Debbie Croft: Remembering the pioneers who settled the West

Born and bred in the East, I grew up appreciating America’s colonial heritage. Living now in the rugged West, I’m learning to appreciate California’s rich history.

When driving home from the Central Valley with the Sierra Nevada in view, my thoughts naturally drift to the pioneers who settled on this side of the continent. The miles I put on my car in one day took a week or more in a covered wagon during the 1800s. Passing tumbledown shacks and historical markers reminds me of those who carved out a living, even at the expense of their lives.

If you’re familiar with Mariposa or Yosemite, you may recognize some of the following names:

New England native Henry Washburn and his brothers John and Edward were instrumental in transforming the rustic Clark’s Station into the world-class Wawona Hotel. Washburn’s vision to develop new roads into the area catered to the growing interest in tourism. J.J. Cook, William Coffman and others also partnered with Washburn’s business ventures. He became known as “the greatest of all developers of Yosemite Valley,” according to the Berkeley Daily Planet.

The Ashworth family moved to the area in 1849. David Croghan Ashworth was fondly known as “D.C.” On the way here from Missouri, his young daughter died in an accident. Moving from San Jose to Coulterville to Mariposa, the family finally settled in the Big Spring Hill area to farm and raise cattle.

His daughter, Eliza, married Lewis Wass from West Virginia. Today Mariposa Wass family members number in the dozens, at least.

Ashworth’s daughter Nora married Tom Gordon, the son of Peter Gordon, an original Mariposa pioneer. Tom became one of the first Washburn brothers stagecoach drivers. His son Eddie worked at Wawona, and his grandson Albert co-wrote the book “Stagecoach to Yosemite.”

Winslow Gallison and C.E. Farnsworth opened a blacksmith shop and married the McCready sisters, Jane and Annie. The Gallisons purchased a hotel on Main Street, and operated the business until fire destroyed it in 1887. Their son, Winslow “Winnie” Gallison, was county clerk for more than 30 years.

Miriam Isabel Gallison married Thomas B. Rowland of Catheys Valley. They had two children before Rowland passed away in 1909. The following year Miriam married Robert Lee Paine, undersheriff for Sheriff Robert A. Prouty. Miriam served as Mariposa’s postmistress and express agent for three decades.

Nicholas Pendola moved from Italy to California during the Gold Rush and found success in mining. With his fortune, he opened a general merchandise store in the community of Bear Valley, about 10 miles north of Mariposa. One of his daughters married into the Trabucco family, also immigrants from Italy.

Henry Garber Sr. arrived in Mariposa in 1856 and became a Teamster. With lumber cut from Clark’s Mill, he built a house, and then sent for his wife and son. Traveling by sea, the family lost all their belongings in a storm. In the late 1880s Garber was crippled in an accident.

Stonewall Jackson Harris became county surveyor in 1886, and held the office almost continuously until 1914. In addition, he was editor and proprietor of a local newspaper, and worked with the Yosemite Lumber Co. In 1888, he served as chief surveyor on the road project between Mariposa and Yosemite, a longtime dream of his. Unfortunately, he drowned in 1914 when the Yosemite Valley Railroad train he was traveling on jumped the tracks and landed in the Merced River.

Virginia native Gustavus Hite was an original forty-niner. Within 10 years, he built the first hotel in Yosemite Valley using lumber from nearby trees. The hotel was destroyed the following winter by snowfall. Hite’s brother, John, earned his fame by discovering a mine, for which Hite’s Cove is named.

Many of these individuals and, or their descendants are buried in the Mariposa Cemetery. Their families are remembered by the names on road signs, cattle brands recorded at the county courthouse, historic buildings and local landmarks.