Carson Valley’s First Settler Wedding

The year was 1854 when two young riders pulled up outside Henry Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop, astride a single horse.

Their arrival at Van Sickle’s station wasn’t all that unusual — “Van” (as locals knew him) was an in-demand blacksmith and wheelwright, and his trading station had become a popular stopping place for passing-through emigrants.

What was unusual, however, was the mission of the two riders. Young David R. Jones and his even younger companion, Frances Angeline Williams, weren’t interested in Van’s assistance as a blacksmith, but rather his help as Justice of the Peace. They’d just eloped together on horseback, and wanted “Van” to marry them.

Frances was a native of Pennsylvania who’d come west with her family in a wagon train, arriving in Carson Valley during the fall of 1853. David had been born in Wales in 1830, emigrating initially as a child with his family to Wisconsin. David, too, had followed his dreams west to Carson Valley in 1853 as a member of the same wagon train as the Williams family, and was now living and working on the ranch owned by Frances’ father*, William T. “Billy” Williams.

Henry Van Sickle.

David was 25 years old when he rode up to Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop that fateful day. Frances, on the other hand, was just 15. And they hadn’t asked her parents’ permission to get married.

As later writers have recounted the tale, “Van” was hard at work at his forge when the eager young couple rushed in. Still clad in his leather blacksmith’s apron and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Van Sickle obliged with the briefest of ceremonies. Clapping one meaty hand on David’s shoulder and the other on Frances’, he solemnly proclaimed: “As Justice of the Peace of this township, I pronounce you man and wife under the law of the Territory of Utah.”

That was it. They were married.

Henry Van Sickle didn’t bother to take off his rough blacksmith’s apron for the marriage. Photos below of David R. Jones and Frances (Williams) Jones are courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

It was the first settler marriage ever performed in Carson Valley, at least according to local legend. (Small pause for a word of caution: when it comes to “firsts” like marriages and babies, there can often be room for dispute! But that’s how local legend tells it.) And the wedding wouldn’t be Van Sickle’s last. In August, 1857, Van Sickle also “stopped branding cattle long enough to perform the marriage” for Elzy Knott and Mary Harris.

There’s just one small factual hiccup giving later historians pause about the long-ago Jones wedding story: Henry Van Sickle probably wasn’t actually a J.P. yet in 1854. It wasn’t until Carson County, Utah Territory was formed in September, 1855 by Orson Hyde that Henry officially became a judge, as nearly as we can tell. Prior to that, although J.P.’s did exist, their authority was limited to handling court cases. With no authority for anyone at the time to perform weddings, emigrant marriages were sometimes accomplished by written “contract” or by stretching the fictitious jurisdiction of an eastern J.P.

Still, the story of the Jones’ wedding is so detailed there’s likely some truth to the tale. Perhaps the young couple thought Van Sickle had the power to marry them, and Van simply tried to oblige. Maybe later tellings got the year wrong and the marriage took place in 1855, after Henry really was a Justice of the Peace.  Or maybe the well-respected Van Sickle was simply the closest thing anyone had to a J.P. in those early days, and local folk never questioned the well-intentioned marriage attempt.

However it happened, if the oft-repeated story about the early wedding is true, newlyweds David and Frances must have had quite an interesting conversation with her family when they finally returned home to the Williams ranch! But any hard feelings were apparently soon forgiven. David would later purchase the Williams ranch in 1857.

Over the years, the couple prospered. David was (or at least, as he claimed to be) the first to plow the ground with an ox team near Genoa, and he soon began hauling hay and grain to Virginia City. But the early years of their marriage were filled with the dangers and difficulties of early pioneers. He would later recall: “We hid in the willows at night, [my] wife and I, because the Indians were hostile in those days and we feared for our lives.”

The Jones Ranch, as it appeared about 1881.

