A pioneering Christmas journey | Ross Eric Gibson, Local History – Santa Cruz Sentinel


In 1847, Elihu Anthony had come west with his pregnant wife Sarah, intending to settle near Portland, in northern Oregon. But her pregnancy and travel were bad for her health, and having lost his first wife and first child, Anthony was determined to find a more benevolent atmosphere. Fellow travelers Benjamin and Mary Amney Case urged Anthony to accompany them in sunny California, which he did.

They arrived at Sutter’s Fort, then headed south to the sheltered Santa Clara Valley, where Sarah gave birth on October 3 to her eldest son, Bascom. Anthony grazed his cattle in San Jose along the shores of Los Gatos Creek. Yet instead of finding good weather, an October storm struck, much wilder than any of the natives or Spaniards could remember, turning the streams into raging torrents. Yet after a stormy week, the weather turned hot, summer-like, with green grass and flowers covering the landscape. Anthony opened a forge, but business was slow. However, the Californios asked him to make silver spurs and silver ornaments for their saddles, bringing good returns. Anthony teamed up with 23-year-old saddle tree maker Thomas Fallon.

With no Protestant services available in California, Mary Case wanted Anthony to preach on Sunday, October 24, and went out to gather people to hear her. Anthony’s sermon told the story of his journey across the Great Plains almost to Oregon, but changing course to California due to the ill health of his pregnant wife, seeking God’s guidance through the trials. His sermon was greatly appreciated and he was asked to repeat it in San Francisco. Anthony took his cart so he could stock up there and delivered the same sermon on October 31 in Portsmouth Square and aboard the Whitton ship. He met former Methodist preacher James GT Dunleavy, San Francisco city clerk who is currently running for city council. But Dunleavy celebrated his success by getting drunk and had to leave town.

Asked to deliver his sermon in Monterey, Anthony took his cart through San Juan Bautista, selling some of his goods and products along the way. Back in San José, he discovered that the frost had killed much of the forage grasses in the valley. Then Dunleavy sent a message from his new home in Santa Cruz, where he now owned a ranch on the North Coast and most of the downtown apartments before there was a downtown. Dunleavy told Anthony that the US government was exploiting northwest Santa Cruz to build a fort in Monterey. Blacksmiths were needed to make iron shoes for work animals, parts for wagons and sawmill equipment.

Go to Santa Cruz

This was the break Anthony was looking for, and he had foreseen how many people wanted to join him. The Anthony family included his wife Sarah and sister Jane Van Anda, as well as babies Louisa and Bascom. Benjamin and Mary Case and their young sons Bascom and Rollin, also wanted to settle with the Anthony’s in Santa Cruz. And Thomas Fallon had once lived in Santa Cruz, and was hoping to return, if Anthony could provide his wagon with oxen for the trip up the mountain. So there was a group of 10.

Anthony saw the move as an urgent opportunity, but proposed that he and Fallon first take a wagon through the mountains and chart the way, leaving the Anthony and Case families to enjoy a Merry Christmas with the children. Anthony was determined not to work on the Sabbath (i.e. Sunday), so working until Christmas (Saturday) would avoid this problem.

But at Rancho Los Gatos, Anthony and Fallon, they were warned that there were only deer tracks in the mountains, rarely wide enough for a doubled wagon. Additionally, the Coast Sierra could get too steep for even oxen to climb. And no wagon was known to have traversed the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Mountain adventure

Thomas Fallon refused to be discouraged. Two years earlier he had accompanied the “Pathfinder” himself, General John C. Fremont, on his western science expedition. So, on Christmas Eve, Anthony and Fallon thoughtlessly entered the strange primeval world of these ancient redwood forests. They moved slowly and carefully, to make sure that all the wheels were firmly in contact with the earth. Anthony began to show the awe of wonder Fallon had first shown upon seeing which were the tallest and oldest trees on the planet, some having been alive by the time of the first Christmas 2,000 years ago.

