STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
Romantic Knight's Ferry
Nestling among the vine-clad hills of Eastern Stanislaus – in the springtime encompassed by an iridescent carpetry of California poppies that tints the landscape in a golden sheen of color, in the winter perfumed with an exquisite odor that exhales from the myriads of blossoms in the orange groves – Knight's Ferry is the romantic spot of Stanislaus county.
With its long, winding street that divides the broad, turbulent Stanislaus river from the town, Knight's Ferry is a majestic reminiscence of the olden days when its lanes were alive with the busy miners and when this bustling burg was the center of all the county's political and social activity. Sequestered today from the beaten line of travel – a relic of the dim past, lost in the foothills of the Sierra mountains – it is an ancient city that has been passed by in the march of progress. Yet the memories of Knight's Ferry still linger in the minds of old-timers.
Under this long winding street there are millions of dollars of unmined gold that defied the cupidity of the old placer miners when the river and adjoining hills were dredged for the glittering metal that came forth in abundance.
When the waters of the Stanislaus – which skirts the town – are angry and swollen, they roll down over the huge boulders that cover the river's edge and beat against the embankment that abuts the street as a terrible reminder of the winter of '62 when the stream overflowed its banks and in a few moments washed away half of the settlement.
To the left of this winding lane one may observe the undulating hills, vine-clad and orange-groved, and the antique homes set in masses of foliage – a picturesque gem serenely lodged in the bosom of the mountains, in an age that moves away from the older landmarks.
Every one of those homes was the habitation of a celebrity in the state's and in the county's history – men who played their honorable part in the building of the empire and then passed on.
The journey to Knight's Ferry is interesting. As one moves along the smooth highway toward this secluded village, the transition from the present era to that of the past becomes vividly and consciously felt. Emerging from the well tilled plains, dotted with orchards and vineyards, with dairies and farms – bespeaking the industries of today – and gradually meandering through the foothills and skirting the lands of the mined out river bottoms and then slowly ascending toward the snow-capped mountains, the evidences of the olden days flit rapidly across the enthralled vision.
The many-hued hills, worked over by the bygone miners – huge boulders, sentinels on the river's edge, marking the labor of the gold mining and dredging of years ago – the massive excavations that loom in the distant mountains and tell of the yesterdays' activities – these unfold before the eye with the rapidity of the changing scenes of the moving panorama. The transition from the present to the past is swift, indeed.
The origin of Knight's Ferry is ascribed to Captain William Knight, who crossed the plains with Captain Fremont in the early 40's. Captain Knight located at this point on the Stanislaus river and established a trading post. The Knight's Ferry Bee in August of 1859 printed the following description of the birth and development of the town:
“Knight's Ferry is a pleasant mining camp, situated in the southeast corner of San Joaquin county, where this county corners with the counties of Calaveras, Tuolumne and Stanislaus, and occupies a romantic position on the north bank of the Stanislaus river, just where that stream, after rushing through mountain gorges, debouches into the beautiful valley of the San Joaquin.
It was called Knight's Ferry in honor of William Knight, deceased, who established a trading post at this point in 1848. In 1849 Dent, Vantine & Co. purchased from the administrator of the estate of Knight this property, and proceeded directly to the construction of the first ferry boat on the Stanislaus, for the accommodation of the immense travel then setting in for the southern mines.
In 1852 the Dent Brothers, having purchased the interest of Captain Vantine, enjoyed the exclusive and very remunerative trade at this point until the year 1855, when the introduction of water to the rich placers hereabouts attracted the attention of the miners, and the site then became important for more than extended operations. A town was duly laid off by Captain John C. Dent, the survey being made by Judge A. G. Stakes and D. Beaumont, our present county surveyor. Lots were sold and donated, and a little town sprang up like magic, now numbering about 800 inhabitants. The old ferry boats have been abandoned, and substantial bridges have taken their place. The venerable tribes of Digger Indians (and we well recollect a few years back rancherias numbering 1200 to 1500 Indians) have given away as the march of civilization demanded their removal, while the particular localities where once stood their huts and muskals now are occupied by the fireproof storehouses of our merchants, or the numerous cottage buildings of our citizens, handsomely decorated gardens, “blooming as the rose,” or orchards teeming with rich, luscious fruit. The industry of our citizens, the richness of our mines, the fertility of our soil, the ready market for our produce, our public and private schools, our manufactories, all point to our future permanence and greatness; and we cannot but conclude we will some day assume our proper position among the important towns of the state.”
A correspondent writing for the San Francisco Bulletin from Knight's Ferry, under date of May 7, 1856, gives the following description of the life and activities of the settlement:
“The miners of this vicinity are industriously engaged in taking out gold, having now an abundance of water which is supplied by the San Joaquin Ditch Co. If there are any idlers in your city, let them come hither; there is room enough and plenty of soil untouched. They can earn from $3 to $6 per day.
During the last year a large town or village has sprung into existence here, and improvements still increase. There is one thing, however, which has retarded the growth somewhat – the high price of lots.
Many of these are held as high as $2,000. Another reason is, we have only a ferry boat, whereas we want a bridge. The traveling community demand the latter, and for want of it, much of the travel which has formerly passed through here now goes by Six Mile Bar. This can be prevented. All we want is a few enterprising men with capital to come in here, and in less than one year we can boast of as large and enterprising a city as Columbia or Sonora. Our facilities are greater, we have the never-failing Stanislaus taking its course through our village, and as there are miles of good pay dirt with the rich placers at Keeler's Ferry, why should not we boast of our future prospect.
Mr. Parrish has just closed his series of dancing schools. We have an occasional ball by way of variety. The Metropolitan Dramatic and Operatic Company paid us a visit a few evenings since. This is decidedly the best company that has traveled this way for some time. It is composed of Messrs. Wheatleigh, Collins, Coad, etc. We gave them a crowded house, and many went away unable to procure seats. Mr. Editor, we have about fifty families here, but no schoolhouse, where the young idea may learn to shoot. “”Tis education forms the common mind,” and were you to see the dangers of children here without the means of instruction, you would almost doubt of this being a part of Uncle Sam's domain. The “boys” were out yesterday with anvils, in commemoration of the democratic victory at Stockton. By the by, how is it that so many of our leading men change their politics so often?