The couple’s first son, John R. Jones, born in 1855, was reportedly the first white male child born in Carson Valley. All told, David and Frances would go on to have a total of eleven children. One of those children, daughter Sarah, grew up to marry Lorenzo Smith of Washoe City, a tale recounted in this earlier story. (Daughter Sarah was laid to rest at the Washoe City Cemetery in early 1894.)

The Jones ranch grew, and by 1882 was valued for tax purposes at $3,500. David also evidently developed a passion for fine horses. In 1878, the newspaper reported the price for breeding services from his “noble-looking” stallion, Westfork.

D.R. Jones’ “noble” stallion, Westfork, was mentioned in the Carson Valley News of April 12, 1878.

David Jones was an active member of the local community, officiating as a judge of elections at the Mottsville Precinct in 1880, and serving as a Douglas County commissioner in the 1890s. According to some accounts Jones also became a prominent  and well-respected member of the Mormon Church — although in actuality, he’d broken ties with the LDS church. Instead, Jones may have been affiliated with the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that movement emerged in the 1870s, though even the nature of his association with that group remains unclear.  In any event, Jones was listed as a “minister” at the marriage of John Boston and Nettie Jones in March, 1872, and was kindly referred to as “Rev. Jones” in February, 1898 when he officiated at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Gilman.

Frances passed away in 1909, with seven of her 11 children still surviving her. Five years later, David was applauded as the oldest still-living Nevada pioneer at the state’s 50thanniversary celebration. He died that same year, 1914, at the age of 85. David and Frances Jones are both buried in the historic Genoa Cemetery.

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     * William T. Williams is identified as Frances’ father in Sam P. Davis’s later History of Nevada (Vol. II), but according to letters in the possession of descendants, her real father was actually David Williams. It’s possible that William T. Williams was an uncle.
Special thanks also to the Douglas County Historical Society for the wonderful pair of photos of Frances and David Jones for this story, and the account of their elopement from the reminiscences of Robert A. Trimmer, a typescript in the Historical Society’s Van Sickle Library collection. A similar story about the Jones wedding was told by Owen E. Jones in the 
Record-Courier of September 4, 1925. David Jones’ account of hiding in the willows was reported in the Record-Courier of February 5, 1909, and his land purchase from “Bully [probably Billy] Williams” was in the Genoa Courier, December 19, 1902. The account of “Rev.” Jones conducting the funeral of Mrs. Gilman is from Genoa Weekly Courier, February 11, 1898.
And just a quick acknowledgment: I am so thankful for the help of local historians who know so much more and so freely share!  So, many thanks to one local historian in particular (who prefers to remain nameless) for the great information about the date of Van Sickle’s election as Justice of the Peace, various early marriage hurdles and work-arounds, and David Jones’ still-not-quite-clear connection with the Re-organized Mormon Church.

Inspiration for your Memoir Writing

GUEST BLOG:  Q&A With Memoir Author Fran Macilvey 

I was so excited to “meet” this memoir author on Facebook recently, and wanted to share her story and tips with you! Hope it inspires your own memoir writing.

Author Fran Macilvey has not just one inspiring memoir book under her belt, but three. Her first book, Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy, a gold medal winner, was an Amazon international bestseller after its release in 2014. And Fran kept on writing. Her second book, Happiness Matters, followed in 2017. And she’s just come out with a third, Making Miracles — a joyful journey of self-discovery and a guide to finding happiness and fulfilment even after a lifetime of mistakes.

Fran kindly shared a Q&A with us. I hope you’ll be inspired by both her personal journey and her sage memoir-writing advice!

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A Quick Introduction:

A quick introduction:  In 1965, Fran was a miracle baby — an entirely unexpected and premature one. Fran made her surprise debut in the Congo, where her father was serving as a Belgian diplomat. Although Fran’s mother knew she was pregnant, she had no idea she was actually carrying twins. By the time doctors arrived, Fran — the second and unexpected twin — had suffered permanent damage. She entered the world with a battle on her hands. She had cerebral palsy.

