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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 34: NANCY KELSEY’S DIARY – NANCY’S LAST YEARS

In addition to Sylar’s notes of Nancy’s Diary, when he spoke of Ben Kelsey, other chroniclers of the times paint a more critical picture of Benjamin Kelsey. They conflict greatly with the Author’s sources. The author believes that Sylar may be the more correct version. (See ‘The Bloody Island Massacre’ in a future episode.)

Ben Kelsey made a considerable fortune during this period. On one occasion, he paid seventy-five thousand dollars’ ransom to save his brother, Samuel, from being shanghaied aboard a ship bound for China. In a speech delivered by General Mariano Vallejo at Santa Rosa on 4 July 1876, he gives this account: ‘I state I was present when Mr. Benjamin Kelsey lent to Mr. Griffin seventy-five thousand dollars at twenty-five percent, compound interest per month. Captain Frisbee was present and declared the borrower must be insane. In the end, Griffin paid principal and interest according to the agreement.

In his papers, Mariano Vallejo brought out a little-known fact that he and Ben were appointed the first Indian Agents for California by the interim government and before California became a state. This appointment was approved by General Stephen W. Kearny, Civil Governor, after the takeover from Mexico.

Nancy Kelsey continues her diary.

In 1849, we started a trading post way up on the Sacramento River. Then Ben took sick. We had to bring him down to be doctored. When he returned, his property had been abandoned to the Indians and they made use of the opportunity. We brought Salvador Vallejo’s stock and applied for a grant of land consisting of nine square leagues bordering Clear Lake but the grant was incomplete when the Mexican War broke out. We finally lost out. Andy Kelsey and Charley Stone were killed on the ranch by the Indians in 1849 (‘Bloody Island Massacre’).

Captain Salvadore had originally applied for a grant of sixteen leagues (92,000 acres) bordering Clear Lake for military services to the Mexican Government. The grant had not yet been approved when the Mexican-American War broke out. Vallejo moved his cattle and horses and sold these to a partnership of Edward Shirland, Charles Stone, and the Kelsey brothers; Benjamin, Samuel, and Andrew.

This was country still occupied by the Indians. Stone and Andrew Kelsey moved in to occupy the land to oversee their herd of cattle. They built an adobe dwelling, using Indian labor. They were the only white men among a thousand Indians so they used a select few Indians as overseers and strong-arm guards to control the rest.

In his ‘History of California’, Historian Theodore Hittall had this to say about the forced labor treatment of Indians in California by the Spanish rule in 1897.  ‘Besides being priest, teacher, provider, and doctor; the missionary was also the taskmaster, and despot over the liberty and even life of his (Indian) subjects. He was the judge of what constituted an offense and he was always attended by soldier’s dependent on his will and charged to carry out the sentences. The most usual punishment were whippings, imprisonment, or the stocks. Sometimes it was death.’ Stone and Kelsey patterned their treatment of the Indians in a like manner.

In the same year (1849), I was riding into Sonoma from a place we had bought about a mile out of town when an ugly looking Indian tried to Lasso me. He tried to get me to run my horse so he could drag me off. I refused. I stopped him by threatening to shoot him if he used his rope. I had left my pistol at home and I was unarmed. He decided to let me go and not risk getting shot. He cursed me. I went to town and told about it.

They captured the Indian and he was sentenced to one hundred lashes. I went home to my sick husband with the medicine I bought. Instead of taking the medicine, Ben rode in town and shot the Indian dead.

In 1850, we (Ben and Nancy and Ben’s brothers) went to Humboldt (Bay). The mountains, in what is now called Humboldt County, were rough. We did not see a white man on the trip. Some Indians opened fire on us, but my husband killed the Chief and the rest ran away. Our trip was unprofitable.

Afterward, Ben and Nancy drove sheep back to California. Ben died in 1888. Nancy passed away from cancer in 1896. Her final writings are fitting epilogue to her eventful life.

I lived in Owens Valley at the time of the big earthquake there. I enjoyed riches and I suffered the pangs of poverty. I saw General Grant when he was little known. I baked bread for General Fremont. I talked with Kit Carson. I have run from bear and killed most kinds of wild game.

Thus, passed away Nancy Kelsey, the First Western woman pioneer, and the first woman to brave the dangers of the ‘California Trail’, ring-side witness and maker of history in Lake County and America.

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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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