Your valuable and independent daily is looked for on the arrival of each daily coach with eager eyes; and some of the would-be wiser ones in this delightful village, who endeavor to control the minds and actions of others, will find ere long that the battle is not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift.
The old 49ers here are surprised at the want of defense in the late massacre at Panama, or more properly speaking, wholesale murders – not justifying the instigator of the affair, but condemning the 'greasers.'
We owe you many thanks for stirring up the continued mystery of the affairs of Adams & Co., as there are many here who are sufferers by the wholesale swindle of that notorious establishment.”
Another correspondent writing under date of February 25, 1856, to the Daily Alta, of San Francisco, gives the following description of life in Knight's Ferry at that date as follows:
“Again I resume the quill, having a few moments to spare this pleasant evening, while the moon is peering through the curtains of my 'sanctum,' tempting me to while away a few hours on the banks of the Stanislaus, which pursues its winding way opposite my 'domicile,' and where the industrious miner receives the recompense of his daily toil. During the last two weeks we have had delightful weather, not surpassed by the sunny clime of Italy, and 'over hill and dale, from the mountain to the vale,' may be seen the living coat of green, as nature has doffed her wintry mantle, and donned her spring and summer dress. The mountain flowers, too, have made their appearance to the delight of all lovers of beauty.
St. Valentine was remembered here as well as elsewhere, and our worthy postmaster was besieged 'from early morn till dewy night' by Cupid's train, as we have a goodly number in this 'will-be city.'
Tribes of Indians from different grounds, are holding a festival near us, dressed and painted in their war-like costume; their evenings being spent in dancing, to the amusement of those fond of novelty, in their grand casa, which is built of mud and large enough to contain one thousand persons, and resembles in shape a large Dutch oven – the entrance being low, all must stoop, or be in danger of losing a part of their craniums.
In addition to the many new buildings already erected, there is one which is nearly completed by Mr. F. Lange, who intends it as an upholstery and furnishing establishment, where all ladies who intend taking advantage of leap year can be supplied with household fixings, from a cradle to a tete-a-tete.
Business seems to be improving, and each day the stage brings a goodly number, who tarry here in search of the ore – that is to say, those who are satisfied with good wages, with the prospect of making more as the 'big ditch' is completed, at which time I will apprise you. As the ground all pays from Six Mile Bar to Keeler's Ferry, a distance of eight miles, and the length of the ditch, ten, there is no place but we can get the color, which is more than can be said of the San Antonio humbug;
and, too, where the pay dirt is in many places twenty feet deep.
I was quite amused the other day at a horse race got up between a Spaniard and Indian, on wild horses, without saddle or bridle, distance 40 rods. The first heat the Spaniard came out one length ahead, minus hat and part of his inexpressibles; second heat the Indian turned a somersault over the horse's head, and landing on his feet with the usual exclamation, “Ugh!” This as you may imagine, was rare sport for the boys, and the exercises closed with a foot race between a live Yankee and a son of the Emerald Isle.
With all our advantages, and our increasing population, there are two things lacking – no churches or school houses in the immediate vicinity. It is true there is one of the latter, at a distance of one mile, which is too far for small children to go, and there are many who could attend if we had a place for them at the Ferry, as it is of the utmost importance that the young mind should learn how to shoot.
There is quite a determination at Stockton to have a railroad from San Francisco to the former place, which will be effected, and then it will be an easy matter to extend it as far as Knight's Ferry, the Table Mountain Depot, and thus, in a few short hours, connecting the Stanislaus with the waters of the Pacific. These things are yet to be, and at no distant period. When completed, I promise to send you a choice bouquet of flowers from the mineral land of our mountain home.”
The Stanislaus Index, issued at Knight's Ferry in the year 1859, published the following description of the settlement in October of that year, the article being extracted from the San Francisco Daily Alta of October 16:
“The Stanislaus Index gives a description of the county seat of that county. The scene along the range from Calaveras to the Tuolumne river is one of unbroken monotony, with no relief whatever, save at the point where Knight's Ferry is situated. Here it is that the Stanislaus river emerges from mountain gorges, and glides smoothly along its serpentine course among the foothills, until it is finally lost in the plains of the San Joaquin in the west. On the north bank of the river, where the old ferry used to be, has sprung up, within the last ten years, a town which is fast increasing in population, business and wealth.
In the village are fireproof stores, a flouring mill, which manufactures 130,000 barrels of flour per year, and a storehouse attached, 180 by 100 feet, constructed of brick and stone, and fireproof. Numerous cottages, with beautiful gardens, adorn the town. Fruit grows luxuriously, and the grape, especially, thrives splendidly. In a few years, wine will be manufactured extensively there. Krouser & Co. have a hundred acres of excellent soil, well located for irrigation, which they intend to devote to the grape culture next year. They have, we understand, some fifteen or twenty acres under cultivation now. Messrs. Slooke & Behme have a vineyard, consisting of about sixteen acres. They will manufacture a considerable quantity of wine the present year, and next year they will increase their vineyard to fifty acres. Mr. W. E. Stewart will also manufacture some wine from the grapes grown in his vineyard, on the hill, north of town. The mining interest here is more permanent now than ever before. The San Joaquin Water Company's ditch, on the north, and that of the Knight's Ferry and Table Mountain Company, on the south side of the river, are seen stretched along the hill-side to the eastward. These ditches amply supply the mining community with water the entire year. The mines are paying exceedingly well at present.”
The Tuolumne City News, J. D. Spencer's paper, speaks of Knight's Ferry in February, 1869, as follows:
“At the present dreary season of the year, Knight's Ferry does not present so many attractive features as in the leafy month of June, when her magnificent vineyards, orchards and gardens can be seen to their best advantage; still there is much of that homelike appearance to her many pleasant cottages on the terraced hill sides, which speak in an unwritten tongue of the industry and tastes of her inhabitants. If she lacks in that thrift and enterprise which characterize her younger sister villages of the county, she at least can lay claim to the more solid enjoyments of life. But she is not entirely devoid of pretensions to growth and future prosperity, as is evinced by the erection within her borders of several handsome new domiciles. Her magnificent flouring mill, owned by Tulloch, has temporarily suspended operations for repairs previous to commencement of another year's profitable run.