When Fran was seven, the family returned to Scotland. At age ten, Fran and her sister were sent off to boarding school. For the next eight years, she watched from the sidelines as other kids romped and played. A series of orthopaedic surgeries only added pain to an introverted, unhappy childhood. “My juvenile hurt turned into adult anger, self-hatred, and suicidal depression,” Fran recalls, “until the day when someone saw past my limitations.”

Luckily for her readers, Fran’s painful early life launched her on a journey of introspection and eventually joy. And, oh yes, along the way she also became a lawyer, practicing as a solicitor for ten years. Fran now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and daughter. And she’s still writing books, with a trio of novels about women and their encounters with the law currently in the works.

And now, here’s Fran’s great Q&A!

Q&A With Fran:
Q:  Your first memoir, Trapped, tells the poignant story of your early life and what it was like growing up with a disability. How did you get started writing your first memoir?
A:  I decided, one day, simply to sit down and type. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. My daughter had started school and I had time, so I basically ran out of excuses. I started by writing the first thing that came into my head – a scene of my parents at a party in Congo – which I more or less wrote as it came to me. When my father read an early draft of Trapped he made some really helpful comments. I guess if I were to offer your readers any suggestion it would be to start anywhere – beginning, middle or end. Your work will take you where it wants to go, eventually. Enjoy the journey.

Q:  And then you wrote Happiness MattersWhat did you learn in writing Trapped that got you interested in writing a sequel?
A:  The first book ends with a question: “So I’m still here, what next?” The second sprang from the question, “So you want to live the rest of your life in peace? How about starting now?”
I wound up actually writing Trapped and Happiness Matters at roughly the same time, which helped me to finish both books. I would have quit writing Trapped – it was so hard – if I hadn’t constantly been reminded that happiness matters. Ultimately, I finished writing Trapped because I knew that achieving that would make me a happier person.
In writing Trapped I also realised that life doesn’t simply stop when we arrive at the end of a story. There is always more to aim for — in my case, happiness. Trying out so many different approaches to happiness took me years. Some theories didn’t work, others have more than rewarded me, which is why Happiness Matters took about ten years to reach publication. And my third book came from the realisation, “There’s more to life than this, people!”

Q:  I love your most recent title: Making Miracles — what will readers find in the book that might be helpful in their own life?
A:  I’ve kept a dream journal for about twenty years and it has become increasingly clear to me that when we listen to our dreams, record them, and re-read them, we can learn a lot about how life works, what it’s for, and about particular messages that will help us. The examples I have shared in Making Miracles are those that I hope have a wider resonance. Realising that there is a lot of help available to us, and that we can ask for it anytime, helps us to live life more bravely and with purpose.

Q:  Tell us a little about how you got your books into print.
A:  My first book, Trapped, is published by Skyhorse, a mainstream publisher based in New York. The next two I published myself because, by the time I came ‘round to write them, my commissioning editor had moved on. That happens a lot.
Self-publishing is interesting to learn about. And there is so much to learn, not only because of the plethora of choices available but also because we all want different things and have different strengths and weaknesses. I’m no good at cover design, but I don’t mind doing editing, for example. I found some really good professionals who have helped me. And yes, it was daunting to start, but if it’s broken down into small steps, it’s easier. (And we learn so much from it.)

Q: What advice in a nutshell do you have for people wanting to write their own memoir?
A:  We should aim to be as honest as we can – not cruel – and we should try to write only our own story. Where we have to borrow from the lives of others, we should try not to trespass on other people’s ‘life-lines’ more than absolutely necessary.
I make a distinction between early drafts of a memoir, which are essentially private affairs in which we may have to write down everything about everyone without apology; and much, much later drafts that we hope might be read by other people. The first part of writing everything down is valuable therapy, perhaps; the later version is cooler, a more-presentable version that others may find interesting.

Keep writing!

Family members in particular, deserve their privacy. In the final versions of what we write, we can offer that privacy and still tell the truth about our own lives. We can be respectful, and it helps when we are at least as hard on ourselves as we are on others. A life story should have enough going on in it so that we don’t need to dramatize or exaggerate. And if not, we go out and live some more!

