There were two sisters and a brother, born in Ohio at the height of the Classical Revival of the 1820's and given some Greek and Latin names in the spirit of the time. The eldest was Sarah Mariah Clark, who became a school teacher by profession. Her sister was Lovina Fidelia Clark, an expressive and articulate writer of letters, someone clearly well educated, wife of a homesteader. Their little brother was Eleutheros Americus Clark, who became a homesteader, a fruit rancher, a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, a teacher, a county supervisor, a tax assessor, a superintendent of public schools, a prolific newspaper editorial writer, and whose first and middle names mean "Free American." As some of the very earliest pioneers at San Simeon Creek, they were truly free—free to make use of every ounce of talent, education and courage they possessed.
How did they get
there? Their parents were struggling shopkeepers in White Pigeon,
Michigan, who both died when their three children were still fairly
young. But their paternal grandfather was a judge in Eden Co., Ohio,
where he had been a pioneer settler and prominent public office holder. He took them in, educated them, and filled
them with the conviction that they would triumph over life's
problems, just as he had saved them from what had seemed a tragic fate
Eleutheros Americus, or E.A. as he was generally known (except among his family where his nickname was "Old Crooked Jaw"), studied medicine for two years in Indiana, though without finishing the MD degree, then practiced a while in Michigan. He married Lydia Helen Washburn, from a political clan of national prominence, and they had two daughters, Sarah Minerva (not to be confused with her aunt Sarah Mariah) and Olive, When Gold Fever swept the country in '49, it was inevitable that someone as determined to succeed as EA would soon go to California.
Leaving his two sisters, his wife and two daughters behind he made the trip by steamer to Nicaragua, which he crossed by mule and lake steamer, then again by ship to San Francisco. After a few months in the gold fields in Sierra County, he bought a farm and settled down to working it at Evergreen. Before long he helped found the Republican party in Santa Clara County, ran unsuccessfully for office, and began a lifelong friendship with a young J.J. Owen, who would become the distinguished publisher of the San Jose Mercury newspaper.
After two years E.A. wanted all the women in his family, who were back
in Michigan, to join him, so he simply sent them gold, along with a
long letter containing highly detailed instructions about taking the
same route he had followed, complete with tips on renting the mules,
taking opium for sea sickness, clothing, dealing with strange men, and
a sea of other practical considerations. He was confident that with
the benefit of his prior experience, they had what it took to make the
trip on their own. They did.
Shortly after arriving in Evergreen, Lovina met a neighbor there, a farmer, a widower named Harrison Dart. Apparently they were both eager to be married. Frontier life was easier for both men and women when they formed a team and within two or three months they did. It was one of their descendents that Louisiana Clayton married as part of her destiny to found the San Luis Obispo Historical Society.
Sarah Mariah Clark, whose health was not strong, never married. Instead she began working as a teacher in San Jose at a high school.
The three siblings seemed well established in California, but EA was unable to get clear title to the land he had bought, due to claims resulting from a prior Mexican land grant. So in 1858, together with James and Sarah Mathers and some other relatives and friends, E.A.'s family moved to San Simeon Creek to homestead. Why there?
The previous year the U.S. government had surveyed the land in the county and ruled that the extent of the land granted for Rancho San Simeon, on the north side of San Simeon Creek, and Rancho Santa Rosa, to the south, was less than the large landowners claimed. That meant that there was a gap, unowned land between them, along the south side of San Simeon Creek. The Land Commission decided to put it up for homesteading, and E.A., never timid and always well connected to Washington D.C. through his wife's political family, learned of the opportunity early and seized it to be among the very first settlers.
Lovina and Harrison arrived two years later, in 1860, and
writing in June of that year to her step-daughter Marcella Dart, Lovina
alluded to this basic advantage of the homestead over the land at
Evergreen: "This County is better watered and more productive than
Santa Clara, really. Your Father has a very good place here, or will
have when he gets it fenced out and improved. The land belongs to the
government. There is no danger of being driven off by Spanish
grants." [I should add that the letters written by Lovina are the one
part of my documentation that is not new. They belonged to Margaret
Skinner, a descendent of Lovina's, and were printed thirty years ago
in five or six editions of the California Central Coast Genealogical
But what about Lydia Helen Washburn Clark, E.A.'s wife? She came from an old, influential New England family. What did she, and they, think about her moving to what seemed, from the big ancestral farm house in Massachusetts, like the wilderness. To know that, we can turn to a letter written in1859 by her patrician Aunt L[ydia] H[elen] W[ashburn], for whom I assume she was named. It reflects the important and unsettling news regarding the failed attempt to establish land ownership in Evergreen.