We were informed that the Masonic members of the place are agitating the question of the erection of a hall for the use of their order on the county courthouse. They would then certainly occupy an elevated position, free from the annoyance or interruption of the outside world, as their room would be in the fourth story of the building. On Buena Vista Flat, opposite the town, we noticed the erection of a very comfortable wooden building, designed for a schoolhouse. Prospectively, the surrounding of the place look much more encouraging that they did a year ago, and we predict the time will come when Knight's Ferry will be far in advance of its present position. Her water power, for the propelling of machinery, will of itself, in the course of time, give her a valuable importance. Her citizens are already expecting to derive a valuable trade from the successful working of rich quartz veins only a short distance to the east of her. One of these claims, which was discovered by the veteran quartz miner, John Tulloch, is proving to be very prolific in the yield of gold.”
The following notes of travel through the southern mines written by a staff correspondent of the San Francisco Daily Alta was published in that paper on June 18, 1858. It contains a description of the journey from Stockton through Knight's Ferry to Sonora. As the letter includes a sketchy account of Knight's Ferry at this period, it is reprinted in full:
“Stockton is surrounded by wide extended prairies or plains, which stretch at an interminable distance to the 'foothills,' a distance of at least forty miles. Embarking on a Concord coach at 6 o'clock in the morning, the outset of the drive is extremely pleasant to the traveler who knows what is yet in store for him, and can in advance enjoy the pleasure of the contrast. A few minutes drive takes the stage beyond the limits of the town, where at the numerous small cottages, which at intervals are scattered along the outskirts, coatless men or hoodless women are engaged in milking for breakfast – both milkers and the milked bearing unmistakable signs of drowsiness. Long tracts of grass land now are passed over, the whole country being as level as a chess-board, and the eye traversing miles on miles away, right and left, beyond and behind.
Notwithstanding that at this hour, in most parts of the country, the whole choir of the feathered tribe would be in full song, here appears to be but scant music. A lark or two occasionally flew across the road; and lodging in the vine fence, poured forth a few songs; and the soldier bird – the grenadier-like woodpecker, with his uniform of green coat, white legs and red-crested head – gave a stave or two, but in his case breakfast was a matter of far more urgency than singing notions, so with his hatchet face he kept digging away with the oak bark, evidently posted with regard to that ancient maxim, 'the early bird catches the worm.' The only living things in the way of residents of this open tract of country, which are at all likely to amuse or interest the naturalist, are the squirrels and the owls. The ground in every direction is swarmed by the first named little animals, and like miniature foxes, with their heavy bushy tails, they can be seen scampering in awkward squads in every direction on the approach of the lumbering stage. They do not appear to thrive remarkably well, nor to the same extent as do their more fortunate brethren who live in the trunks of hollow trees – those well proportioned, plump gray fellows, whom occasionally we see transplanted from the forest to the glittering recesses of a hollow tin treadmill, where they keep up such a remarkable degree of activity, in the way of 'getting upstairs,' as is the admiration and delight of the usual crowd of juvenile loiterers at fruiterers' stands. This prairie race are lean and greyhoundish rather in their general effect and scamper over the ground with corresponding agility. Their domestic interests appear to be looked after by a set of grandmotherly-looking owls, small in growth, and clay-brown in color, which inhabit the same holes or caverns in the earth with them, but on what particular terms of intimacy is not known. These joint-partnerships, as far as lodging goes, are peculiar to prairie bands. West of the Missouri river, and in that comfortless region lying between the frontiers of Kansas and Missouri, southwest, and the frontiers of New Mexico, the prairie dog is found like these squirrels burrowing in the earth, and affording the protection of bed at least, if not board, to a species of owl, and sometimes to the common rattlesnake as well.
On sunshiny days all three can be seen outside of the tripartite habitation – the prairie dog yelping in the sun's rays, and the snake coiling his rings. A brisk ride of twelve miles brings the mountain-bound passengers to a halting place for breakfast, but still the character of the country has not changed a particle. The land is level enough to roll ten-pin balls upon to the Stockton sloughs. Ahead indeed one begins to make out the rolling lands, which form introductory steps to the hills. Beyond these last, a dark blue line against the sky – sharp, well defined, and dusky blue underground – indicate one of the ranges of the Sierra Nevada. The driver's whip cracks sharply, and a lively cloud of red dust is whirled from the wheels, and we roll on towards the west. One peculiar feature of these plains is the conveyance of goods by the mountain teams. At intervals, long strings of mules are encountered – sometimes five or six pairs – the foremost of which do little more than drag their whiffle-trees at their heels, raising thereby a very pillar of dust, which reminds one forcibly of the sand storms in the desert. Behind this sluggish cavalcade rises the freight wagon, a California production, half Pennsylviana (sic) connestoga and half New England box wagon. The sides rise perpendicularly eight feet at least and the ends slope outwardly while the braces, chain plates, and iron work generally which covers the outside, in conjunction with the ponderous mechanism employed to move the 'brake', remind one of a ponderous British India three decker. Where lies the controlling power of this modern mountain and its tender (for, as it is approached, a second smaller wagon, and perhaps a third is to be seen attached to its rear) is undiscoverable in front, but as you pass by it is discerned in blankets on the floor of the conveyance. The snail's pace is vastly provocative of a slumber, consequently as the mules are too lazy to go among the foremost, as was stated, doing naught but dragging their tails and trace chains behind them, the wheelers take care of the wagon, and the wagoners go to sleep in the depths thereof. Some of these affairs are splendidly built – the prize wagon to which was adjudged the premium at the state fair, resplendent in blue paint, gilding, paneling, patent hubs, and other useful, but incomprehensible appliances, passed us during the day, and was the theme of universal admiration.
With respect to the agricultural resources of this part of Tuolumne county, such fields of grain as were passed all looked exceedingly well. Reapers were busily 'clanking' in the plots of yellow barley and wheat, and the work of harvesting was progressing with the dispatch common to all California enterprise, whether agricultural or otherwise. The stage now began to drive down long reaches, to 'fetch up' shortly and uncomfortably in the beds of dry brooks, to drag slowly and fatiguingly along gradual ascents; to turn short curves, and skirt sharp hills, all of which denoted that we were nearing a mining locality.
