Over a period of eight years, from 1859 until 1867, Susan Tibbets wrote twenty-six letters. Susan was one of our earliest pioneers. She braved dangers that few people of the present generation would ever have to face. In spite of the dangers and hardships, her letters were homey and personal. She spoke from her heart of her hopes and fears. Her letters reflected life in Lake County, the hard times, the Civil War, death and tragedy, and a thousand other small and large obstacles the pioneers had to overcome.  Susan and her life come alive in her words. As I studied her letters, her passing made me feel her death was a personal tragedy.

During three years, 1845 to 1868, Susan and Emory Tibbets lived in Sutterville. and Susan taught school in nearby Illinois Town and Iowa Hill. Her husband, Emory Tibbets, an attorney with no law work, tried to farm.  Their baby daughter, Beulah, was born in a Sierra Nevada mining camp, while a goat grazed on the sod roof of their cabin.

When their daughter was born, Emory was faced with a decision. After three years of fruitless effort, he was forced to admit the area was not good for farming.  Nearing fifty, he decided his family must move on. He decided on California.

The valleys of the California Coastal Ranges, where other settlers were going, looked good. The climate was temperate, the altitude was lower, there was good soil, and best of all, no malaria. His first objective was Healdsburg, but there were no openings for Emory’s profession. Next, he rode his mule into the hills to Clear Lake. Especially, he wanted a place to settle for his and Susan’s new child, Beulah. He decided to plant his feet in Lake County with Susan and Beulah to follow soon after.

The Hammack party had arrived five years earlier, along with the Kelsey’s and the Bidwell’s.

When Emory Tibbets came to Lake County, he had but one dollar in his pack. That he had to spend for medicated salve for his mule’s sore back. Next, Emery started a school for the income sorely needed while Susan, back in Nevada, supported herself by teaching in Iowa Hill. Eventually, she and their daughter followed Emory to the small village of Uncle Sam (later, in1882, renamed Kelseyville). Emory wrote to Susan, he told her, ‘Bottom land can be purchased for two dollars an acre’.

Unfortunately, Emory arrived in Lake County with less than a dollar in his pocket. He lived in the Boyd Granary for a year and taught school for the Boyd children.  After a year, Emory bought five acres of land on the lake shore for a garden, grain, and fruit trees. The property was on a hillside for grapes and a good site for a cabin, complete with a spring of running water. The Clear Lake area was the same place where Andrew Kelsey was killed by the Indians.

In the years that followed, the persons and the events of that time are told in greater detail in other places. Susan was to live in Clear Lake Valley for the last eight years of her life more isolated and poverty stricken than before at Sutterville. Her letters were sent to her sisters, Fanny and Mary, who lived back East.

Susan’s letters averaged one or two pages. Sometimes more. In the interest of brevity, while this author has abbreviated and condensed the writing where needed, he has made certain to keep all the essential private thoughts, meanings, and intentions, the heart and soul of Susan’s letters, intact for the reader.

Next Episode: Paying with Potatoes

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

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

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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