She asks, too, why E.A. has stopped working as a doctor. That is, as a professional. Generally, in speaking of nearly everyone, her remarks here are condescending, even censorial and self-important at times, and one has the impression that the impending Civil War is getting on her nerves. Still, doubtless E.A.'s decision to move to a very remote rural area, with seemingly almost no opportunity for practicing law or medicine, would have appeared imprudent to his Washburn in-laws. And in fact, as his 1862 diary reflects vividly, E.A. did go through a period of grinding poverty.
Mrs. Lydia H. Clark
San Luis Obispo, California
Raynham April 12, 1859 "My Dear Niece,
I received a letter from you in August, which your friend Mr. Brimblecome, had been keeping in his possession, for a long time, hoping to be able to present it in person; [It was common to ask travelers to deliver letters instead of using the mail] I answered this letter very soon, after receiving it, and hoped to have heard from you again, long before this time. I have heard from you through E.B. Washburn, by a letter that he had received from Mr. Clark, saying that you had been unfortunate in your title at San Jose, and that you had left it. So it is barely possible you might not have received my last letter. I hope good luck has followed you to your new place, and the experience of one poor title will prove a safeguard against being imposed upon with another and that you may yet have a plenty of the good things of this life, and may know what it is, and how to abound, as you probably have sometimes known what it was to want.
E.B. [Washburne] spends his vacation in Raynham mostly, we enjoy having him very much. I wish you could see him, because I know you would like him. He is one of the kindest and best of men, ever ready to do a kindness to high or low. [History has proved this observation to be correct. E.B. was a friend of both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Later he served as US ambassador to France for a decade, including the time of the Franco-Prussian war. His heroic humanitarian work to protect Germans trapped in Paris during the siege won him the gratitude of that nation, as well as being decorated by the Kaiser.] His brother, Charles, has gone back to San Francisco to try his luck with another purpose; he has not the business tact that his other brothers have, and never has succeeded in any of his plans, and his brothers have not confidence that he will now, but he enjoyed better health in Cal[ifornia] than he did anywhere else, and was very anxious to get back there. [In spite of Charles Washburn's low rating by his aunt, he went on to become US ambassador to Paraguay, and the inventor of the Remmington typewriter. It was a very talented family]… I have not heard from Minerva for a long time. She was feeling very lonely when she last wrote and was sighing for a home with you.
[Minerva was the sister of Lydia Helen Washburn Clark. She died soon after this letter was written, so she never was able to see her sister again. The separations produced by people going out west to homestead, and the very real possibility that family members might never see each other again, added to the drama of the decision to set out.]
I hope you will write very soon. If you cannot write yourself, employ your husband.
[Was my great, great grandmother illiterate? Given the brilliance of her clan, it's not likely, though we have nothing in writing from her. Aunt Lydia, I think, probably refers to how busy she was as a frontier wife and mother.]
I shall always feel interested in your welfare, and all information
respecting you and yours will ever be gratefully received, by your Aunt
In my last I returned 'thank you' for the locks of hair you sent me. I shall keep them as choice treasures and am happy at having seen so much of them.
[And now here, in the PS, comes the Eastern horror at the primitiveness of life in rural California at the time.]
I hope your children will have the benefits of school. Why did your husband give up the practice of medicine?"
In November of that same year (1859) E.A.'s daughter Sarah
Minerva wrote with news of her life to her aunt Sarah Mariah, who did
not make the move to San Simeon until a year later. She stayed behind
in San Jose at her teaching job in a secondary school, living in a
boarding house. Sarah Minerva's account, with a note added by E.A.,
makes clear just how hard everyone was working on the new Clark