In fact, Knight's Ferry was at no great distance, and shortly before noon, a precipitate descent along the side of the canyon, with an abundance of “flumes”, “sluice boxes,” rivulets, running blood red almost with turbid clay – various Chinamen topped with those grotesque looking wickerwork shields which they have transformed into hats, to be seen all round. The stage rattled alongside of the hotel in the main street of this, a prominent mining locality in the Southern mines.
Everybody who has traveled in the interior of California knows the pattern of a mining town. A large hotel, with an extensive piazza, and a more extensive crowd of greyshirted, slouched hatted miners waiting to see you dismount in part, and to obtain letters by the express. A long, straggling main street, always extremely narrow, with a peculiar mixture of brick and wooden stores, grouped closely on each side. One forted or bank-safe like brick vault labelled “Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express” above, and below “The highest price paid for gold dust.” “Se compra pro aqui,” and other information relative to express facilities too numerous to mention. Clothing predominates along this street. It is robed with festoons of red and grey shirts, and long and short legged pantaloons. India rubber boots swing petulantly in the breeze, as if in imagination already encasing some miner's sturdy legs and stalking up and down some overflowed “drift” or “tunnel.” The architecture of the place is the style which employs all doors and no windows. Wherever paint is used, it is white, but beauty unadorned seems the choice of the majority, and plain clapboards and shingles suit the prevailing taste. Generally on some shelf or overhanging bank above the town, a very neat cottage, one story, or perhaps a story and a half is seen.
It is painted a brilliant white, with bright green shutters. A worthily trained vine winds up over the narrow piazza, and there are marks of a woman's hand in the cultivation of the garden in front. Rose bushes, hollyhocks, violets, and all the floral peculiarities which can be purchased below and transplanted to any part of the interior, are growing in squares, circles and other shaped devices. A child's wagon stands in the walk – a noise of a baby wailing comes from the house. This is generally the residence of the leading lawyer, the physician or perhaps the successful merchant of the town, who, sensible man that he was, immediately on making his first strike, courted and married a wife, set up his Lares and Penates, though on a limited scale, and commenced life in good earnest.
The population about the town, of course, are principally hard-working miners. Loafers and drones, or to use that inelegant but decidedly expressive California term “bummers,” of course, are plenty. They dress in white pants, show a plenty of white linen about the waist, need great expansion of neck collar – probably with conscious forebodings that the day may arrive when it will be inconveniently tight – indulge in the amplest blouses of brown or white linen, and affect little Panama hats. These are the keepers of fancy saloons, the sporting community, black legs, etc., of the place. One or more cigar establishments are to be found where, in addition to “genuine” Havana, half Spanish, and no Spanish at all, cigars are to be found a very numerous, though by no means very choice, collection of dog-eared novels, embracing the most rabid of G. W. M. Reynolds' productions, and the whole range of Alexander Dumas, from the Count of Monte Cristo to the very last number of the three dozen Guardsmen. One of the celebrities of Knight's Ferry is the Suspension Flume, which crosses the Stanislaus river at this point. The stream has few attractive points about it now, whatever it might have had in earlier days, when celebrated for salmon fishing.
The flood is thick and red with the discoloration produced by the thousands of sluice boxes emptied therein every minute of the day. A substantial bridge, braced and jointed after the style of railroad bridges, is thrown across at a point where a gist and sawmill is established.
Some distance above this, and over the dam, are drawn two cables, upon timber uprights and cross beams on each side. Slung to the inverted arch, the flume swings like the car to a balloon, and is said to convey the heavy stream as safely as though resting on more substantial bridging. The structure does not hang quite as artistically as suspension bridges are wont to do – there is quite a “sag” in the center, and it is innocent of paint or adornment, but for the useful and economic purpose intended doubtless does equally as well. On the farther side of Knight's Ferry the road again ascends a long, gravelly hill, whereon the rock, or greyish, decomposed volcanic formation, crops out in fantastic upright layers laminated, and each sheet as thin as a five-franc piece. This is peculiar to this region – not a particle of horizontal-laying stone anywhere – nothing but these upright layers, and anon thick groupings of black composite boulders. Looking into the whole mining region of Knight's Ferry, the straggling one-streeted town, its houses, huts and streets, with the rolling land beyond and the Stockton plains in the distance, are visible at a glance. The air is cooler, too, and one begins to realize the escape made from the hottest place in California. Marysville has always been fabled as the “star locality” for heat during the summer months, but there was a strong contestant for the unhappy notoriety, according to the public legends, and the situation of the Ferry in the gage of the hills, renders it probably that the pre-eminence claimed in this respect is fairly due.
After leaving Stockton, the ride is a lengthy one before the first settlement, or this town, is reached, viz: forty miles; and after leaving it another seventeen must be gone ere another point of importance is arrived at, which is Chinese Camp. The afternoon's drive, after losing sight of the vicinity of the Ferry, is over rolling hills, which increase in abruptness, and on which the character both of the soil and the timber keeps changing. Winding round a number of bases to these hills, a rise of sufficient grade is commenced to render it necessary that the horses drag nothing behind then but a riderless coach. The passengers walk to the top, where, after all, not much of a prospect is afforded us. You have merely attained on a level with the bases of other hills. The soil now is a reddish gravel mixed with quartz pebbles – the eternal scrub oak which has covered so many miles unceasingly, gives place to a scrubbier pine, gnarled and twisted, and wholly unlike the noble pines and firs of more elevated situations.
