Nancy Kelsey’s life in early Lake County, continues.

In December, we went with Sutter (John Sutter) to his fort on the Sacramento River. The trip took fifteen days with the Indians rowing on the river. ‘If their boat capsized,’ Sutter told the Indians, ‘Carry Mrs. Kelsey and the baby and swim to shore.’ 

We arrived on Christmas Day, where I met Joel Walker, who had just arrived with his wife and children. So, you see, I was the first white woman in California.

That winter was a wet one in the spring of ‘42. We left Sutter’s Fort in April and landed near Cache Creek, where we camped all summer. We killed deer and elk, and made Spanish boots out of the hides and saved the tallow.

One day, Salvador Vallejo (See earlier episode; The Californios) and his men chased a runaway Negro nearly into our camp. They shot him four times and then ran their swords through him. They said they did that to bring them good luck. Salvador then disarmed us and ordered that we be taken to the Mission at Sonoma. That night our men stole into their camp and quietly recaptured their weapons. We returned to Sutter’s Fort.

With the profits we made on the hunt, we bought one hundred head of cattle and took them to Oregon in the spring and summer of 1943. When we started to Oregon. We had some trouble getting the cattle to cross the River (Sacramento). While the men were working to get them across, Indians came into camp, took all our guns, and put them in a heap. They were entirely nude and I called the men to help. ‘Bear’ (Dawson) came and shot one of the Indians within a few feet of me. Then he compelled the rest of them to help with the cattle crossing. Dawson was not to blame for shooting the Indian as he drew his bow first.

One Indian was forced to swim in the river and tow me and the child across in a canoe. The men held guns on him while he did so. It was not a pleasant situation, I assure you. The least turn would have upset the boat. We waited on the west bank of the river for ten days until Joel Walker and his family came up with us. This was the last time I saw John Bidwell. He was on his way to his Chico ranch. He had some trinkets to trade with the Indians.

Near Mt. Shasta, the Indians bothered us again by stealing our stock. I crossed the headwaters of the Sacramento River fifteen times in my day. All the time I carried my child on the same horse I rode. One night in these mountains, the Indians shot several of our horses. The next morning, we broke camp, while some of the men guarded the carcasses. We had not gone far from the camp when the Indians rushed in for the meat. Our men shot and killed several of them.

We had proceeded only another mile when the Indians assembled in front of us and opened fire. We had a pitched battle and several horses and Indians were killed. Those Indians that were not killed managed to escape. During the fight, I sat on my horse and saw it all. One night we had twenty-two horses stolen. A nice mare was shot through with an arrow within forty feet from where I was sleeping. The next morning, we had another fight with the Indians. I counted twelve of them as they went down before our guns. 

Going down the Siskiyou Mountains we had several of our cattle shot with arrows from ambush as we traveled. At Elkhorn, we saw the bones of the Hudson Bay Company men, who were killed at that place. Tom Kye was one of the Hudson Bay men that survived. He was a half-breed. I saw Tom several times after that and I know he did not care much for the Indians. He killed Indians and proved to be good at his business.

Northern California and Southern Oregon had many bloody wars. After the Missions were stopped from being built in California by the new Mexican owners, the Indians resisted the nearly a century of Spanish and Mexican rule. They assembled the tribes and fought to stop all persons that dared to venture into their territory (See earlier episode; The Indian Wars).

We sold our stock at Fort Vancouver, bought dry goods and merchandise and returned to California in 1844. Five days after our return, our stock was stampeded by the Indians at Shasta. By this time, I had two children. While the arrows were flying into camp, I took one baby and hid my child in the brush. I returned and took the other child and hid that child also. The moon was shining brightly. Each time the men fired their guns I heard an Indian fall into the river. As I hid the little ones I wondered if I would ever see daylight again. Think of it. We had only five men and there were, possibly, a hundred Indians. We were glad to get to Sutter’s Fort again.


                          Next Week: Killing of Don Francisco

                           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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