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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 33: NANCY KELSEY’S DIARY – FIGHTING MEXICANS

A letter from the Mexicans to Salvador’s wife was intercepted by the Americans.  The letter told that the Mexicans planned to come to Sutter’s fort and kill the Americans. An officer sent a letter to Nancy’s husband, Ben Kelsey, who was on his way to Oregon asking him to overtake Fremont and tell him of the plot.

Mexicans in Lake County had begun attacks on other Americans.

Nancy writes in her diary, ‘The Mexicanos had a man locked up in Salvador’s Petaluma ranch house. Word came that they intended to kill him. Captain Merritt took several men and went there to release a prisoner, who was in a nude condition. They had a fight and several Mexicanos were killed, but no Americans.’

William Todd was a nephew to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. He also designed the California Bear flag. Mrs. Kelsey, Mrs. Dowell, and Mrs. Mathews furnished the cloth and sewed the Bear Flag. Some believe Nancy Kelsey was left out of the history of who made the bear flag because she was married to Benjamin Kelsey and, in the minds of some, not deserving of such honors.

I seldom saw Kit Carson as he was generally away scouting. My goodness. He was wild as a deer. Lindsay Carson (Kit’s half-brother) was there with his family. He and his brother Moses had a ranch up on the Russian River.

After the war, there seemed to be some immigration into the country. Mr. Kelsey and General Vallejo built themselves a sawmill. The enterprise proved profitable to them. They had from twenty-five to thirty men working for them in the mill. I did all the cooking for them. We had burrs (grinding stones) in the mill that ground all the flour. Some of the log-rollers (lumberjacks) afterward, became wealthy.

When gold was discovered (1848), my husband sold out his interest in the mill to General Vallejo and went to the mines. He later bought sheep in Sonoma at a dollar a head and sold them at the mines at sixteen dollars per head. I suppose that is what you would call, 16 to 1. When he returned, he told me, ‘If you can lift the saddlebags that held the gold I received for my sheep, I will give it all to you.’ I couldn’t move them. At his dry diggings in 1848, Mr. Kelsey worked the Indians and made as high as one hundred dollars per day for each Indian. Of course, this kind of digging did not last long.

Six miles north of Placerville is a small community known as ‘Kelsey’. That is where Kelsey Dry Diggings was located when it was worked.

The first thirty-six Indians that worked the diggings for Ben Kelsey were all Pomo from Lake County. They all went home afterward. Well, Ben then took fifty more Indians to these diggings but when he became ill and had to be carried back to Sonoma, the Indians were left on their own at the dig site. In the wild times of the ‘Gold Fever’, the leaderless Indians wandered off. Only a few managed to return to their tribes in Lake County. Other Indian narrators said only a few returned to Lake County. Most of the remaining Pomo were killed by hostile Indians of other tribes.

Ben Kelsey has been criticized for this event by those wishing to do him harm. The main abuse was from a native, named Augustine. That Indian said he was a survivor but he was not even present at Kelsey’s Dry Diggings. Augustine was in Napa. He had been taken to Napa to make adobe bricks but he escaped and was in hiding.

              © 2017 PAL PUBLISHING/USED BY PERMISSION

                          Next Week: Nancy Kelsey’s Last Years

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

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

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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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