Wild flowers now cluster rather thickly, and a variety of colored pinks, and several classes of pale blue flowers, not unlike heather bells, cluster on each side of the road. The hills gradually narrow to a pass, into the cleft of which the coach slowly draws. The undergrowth becomes heavier and more luxuriant – tall, “sweet smelling shrub,” and wild bushes clothed with broad leaves of a deep and eye-refreshing green, cover the hillside, and springs begin to be discoverable, and the waters, if not cold, at least are sweet and clear. Several miles from Chinese Camp, a stopping place in this pass before spoken of, is arrived at, called the Mound Springs, from the fact of a number of springs rising within natural wells or mounds, a foot or more above the surrounding surface. The water is pleasant to the taste, but not remarkable for coolness; in fact, we are not yet high enough up in the mountains for cold water. Here the traveler to Yo-Semite, by this route, is transferred to another stage, and starts off at an obtuse angle to the road he has traveled, down to the Don Pedro crossing the Tuolumne river. This stage, however, only runs on alternate days, and as your correspondent has a natural talent, whenever a wrong road is to be taken, a false step to be adventured on, or a mistaken direction to be received, always to be the experience of all these mishaps (which, of course, invests him with a world of experience – which is invariably at the service of others – but so clearly paid for as to be valueless to himself) he necessarily arrived here on the day when it did not run. However, the alternative of a visit to Sonora was by no means disagreeable and after a change of horses, the establishment dashed down the hill on the other side of the pass, Chinese Camp and other localities glancing white and scattered in the broad distance. The flat on which Chinese Camp is situated is very broad, and exhibits that soft oozy mass of gravel and red earth, denoting that the whole surface has been thoroughly washed over. The town itself is evidently of some considered importance. It contains a number of brick buildings, the same long, straggling street before referred to as indicative of mining towns, and has a Chinese quarter besides, from which, probably, the place derives its name.
Flumes are seen crossing the valley in several directions which from its breadth, renders quite extensive bridgework necessary. The country is very open at this point, and the view extends clear away to some of the snow-clad mountains on the north, to the heavy wooded and lofty crests of the hills on the other side of the Tuolumne. Settlements now greet the traveler thickly enough. In a short time the celebrated mining ground on Wood's creek is reached, where the first discoveries were made in 50', before Sonora was established. Montezuma, Jamestown and one or two other small towns, are rapidly passed through, all of which are built on the banks of the creek, and more or less celebrated for their gold productions. A new feature is here observable, and puts to shame the superior advantages of the agricultural portions of the state in the direction of San Francisco. Vast quantities of peaches and other fruits are raised, and disposed of at prices which render the tremendous falling off in the consumption of eastern fruits and preserves no mystery at all. Along the banks of this creek some as fine orchards of peach trees can be found as any in the recesses of Napa and Santa Clara valleys. The fruit is stated to be very large and fine, and sells freely at the rate of one dollar per dozen. Watermelons, cantaloupes, muskmelons, etc., etc., are equally abundant to say nothing of the quantity of all kinds of vegetables. From Knight's Ferry up, tables of hotels are amply furnished with potatoes, currants, squashes, beets, green peas, cabbage, lettuce, turnips, and it is impossible to say what else beside, all of which are grown in the respective vicinities. We were now verging on to six o'clock in the evening and consequently fast approaching Sonora, seventy miles distant from Stockton. This town occupies about equal rank with Nevada, and contains a number of the elements of the incipient city itself. Like the other towns before mentioned, it is built on the banks of Wood's creek, and from the fact of being the county seat of Tuolumne, derives more importance than otherwise would be the case. Some very substantial buildings are to be seen. Prominent among these is the jail, which, it is said, most unfortunately is always full. I should have said contrariwise. Society never suffers from the rogues that are under lock and key, but rather from the fact that so great a number are in a false position; that is to say, are not under lock and key. Next to the prison and court house are the churches, of which there are several.
The main street of the town runs along the gully between two cliffs. It is winding, and runs a considerable distance, and from the uneven nature of the ground cannot be discovered in its entire extent at a glance. Hotels, stores, shops, saloons, exist in the greatest abundance, and the accommodations of the first named are of an excellent character. The temperature of Sonora is always warmish and in summer, like all other interior towns, is uncomfortably hot. However, they are well supplied with the most necessary article, ice; in fact, are much more lavish of it than is the case in San Francisco.
The establishment of water companies in the mountains has provided this indispensable requirement to human comfort. The large reservoirs and ponds formed on the summit, supply vast quantities during the winter, which are quickly housed and preserved for summer use. A few years ago snow was used, which was brought down and packed in sawdust, but now every stage that goes out carries a bundle of ice for every little mining town; and the fainting San Franciscans, before whose eyes, in the sultry sunlight and dusky dust-clouds ghosts of well-remembered iced “sherry cobblers” and “smashes” are flitting, and to whom a little plain “sitka” and Saucelito mixed, would be as nectar to the gods – suddenly finds himself in the midst of frozen plenty, and a land literally overflowing with milk punch and ice water. Sonora owes its importance as a mining region, to the extreme profusion of the quartz ledges which are found in its vicinity. About a month since, when, it is said, that all the mills were busy grinding, and quartz was plentifully distributed, it almost seemed as though the flush times of '50 and '51 had returned. Notwithstanding the prognostications of the residents as to an uncomfortable night from the heat, the result did not displease me. After retiring about midnight, and revolving in my thoughts the dissatisfaction of a sleepless night, I tumbled off into a slumber while thinking about it and did not wake until tolerably late next morning.”
The early settlers of Knight's Ferry were immigrants who had crossed the plains at an early day. The Dent and the Lane families came from Missouri together in the early 50's. The former consisted of John, Lewis and George Dent. John Dent was the Indian agent appointed by President Buchanan.
The Dents went into business at the Ferry. Major Lane occupied a prominent position in the life of the Ferry. Other pioneers were D. W. Tulloch who emigrated from Missouri with his family, Captain Vantine, F. Lange, Thomas Edwards, W. E. Stewart, Palmer & Allen, the grocers, Abraham Schell, John Edwards, S. Dingley, Father and Steve Bishop, S. Honigsberger, the merchant, stoke and Behme, farmers, S. P. Cary, David J. Locke and H. R. Schell.
The early business firms of Knight's Ferry were Hestres & Magendie, Charles Mooney, Bartlett & Jamison, French & Matthews, J. E. Coleman, H. Lind, C. S. S. Hill, Connor & Dakin, Lodtman Bros., McLean & Bros., Robt. L. Gardner, N. Buddington, J. E. W. Coleman, Dr. John Coleman and L. C. Van Allen. John Everett was the express man.
The following extracts are made from a letter written by John Edwards, the son of Thomas Edwards, pioneer of Knight's Ferry:
“T. W. Lane, of Richmond, is the only living son of Major Lane, pioneer of Knight's Ferry. He and D. W. Tulloch were very early settlers of this place. The Lane family held forth for years at Mountain Brow ranch, a few miles from the Ferry. We knew the family very well.
