eventually gained a comfortable competence. Mrs. Schrack still resides on the Golden Gate ranch, esteemed and beloved by her children and held in the highest regard by their acquaintances. Their pioneer record forms an integral part in the history of Calaveras County, for they aided in laying the foundation of its present prosperity and promoted its progress along many substantial lines of development.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.