OWENS RIVER - CALIFORNIA
In the spring
of 1866 my husband went to Owens River, California, to see what work he could find. There
were a few settlers in this part of the country and the prospect looked good, so he returned to El
Dorado where he bought provisions that would last us a year, and enough grain for the spring
planting. We moved to Owens River. There we bargained for a ranch, buying a Quit Claim deed
to the land. There was a shanty on the place and the ranch was fenced. We put in our crops
One day a big herd of cattle was being driven by the
place. These cattle had never been in a corral and were frightened at the sight of a man on
My husband traded his best span of mules for eight
cows and their calves. We could not drive them into the corral, so the two of us on horseback
surrounded them. My husband on a third horse would jump off, catch a calf and tie it down, then
he would catch another and so on until all the calves were all tied. We then loaded them in the
wagon and unloaded them into a strong pen inside the corral. Then we tried to drive the cows
into the corral, but could not, so we went away leaving the gate open.
The cows began circling around, coming closer and
closer to their calves. Everything was so very still. We dared not speak or let a child cry. The
moments were tense; - then, the cows all went in, timid and frightened. As the last one entered,
my husband jumped out of a grass overgrown ditch and closed the gate.
Two of us went into the corral on horses and
separated one cow from the others and Neils lassoed her and tied her up. We did this till all the
cows were tied; then we got off our horses and quietly approached them and touched them, and
gently patted them, then milked them and fed the calves the milk. We left the cows tied during
the night, with the calves loose in the pen. In the morning we again milked the cows and let
loose in the corral. When milking time came in the evening we had to tie the cows again. My
husband, Hanna, and I were very gently with them. We moved quietly and spoke in soft voices,
and in course of time the cows became quiet and gentle, except one which would hook and kick
and even bite. We always had to tie her head and her feet when we milked her. When it was time
to untie her we had to go outside the fence and reach in. We had to unfasten her head first, for if
we would untie her feet first she would kick and never allow us to get near her head. After a
she broke her leg, so we killed her and sold the meat to the Indians.
That year we made five hundred dollars worth f
butter. We packed it in barrels and carried it to the mines near Mono Lake, and to Independence,
where we sold it.
We bought seven more cows from a herd which was
being driven through the country. They were footsore and tired out, but otherwise in good
condition. One steer was so footsore he would no leave the yard. My husband decided to drive
him away, so he took an iron rod from the wagon endgate and faced the weary animal. He struck
with such force that the rod swung out of his hands and as he was whirled around the steer
horned him at the seat of his trousers and tossed him away. I ran out to help and the steer took
after me, and would have hooked me; perhaps, have gored me, but he ran against a rope tied
the wagon to the fence. We killed and sold him to the Indians. The others were allowed to range.
Someone stole two of them, and finally we sold the others.
The next spring, 1867, we made and sold at
Independence, four hundred dollars worth of butter. A woman who wished to bring discredit
upon our butter, because she too made butter, kept saying untruthful things about it, but her
husband told her that she must be more careful in making hers, for it was dirty. Ever after that,
this woman was called "Dirty Butter."
Men often wore buckskin pants, and when we had
the skins I would make the pants for anyone who ordered them. I would cut out the pants and
them by hand with a three-sided needle. One time my husband wished to sell a pair to a young
man, but he said, "No, I do not want a pair for i have no wife to wash them for me." He evidently
knew nothing of buckskin, for no woman could handle a pair of wet buckskin pants, and besides
such pants were never washed.
On May 24, 1867, at Owens River, California,
another little son was born to us. Charles Willden Johnson. We were twenty-five miles from any
neighbor, so my husband and I cared for our baby alone.
For fear there
would come a time when there would be trouble over irrigation water, we decided to leave
Owens River. So in the fall of 1867 we sold out everything but four horses and a wagon for a
We started on our way to Los Angeles. A terrible
storm came up so we stopped at Elizabeth lake. We were wet through, and no dry clothes to
change into so we had to wear our wet ones. The baby, Charles, had croup and there was no dry
place where I could put him.
We found a big deserted house and moved in, where
we hurriedly got our little stove set up and made a fire of old scraps and trash left in the house.
We remained here a number of days, until the stormy weather was partially ended.
One day, while we were in this house, Christina had
a knife in her hand. An older sister in taking it away from her, drew it through her closed fingers
and her thumb was almost cut off. We were very much afraid of blood-poisoning, but the wound
healed nicely, though the scar remained.
When we left
Elizabeth lake it was still somewhat stormy and the creeks were full of water. As we drove down
San Francisquito Canyon we came to a ditch about four feet deep and two feet wide that was cut
across the road by the rushing waters.
We were all in the wagon, - father, mother and five
children. The old fashioned lantern, with its three-sided glass chimney was hanging from one of
the front bows. The tub of dishes was on top of the other household goods.
The horses objected to crossing the ditch, but Neils
"rushed" them and they jumped across, but the wagon went down as the banks caved in. The
front wheels were on the bank with the back ones in the ditch. the dishes came tumbling down
upon us, but no harm was done. The glass in the lantern was broken and some of the children
In an hour or two, after much digging, we managed
to get the wagon out, and thankfully continued our journey.
We arrived in
San Fernando that evening. We had supper, then put our supplies under the wagon and slept in
During the night the Mexicans stole all our food, so
for breakfast there was nothing. We went to a nearby house to see about getting food. The house
was occupied by a Negro and his Mexican wife. We disliked to eat here, for the people did not
look very clean and the house was dirty, but there seemed nothing better anywhere.
They gave us breakfast for fifty cents each. We had
tortillas, the Spanish word for pancakes, and frijoles, the Mexican name for red beans. We also
had burned coffee for our meal. We bought tortillas and frijoles for lunch and went on our
Copyright applied for 1931
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