“My father, Thomas Edwards, came across the plains from Iowa in 1849, landing in Stockton in 1850 and soon afterwards moving to Knight's Ferry. He bought a town lot from John Dent in 1852.
“General Grant, then plain Captain Grant, visited his brothers-in-law about 1854, from Oregon. My father knew Grant in St. Louis when he was in the tanning business, and visited him in San Francisco in 1879 when he was touring the world after his two terms as president.
“My father was part owner in the Knight's Ferry bridge which was washed away in the flood of 1862. He helped place the foot bridge across the Buena Vista. Tom and Harry Pentland were with him on the job. The Lockes were prominent at this time and one brother always had charge of it.
“Knight's Ferry was a bustling place in early days. Men afterwards prominent in the state operated in the vicinity. Henry Hoffman drove his famous mule team through Knight's Ferry from Stockton to Sonora at a lively pace so that he could get up to Uncle Tom Edwards' place for hot biscuits and buttermilk.
My father kept the Owens House three miles out of Knight's Ferry where the Lincoln and Tom Williams boys reside on their ranch.
“The mule teams and bells of that day were famous. Ace Macholemen drove the best 24-span team out of Stockton. Charles and Harry Hoffman were on this route.
“S. P. Cary, now 94, at San Leandro, was another early pioneer, accumulating wealth and now retired. Dave Tulloch was the owner of the flour mill, bought grain from the farmers, and conducted a general flour business for years. He was a close friend and cotemporary (sic) of Major Lane. He was the father of John and Charles Tulloch and of Eliza Tulloch, who died early in life, mourned by all.
“Father Bishop was the early preacher and religious worker. Steve Bishop was his brother. Many owed much to Father Bishop for his religious power and the great and good influence he wielded. He was a Methodist and always announced that services would begin tonight at early candle light.
“An interesting chapter could be written on the school life of Knight's Ferry, beginning with the early teachers and coming down to the present. All old timers revere the little hill which is the school site of today. It is an historic spot and fond memory loves to linger on the historic part of this spot. Who can call the names of these men? We knew many of them. McCullough, Johnny York, and George Cheshire, who was killed in an altercation over local matters.
“Three Finger Jack and Joaquin Murieta called at Uncle's Owens House several times. We sat up all night to ward off an attack. My mother frequently placed crackers and cheese on the table and with the children abandoned the house until the organized band had satisfied their hunger and had passed on. My father was the target of these characters several times.”
The official name of Knight's Ferry is “Dentville” from the fact that John Dent surveyed the town in 1852 and recorded the map of the survey in the recorder's office in Stockton. For several years after its birth, Knight's Ferry was the midway station between Stockton, the great commercial center and depot for all the trade for this section, and Sonora, the “queen” city of the mines of “Old Tuolumne.” The settlement grew slowly.
About 1855 it was discovered that the bed and the banks of the Stanislaus river contained gold in abundance. Knight's Ferry then experienced a boom, population flocking thither to mine for the glittering metal. The town then assumed an importance that caused wealth and prestige to come to it. After a few years' activity as a mining center, the town witnessed a subsidence which was repaired with its annexation to Stanislaus county and the removal of the county seat to the community. Knight's Ferry became the county's political and social center.
In its early career Knight's Ferry became noted in history as the rendezvous of a man who subsequently reached the highest position of honor and trust in the nation. It is said that “while it was yet hot in the summer of 1854 there might have been seen sauntering along the trail that led from the Ferry to the old mill, a quiet, unobtrusive man who sometimes sought a shady spot where he could comfortably smoke, whittle, watch the mill wheels' noisy whirr, or possibly take a little nap and dream of future greatness. That man who became known to fame but a few years later and whose name is tenderly enshrined in hearts of men the world over, was Captain U. S. Grant, of the United States Army, who visited his brother-in-law, the Dents of Knight's Ferry.
Captain Grant made the trip to Knight's Ferry on the “hurricane deck of a mule,” and during the two months that he remained at the Ferry, seized the opportunity of making a number of excursions among the mountains, in company with his brothers-in-law, looking into mining and other interests. The Dents were about to build a bridge over the river at the time and Captain Grant was able to afford them much assistance through his knowledge of engineering. He also made one trip to Sonora, especially to select timber for the structure. His mountain excursions were made on horse back, the animal he rode belonging to John Dent. Grant took such a liking to it that his brother-in-law, when his guest took leave, presented him with the horse telling him to ride it to his Oregon post and then sell it, which he subsequently did. In 1862 Lewis Dent became a member of General Grant's staff and in 1869 was appointed minister to Chile. The Dents removed from Knight's Ferry in 1860, Lewis Dent preceding his brothers by his removal to Stockton in 1858 to engage in the practice of law.
Captain Grant was stationed in California during the years 1852-54 and no doubt made frequent visits to the Dents at Knight's Ferry. At the Chamber of Commerce luncheon on November 12, 1923, during the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the signing of the armistice of the World War, held by the Modesto Post of the American Legion, Major U. S. Grant III, grandson of General Grant, was the principal speaker, Nathan B. McVay, commander of Modesto Post, presiding. Major Grant prefaced his able address on “Armistice Day” by reading an extract from a letter written by General Grant to his wife, dated Benicia, Calif., August 20, 1852. Through the courtesy of Major Grant, this letter is presented herewith in full:
“I have just returned from the Stanislaus, bringing John with me …. I now hasten to give you the account of my visit. I started from here in the evening, by steamboat, for Stockton, where I arrived before morning. At Stockton I got a mule and rode over to your brother's, distant about forty miles. I was very much surprised to find houses almost every mile, and the road much more crowded with teams than almost any in the Atlantic States. These teams mostly cross your brother's ferry and are carrying provisions, goods, etc., for miners in the diggings. I was much pleased with the prospect at Knight’s Ferry. There are three stages per day, each way, crossing at the ferry, and they generally come loaded with from eight to twelve passengers each. All these stop at the hotel, which is kept in connection with their other business, and dine.. Lewis can tell you all about their business, of course, but you will be glad to know how they are doing from me. Their ferry, which is managed by two persons, is drawn across a little river about one hundred and fifty feet wide, by ropes attached to both shores. It takes about one minute from the time they leave one shore until they reach the other. For this they now charge two dollars, which is much less then they formerly got. In connection with this is their tavern, or, as it is called “The Knight's Ferry House,” where the passengers by stage, and many teamsters, stop and get a dinner at one dollar. They have stables which the stage companies pay them about two hundred dollars per month rent for, and board all their men with them at ten dollars per week.