When Anthony and Fallon reached the top, the view opened up to mountain forests stretching out to the horizon. Anthony was amazed at the beautiful country that awaited him, lush and green. The grasses that the winter frost had left dead in the Santa Clara Valley, stood here fresh and ready to be harvested.

While these cathedral groves imbue a spiritual veneration of many who entered their enchanted kingdom, at this time the forest seemed too impenetrable and dominant, its tallest trees impossible to defile. No human hand could lower such a mighty work.

This feeling grew as they searched for the best descent, ended up in several dead ends, having to back several miles, then got lost. Fallon wanted to lighten the load by throwing in a potted acacia from Anthony’s grandfather’s farm. But Anthony refused, because the carob from the tree had always been a part of children’s Christmas treats.

Bears and brandons

During their wanderings, they saw traces of grizzly bears, which gave them a renewed urgency to reach Isaac Graham’s house before sunset. Known as Daniel Boon of California (his parent), Graham’s buckskin image may have given Anthony some trepidation, although Graham was preferable to a grizzly bear, at least he hoped.

When the house was finally spotted, it was a whitewashed building in the desert, with candles in the window. It was part of a Christmas tradition to keep a light on for the Holy Family seeking accommodation, or a stranger at the door.

Realizing that they weren’t expected, Anthony declined to interfere with the Grahams’ private Christmas celebrations, hoping not to enrage a man known as “The Firebrand of the Zayante”. But Graham was a friend of Fallon’s, and upon entering the house Anthony was surprised at the pleasant welcome they received. It was a scene of domestic bliss, where the brandon was disguised as a gentleman in a satin waistcoat, high-necked shirt and Prince Albert sideburns instead of a beard. His wife Catherine held their one-year-old daughter Matilda, while the couple entertained sawmill owner John D. Green by the fireside. Anthony and Fallon were fed and given a place to sleep in the dormitory with Green.

The next morning was Christmas, and Anthony and Fallon resumed their journey, entering Santa Cruz via Graham Hill Road around 10 a.m. and fording the San Lorenzo River at Upper Ford (now Water Street). Where Mission Street begins to climb Mission Hill (near the junction of Center Street), they found Dunleavy’s newly constructed frame hut, the first frame house in Santa Cruz. It was barely larger than a four-poster plank bed, containing a bed, table and chairs, sink, and belly stove. Here, Dunleavy and his wife Mary welcomed their guests. Their backyard was planted with potatoes (where Lulu Carpenters now stands).

Dunleavy greeted his guests and told Anthony he was planning on getting him a goose for Christmas dinner, but he didn’t have musket balls. So he made some odd-sized slugs and gave the musket to Anthony. They went to a field, where wild clover and alfileria were quite tall, hiding wild geese in a swamp around Walnut and Center streets. Anthony could only see their heads, but he found an elevated area, aimed and fired. The musket flew through the air, knocking Anthony to the ground, where he lay still. Dunleavy ran over to Anthony, hoping Anthony wasn’t too hurt, so Dunleavy could break the good news to him. Anthony’s slug had two geese! Which was good, as Anthony no longer intended to use that musket!

New Years Day

Anthony returned to San José and took the Anthony and Case families to Santa Cruz, arriving on New Years Day 1848. They pitched tents in Holy Cross Plaza, then a public space used by residents. But the weather was freezing and turned to rain. Seeing four children being looked after by two mothers in drafty tents, the Catholic priest took pity on them and offered the nine strangers accommodation in a row of adobe rooms in the old Mission. Anthony thanked the priest, but said he did not want to take any favors under false impressions, explaining that he was a Protestant pastor and intended to found a Protestant church in Santa Cruz.

To Antoine’s surprise, the chaplain was very happy, saying how much Protestants might need moral guidance, and all the more insisted that they accepted his offer of accommodation. It is therefore in the rooms made available by the Catholic Church that the formative Protestant services were held in Santa Cruz. And the carob tree that Anthony brought was planted behind his blacksmith’s shop (the current site of the clock tower) and was reputed to be the first carob tree in California.

Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

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