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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

    Van Tassel Biographical Sketches

Nelson Van Tassel

Nelson Van Tassel, the popular postmaster at El Monte, is one of the California pioneers of 1849. He is a native Onondaga County, New York, dating his birth March 7, 1821. He is a descendant of an old Colonial family, his grandfather having been a soldier in the Revolutionary war, and held as a prisoner in Canada for three years.

His father, Cornelius Van Tassel, was a carpenter by trade, and one of the pioneers of Western New York. He built the first house erected in Syracuse. His mother was formerly Elizabeth Sager, also a native of New York. Mr. Van Tassel was reared in the county of his birth until thirteen years of age. His parents then moved to Indiana and located at La Porte, where his father engaged in farming, to which calling the subject of this sketch was reared until he reached majority.

He then entered into manufacturing agricultural implements, the old "grapevine cradle" being one of the most important implements produced in his establishment. He continued his business until the gold fever of 1849 swept over the country. He was a victim of that fever, and decided to seek his fortunes in the El Dorado of the West. In the spring of that year, in the company with thirty-two others, he started across the plains for California. The party was well equipped with mule teams for transportation and made a quick and successful journey.

Upon arriving in California he sought the mining regions and located in El Dorado County, at what was afterward called Cold Springs. His party were the first to pitch tents and erect buildings at that place. Mr. Van Tassel, in company with Dr. John Cutler-now a wealthy resident of Visalia-opened the first store at Cold Springs. They also engaged in mining operations and freighting. They were successful despite several severe losses, one of which was a $10,000 loan to Richard Heath, of Sacramento, and secured by mortgage on a lot occupied by the bank of D. O. Wills, on J street, in that city. Through the failure of Heath to meet the payment and a defective title they lost the whole amount. In 1853 Dr. Cutler retired from the firm and Mr. Van Tassel conducted the business alone until 1857.

He was then appointed United States Indian Agent at Tehama, which position he held until 1861. The next year he came to Southern California and spent a year in San Diego County, and then went to Arizona and located at Weavers, near Weaver's Hill. There he engaged in mercantile pursuits and also in freighting and packing. He also extensively engaged in mining operations in the well-known Wickenberg district. The Indian troubles in that territory finally compelled abandonment of his enterprises. Three of his men were killed and seventy-three of his mules stolen by the Indians. He then took up his residence at Wickenberg, after which he engaged in furnishing supplies to the military post at Fort McDowell and other places.

In 1866 Mr. Van Tassel disposed of his interests in Arizona and returned to California and located at San Bernardino, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits. In 1870 he went to Mexico and was engaged in silver mining until 1874, when he came to Los Angeles County, and after spending a year at Compton, located near Duarte, where he took up and purchased 500 acres of land and established a bee ranch. He found that life too tame for him, and in 1878 he was off for the mines, locating in the Tombstone district in Arizona. There he engaged in contracting and supplying timber and wood to the mills until about 1882.

He then returned home and in 1884 established a store at El Monte, which he has since conducted. In 1885 he was appointed postmaster, a position which at this writing (1889) he still holds. Mr. Van Tassel retains the 500-acre tract before mentioned at Duarte. It is mostly hill land, but there are sixty acres that are well adapted for fruit culture, there being an abundant supply of water on the place. Mr. Van Tassel is now developing a tin mine that has recently been discovered upon his place, which has thus far proved very promising.

The subject of this sketch has spent forty years of his life in active business pursuits on the Pacific Coast. He is well and favorably known, and has a large circle of friends. Politically he is a Democrat, and has always been an active worker in his party. He was the first public Administrator ever elected in El Dorado County, and held that responsible office for six years. He was also appointed postmaster at Green Valley, El Dorado County, in 1856, but resigned to take the Indian agency. During the war he was a strong Union man, and a supporter of the war policy.

In 1851 Mr. Van Tassel married Miss Martha Forsee, a native of Indiana. Her father, James Forsee, a native of Virginia, came to California in 1850. Having no children of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Van Tassel have reared and educated three children who were related to them by marriage, viz.: Leonidas Forsee, who married a Miss Shivers, and is now a merchant at Temple, Arizona; California Forsee, who died in 1875, aged twenty years; and Katie Forsee, now wife of Felix G. Berry, and now a resident of and post-mistress at Savannah, this State.

An Illustrated history of Los Angeles County, California : containing a history of Los Angeles County from the earliest period of its occupancy to the present time, together with glimpses of its prospective future, with profuse illustrations of its beautiful scenery, full-page portraits of some of its most eminent men, and biographical mention of many of its pioneers and also of prominent citizens of to-day.
Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1889, pg. 664.

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