They have a trading house where they get pretty much all the dust the Indians, and some other miners, dig. They have a ranch where they have several hundred cattle and numerous horses, all worth about thribble what they would be in the Atlantic States. So much for their business, that is the nature of it; as to the profits, they are clearing from fifty to one dollars daily.”
Though the mining of Knight's Ferry passed many years ago, and though the loss of the county seat to Modesto in 1870 carried the population to the westward, its agricultural and horticultural wealth remained. At a very early period, the immigrants planted vineyards and the orange groves in the 80's made Knight's Ferry famous. The orchards of A. Schell, Asa Collins, Kasper Voght, George A. Goodell, Jacob Slook, W. E. Stewart and others were a source of wealth to the community in the olden days. The winery of A. Schell became noted throughout the United States and the product found a market throughout the eastern states as well as in California.
Not in the least important of the early population of Knight's Ferry were the Chinese. There were quite a number of the Mongol tribe here in the days of the mines. They worked over the abandoned “diggings”, cultivated the vegetable gardens, and did the menial work of the community. The Indians, many of whom were in the vicinity of Knight's Ferry at this early period, vied with the Chinese in interest. The Indians were friendly though shiftless and poor. They have been elsewhere described. The Chinese and the Indians have disappeared from Knight's Ferry, with the general departure of the other elements of the population.
There are many interesting spots and features of Knight's Ferry that appeal to the romantic sensibilities of the traveler or the writer. Its very history is a web of continuous romance and interest. Interwoven with the entire history of the county almost from its beginning, possessing the county seat with all its prestige for ten years, containing among its citizenship many of the most important characters that the early history of the state produced, succumbing to the progress of the advancing times, it still struggles along as a village, though passed by the run of humanity in time's steady march.
It has experienced all the vicissitudes of the mining camp of the older day, as the kaleidoscopic changes that have come to many a city on the plains which the advent of the railroad has caused to expire. One of the most interesting institutions of Knight's Ferry is its Masonic lodge – Summit Lodge, No. 112, F. & A. M. This lodge held its first regular meeting on the 7th of February, 1857, with a small membership. None of its original members are now alive. M. C. Edwards was the worthy master and W. E. Stewart the secretary. The Masonic Hall is situated on the top of the hill overlooking the town and the river below. The furniture of this lodge is redolent of old times, it being of the most ancient type. There is the air of antiquity about the lodge room and all with the atmosphere of romance. The lodge possesses an interesting heir-loom – an album that contains the photographs of many of the original membership whose names are now unknown for the reason that they all died before any of the present membership affiliated. This lodge also possessed the distinction of numbering among its membership Masons of the third generation – father, son and grandson – all in their respective eras filling the stations of honor in the fraternity.
There is a tradition among Knight's Ferry Masons that Captain Knight, who founded the town, and who was the first person to fill a white man's grave in the settlement, lies buried in close proximity to the northeast corner of the hall.
For over sixty years, Summit Lodge has kept alive the traditions of Masonry in this secluded area and in early days its membership played an important part in the affairs of state and in the maintenance of law and order.
In the winter of 1861-62 Knight's Ferry was visited by one of the most disastrous floods that the county ever witnessed, when the Stanislaus river overflowed its banks. The flood in this county was attended with loss of life and great destruction of property along the course of the Stanislaus river. About one-half of the town of Knight's Ferry was literally swept away by the impetuous current of the swollen river. The river rose twelve feet at this place higher than the highest previous watermark.
The current was sufficiently strong to propel millstones, iron safes and huge boulders miles down the stream. The bridge, the flourmill and all the business houses with their contents on the lower side of Main street were carried away. But with the characteristic spirit of the old California towns, the energetic inhabitants, scarcely awaiting for the flood to subside, immediately began to repair their losses and in a few weeks Knight's Ferry presented its wonted appearance. The “Stanislaus Index,” the only newspaper of the town, issued its first edition after the flood on brown wrapping paper, and gave a complete list of the losses and casualties.
Like all towns of the early era, Knight's Ferry possessed its early chroniclers – men who followed the varying fortunes of the cities of the old regime, taking down notes of the passing day and transcribing them to the imperishable print. Echoing the thoughts of the people amongst whom they lived and worked, and emulous of the uncertain honors of the journalistic game these rambling representatives of the fourth estate bequeathed to the future the brief memorials of the time and passed on to more promising fields of activity. From these annals, one may acquire a vivid delineation of the period.
In the writer's possession is a paper published in Knight's Ferry by one of these fortune-seeking journalists at a very early period in its history. It is perhaps one of the earliest papers published in the state. This paper is “The Ferry Bee” issued at Knight's Ferry, San Joaquin county, on Monday, September 19, 1859, before the annexation of that portion of the county to Stanislaus. The Ferry Bee was a four page weekly published by J. B. Kennedy every Saturday morning from the “office, north side of the public square.” Its subscription terms were five dollars, per year, single copies twenty-five cents, with “advertising done on the most reasonable terms.” The issue before us is the sixth of the first volume. While the paper purports to be published every Saturday morning, the issue before us came from the press on Monday morning – a delay perhaps due to the fact that the “force” failed to return from a bibulous visit to some of the Bee's advertisers in Stockton early enough to put the paper to press.
Scanning the columns of The Bee, one is strikingly impressed with the variety of the advertising.
Six saloons and several liquor houses in Stockton and in San Francisco carry space, while only one in Knight's Ferry appears. L. Voyle gives notice that he has closed his saloon at Buena Vista Flat and “requests all persons indebted to him to come forward and settle up.” Hotels and restaurants both in San Francisco and Stockton have cards, while wholesale firms in each city appear in the advertising columns. Navigation, forwarding and transportation companies in both cities use liberal space. One firm advertises fire and burglar proof safes, while another tells of its line of furniture.
