Nancy lived during California’s Indian wars, the Treaties, discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort, and the Mexican-American war. Her diary spans her lifetime. Her tales are filled with the adventure, dangers, and hardships. People like you and I, their lives were forged on a fire of survival in a dangerous new land.

Nancy Kelsey’s narrative tells the story of early Lake County as well if not better than any. Just before she died in 1896, Nancy told her life story to her daughter, Nancy Rose Clanton. Daughter Nancy wrote down the story in a little leather-bound book that was later found and copied by Roy M. Sylar, another native of Lake County. Here it is.

So, it is my history you want? Well, it would make a book. The adventures I had during my life are as clear as if they happened yesterday. I suppose the reason for this because my mind is not stuffed so full of education as most of the minds of this day and age.

I was born in Baren County, Kentucky, in 1823. Three years later, my parents took me to Jackson County, Missouri. I married young. I was sixteen when I met and married Benjamin Kelsey. Four years after that, in 1841, we started overland to California.

You may ask, ‘Why did we start so long before gold was discovered?’ I’ll tell you why. It was because of his adventurous disposition. What started us on our adventures was a letter that Dr. John Marsh sent around the Horn in 1840 to my husband. Dr. Marsh’s letter was a wonderful description of this country (California).

In his letter, the doctor wrote, ‘You must go, either way, by way of the mountains, or by sea.’ When we decided to go, we knew it would be a great undertaking because we had no roads or a pilot to guide us, except the setting sun. In May, 1841, my husband sold his possessions, raised a company of men, and made ready to start.

When the Bartleson-Bidwell Party came to California, they carried a map made by Dr. John Marsh. The map was a drawing of the route across the Rocky Mountains to the headwaters of a river called, the Mary River, which flowed into Utah’s Great Salt Lake. From thence the route followed the river to the San Francisco Bay and Marsh’s ranch. At the time Dr. Marsh drew his map he believed, in error, the Sacramento River was a continuation of the Mary River. It was the blind leading the blind. It was on the basis of this poor map the Bartleson-Bidwell Party planned their way to California… that resulted in their added hardships.

From the start the Party had challenges. John Bidwell, a twenty-year-old school teacher, had organized a group called the Eastern Emigration Society. These were people seeking a new land. Six hundred people assembled at Sapling Grove, Independence, Missouri, to listen to Bidwell’s call to emigrate to California. The expected unknown hardships and Bidwell’s youth discouraged most of them. When Bidwell made the count, only sixty souls stepped forward.

Included with the volunteers were the four Kelsey brothers. A smaller group, led by John Bartleson, threatened to withdraw his party of eight well-armed and well equipped men if he was not named to be the Wagon Master for the expedition. Needing his support, Bidwell consented. It became known as the ‘Bartleson Party.’

Bidwell later founded Chico, California, where he had a ranch. John Bidwell was also the first man to discover gold in California. Later he went into politics and was elected a California Congressman. He was five times a candidate for president of the United States on the Prohibition ticket in 1892.

Three days after the wagon train started, as they crossed the Kansas River into Indian Territory, they were joined by sixteen missionaries and a dozen Mountain Men. The twenty-eight newcomers were led by Thomas ‘Broken Hand’ Fitzpatrick, a rough and ready plainsman that had assumed control. The missionaries were making their way to Flathead Indian country, where they wished to convert the Flatheads and establish a Mission.

By the time the Bartleson Party reached the Rocky Mountains, their number had dwindled to sixty-eight souls. They reached Idaho, when the party split into three groups, each to go their separate ways. Twenty-six persons, among them the brothers Samuel and Isiah Kelsey, headed to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The other thirty-four; Benjamin and Nancy Kelsey, along with their daughter, Nancy, and Benjamin’s other brother, Andrew, cast their lot to blaze a trail to California.


            Next Week: Life on the Trail

            Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

            Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

            For more of Gene’s books see Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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