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May 30, 1862: Marsh’s Ranch

May 30, 2012

Marsh House

Marsh house; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr


Camp 71

Gabb did not arrive with letters and funds until [tonight]. In the meantime we examined the region about there and got acquainted with Mr. Marsh. I promised you something of this man’s history last fall, and I will now give the facts gleaned from several sources—some of the main ones from him himself, the rest from reliable authorities.

Doctor Marsh was born in Massachusetts, graduated at Harvard University, spent some time in Canada, Wisconsin, Illinois, and other western territories at an early day, and finally, in the employ of the American Fur Company, came here to California in 1836, just after the confiscation of the missions by the Mexican Government, and bought a large ranch on the east side of Mount Diablo. Here he lived, and later married a Boston lady who came to this state. He had various adventures, was robbed, had all the experiences incident to the life of a wealthy ranchero here in early times, counted his cattle by the tens of thousands, and lived like a patriarch.

Sometime in the summer of 1856 he was a little unwell, and, while he was reclining on a bed in his sitting room, a seedy, tired, hungry looking man entered, late in the evening, and wished to stay all night. The man was an American, and the Doctor, suspicious of his countrymen, especially of such looking men, refused to keep him.

“But, Sir, I am tired—have lost my way—I saw a light here and came in.”

“Have you any money?”

“No.”

“A man has no business to be traveling here afoot and alone, without money.”

“I can’t help that. I am tired—my feet are sore. The great Joaquin plain lies beyond, as I hear, without houses—I don’t ask for money, not even food, nor a bed—let me lie before the fire.”

At last the wealthy doctor gave his consent and began various inquiries.

“Where are you from?”

“San Francisco—just out from the States.”

“What State?”

“Illinois.”

“What is your name?”

“Marsh.”

“Marsh?”

“Yes, Marsh.”

“Marsh—from Illinois? Where were you born?”

“Wisconsin.”

“What county, and when?”

In the meantime, the doctor, becoming interested, rose up from the bed and sat upon the edge. A few more questions were asked in quick succession, much to the astonishment of the traveler.

“Pull off your boot,” says the doctor. “Now your stocking.”

It was done, disclosing two toes grown together to their ends.

“Man—you can stay, for you are my son. I supposed you died a boy!”

The doctor, while in Canada, had taken a French mistress, who had gone with him to the western states. By her he had two children, a boy and a girl. While he was absent he heard of her death and that of the children. The mother and daughter did die, but not the boy, who was brought up by a Kentucky farmer in Illinois.

He married, lived a poor man, and finally came to California in 1856 to seek his fortune, as one account says, or to seek his father, of whom he had accidentally heard—the latter is probable. However, he arrived, poor, friendless, landed in San Francisco, started in the search, lost his way, saw a light, went to it, and found it to be that of his father’s house.

The old man kept him for a time, merely as a hand on his ranch—I think about four to six months—when the old man was murdered by some Spaniards.

Young Marsh threw in his claim for his share in the ranch, that he was a legitimate son, etc. After much legal investigation, a Roman priest from Montreal testified to the fact that Marsh had called this woman his wife. Other witnesses were found who declared that Marsh had introduced her as his wife. They had lived in a region where magistrates were few and far between, and marriages were not always solemnized in that way to be legal. Well, he got the ranch, sharing the property with a half-sister by the second wife, a girl now ten years old.

Here are the facts for you to build a romance upon—the long separation, the strange meeting, the murder of the old man by which this before-neglected man (I was about to say outcast) so soon became rich, coming here at just the right time.

He has a beautiful ranch—the old man claimed eleven leagues, but only three leagues, or over 13,300 acres, were confirmed—with the finest ranch-house I have yet seen in the state.

But here, for the sake of romance, let the facts stop—do not let me go on and tell how the present occupant is a boor—how old chairs with rawhide bottoms occupy rooms with marble mantles, how the fine mansion is surrounded with a most miserable fence, with hogs in the yard, some of the windows broken, and things slovenly in general. Such is the true story.

Specimens collected: Penstemon heterophyllus var. purdyi; Micropus californicus var. californicus; Trifolium bifidum; Delphinium hesperium subsp. pallescens; Eriogonum truncatum.

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