Hotels in Knight's Ferry advertised freely. The advertisement of the Centre House, managed by N. B. Buddington, on Main Street at the Ferry, speaks glowingly of this hostelry's accommodations. The bar attached is extolled, while the “newly cushioned billiard table,” “the best in the place,” receives favorable mention. The terms of the Centre House are: boarding and lodging, per week, eight dollars; boarding, without lodging, per week, seven dollars; boarding and lodging, per day, two dollars; billiards, twenty-five cents per game. The other hospice of the town, The Gardner Hotel, managed by R. L. Gardner, in its advertisement dwells upon its recent renovation and refurnishing, its table that is abundantly supplied with every delicacy, its choice liquors and cigars, and its fine attached hall for theatres, balls and private parties. From the suggestive matter contained in these advertisements, one can picture the pioneer bon vivants and raconteurs gathered around the festive board of these wayside inns, hear the bon mots, quirks and stories told, see the interchange of wit as the revelers ate of the fatness of the land and drank deep in the jolly wassail. Ah! if the walls of these hostelries only had tongues that could speak, what a merry tale could be told.
Amongst the general merchandise merchants who advertised in the Ferry Bee in 1859 were Bolin & Tennil, S. Honigsberger, Palmer & Allen, and C. S. S. Hill. The two former firms also carried wines and liquors. From the columns of The Bee it is seen that Arnold & Fenessey, and McGlauflin & Dakin were wheelwrights and blacksmiths of the town, while Spaulding & Hilts were proprietors of the livery stable. Antone Fessman was the boot and shoe manufacturer. L. C. Van Allen sold books, stationery and music and was the agent for the Stockton Bible Society.
John Bell dealt in hydraulic hose, while wall paper, paints and oils were the lines represented by J. E. W. Coleman. Everett's Express, famous in its day and running to all points in the southern mines speaks of its surpassing service. Bridges and roads were important in 1859, and several advertised their safety. The Knight's Ferry Market, owned by Flynn & Reem, ran a poetic advertisement.
“As good as found in 'Frisco bay, A fresh supply on every day.”
Amongst the professional cards are those of S. A. Booker, attorney and afterwards district judge; Hall & Huggins, attorneys; Langdon & Shurtleff, physicians; Thomas Kendall, physician, and W. E. Stewart, notary public. Summit Lodge, No. 112, F. & A. M., with M. C. Edwards, W. M. and W. E. Stewart, secretary, carried a card of its monthly meeting on the Saturday on or preceding the full moon.
It is from the advertising columns of The Bee that we get a glimpse of the life of Knight's Ferry in 1859. It was indeed a flourishing town, though isolated from the world. The merchants of the day were progressive and enterprising in their time. Thirty years ago these men who did business in Knight's Ferry in '59 were located in Tuolumne, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, filling spheres of activity. The bridge of time that then connected Knight's Ferry with its early history was still extant. Today it is gone. All of these men have passed to the Great Beyond, the last to leave being C. S. S. Hill, who, after filling the position of Justice of the Peace in Oakdale for many years, died but recently at an advanced age.
The miscellaneous columns of The Bee contain very interesting reading. There is an exciting description of Blondin's last great feat in walking across Niagara Falls on a tight rope, carrying a man on his shoulders. “Meeting a Duelist,” “The Pirate,” “The Old Trapper” are readable stories, while the country poet, found in every burg, expands into verse with the title, “I Wud Knott Dye in Wintur.”
“I Wud Knott dye in Wintur,
When whisky punches flo -
Where pooty girls are skating
Oar fields of ice and sno-
When sassidge meet is phrying
And hickeri nuts is thik:
Owe, hoo would think of dying,
Or even getting sick,” etc.
The editor of The Bee was a strong booster for the Ferry. Editorially he made a strong plea in an article for the growth and development of his community upon the score of its position as the half-way station between Stockton and Sonora, its ability to accommodate travelers to and from the mines and to control the inland trade. He vaguely hinted that because of its advantageous location it was an admirable location for a county seat. The then recent death of David C. Broderick in a duel with D. S. Terry was the text of another editorial. The writer deplored the duel, extolled the virtues of Broderick and said that “if this duel has any moral, it is to fan the flames and render bitterness more bitter, sectionalism more rife, personalities more spiteful. This death is a calamity which all men most deplore.”
The Bee devotes a column or two to news, domestic and foreign, just received by overland mail and by steamer. There is very little local news. The journalists of that day were not news gatherers, although there were a few items of interest:
“A duel was fought on Thursday last at San Andreas between Dr. P. Goodwin and Col. W. J. Gatewood in which the former was killed at first fire. Weapons, rifles; distance, 40 paces; cause, matters political.”
“We paid a visit to Keeler's Flat mining grounds last week. Most of the claims have been worked across the flat and into the hill and have been abandoned.
“We learn that there has been quite a stir at Buena Vista between the squatters and the squatted on in the way of fencing in and staking off town lots.
“A young man named Gavin was killed on Saturday by the caving of a bank at Gold Springs, Tuolumne.
“Jack Kilburn was shot and killed by Dennis Mahony at Coulterville on the 3rd inst.”
These is a story of the State Fair at Sacramento, and a description of the procession and festivities which signalized its opening. “We have only to say,” remarks the writer, “that steady Sacramento has lost its propriety and will be the Donnybrook of California.”
Another item gives the names of the recently elected officers of Stanislaus county. The editor publishes the following plaintive appeal:
“Wanted – We want at this office about $300 within a week in order to enable us to continue the publication of The Bee. We must have it or we go under. Our hands must live and so must we. We have no disposition to involve our little establishment because if we do we have no certainty of ever getting out of the hobble.”
The Bee flitted across the journalistic horizon of Knight's Ferry for a brief space of time. Judging form the call for financial help, its career was short lived. The copy in the possession of the writer is probably the only one in existence. As such it is a curiosity and a relic of the days when Knight's Ferry was in the making and before it attained its subsequent distinction. It represents the ambitious and earnest effort of the pioneer journalist, many of whom fell early by the wayside,
“In the days of old,
The days of gold
The Days of '49”
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County. Modesto, CA. 1924.
© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.