* * * * *

Find Making Miracles and Fran’s other books here at Amazon.com

The Kingsbury Grade Story (Part 2)

Even before the Kingsbury & McDonald toll road was completed, the quasi-passable track began to attract attention. A telegraph line for the Humboldt & Salt Lake Telegraph Co. was strung along this route in late 1858, connecting Genoa with Placerville. And beginning in April or May, 1860, Pony Express riders began following the Kingsbury Grade trail, before completion of telegraph lines a few months later made their work obsolete.

When Kingsbury & McDonald’s new wagon road was officially completed in August, 1860, it was seven miles long but reportedly chopped the distance from Genoa to Placerville by some 15 miles, saving travelers a precious day’s travel.

Writer Richard Allen marveled at the workmanship of the new road, describing it as a “most excellent road” winding over “seemingly impassable heights.” A reporter for the Sacramento Daily Union similarly effused in June, 1860: “The road-building by McDonald & Kingsbury through Daggett’s Pass is pronounced by those we have seen who have passed over it, the best on the Pacific coast.”

The roadway of the new Kingsbury route averaged a luxurious sixteen feet in width — a vast improvement over portions of the Placerville road in El Dorado County, where sharp turns planked to a width of just eight feet made it difficult for six-mule teams to “keep the wheels on the timber.”

Kingsbury and McDonald received a Territorial franchise for their toll road in 1861. The initial toll for a wagon drawn by four horses making a round-trip from Shingle Springs to Van Sickle Station at the foot of old Kingsbury was $17.50. That hefty sum represented more than four days’ wages for a humble miner. Even so, writer Richard Allen dubbed the new toll rate “reasonable.”

The Kingsbury route soon drew away many of the westward-bound travelers who had previously crossed through Hope Valley and over Luther Pass. In addition, with Virginia City at its height, pack train operators bringing supplies eastward for the Comstock mines found the route profitable in the early 1860s. Some of those early packers settled in and became Nevada notables. Bob Fulstone, for example, a well-known dairy rancher near Carson City, recalled “packing mules” over Daggett Pass as a teenager. And A. Schwarz, cheerful proprietor of the popular Genoa Brewery, once ran a pack train from Sacramento to Virginia City in his younger days, also probably following the Kingsbury route over Daggett Pass.

Henry Van Sickle was the first toll-keeper on the Kingsbury & McDonald toll road.

At the very foot of the new Kingbsbury trail, Henry Van Sickle already had an existing station that he’d erected in 1857. This offered several amenities for emigrants and teamsters: a bar, a hotel, a blacksmith/wheelwright shop, and a store.  Van Sickle quickly embraced the new Kingsbury route as good for business. He not only helped finance the new road but also served as its first toll-master. Although we don’t know much about the original toll house, we do know it had a brick chimney, as that fell down during an earthquake in June, 1887.

About halfway up the grade, travelers could also find another way-station, called “Peters Station.” Here Richard Peters and his wife, Elizabeth, kept a three-story hotel where teamsters could enjoy a good, hot dinner and get a restful night’s sleep for themselves and their horses before attempting the rest of the climb.

The new Kingsbury toll road didn’t keep its competitive advantage for long, however. In November, 1863, the Lake Bigler Road was completed and began siphoning off traffic. This new road ran from Friday’s Station (then “Small & Burke’s”) on the south shore of the lake through Spooner’s Station and down Kings Canyon to Carson City. It not only crossed the Sierra some 200 feet lower than the Kingsbury-McDonald route but, more importantly, reportedly offered a slightly shorter trek to the Placerville road.

Some adventurous souls tried riding the flume.

That didn’t mean that all travelers abandoned the new Kingsbury route, of course. And in 1866, J.W. Haines found yet another helpful use for it, building a mile-long box-flume to channel water down Kingsbury Canyon, later upgrading its original overlapping joints to an “abutting joint” model in 1868.

All told, the new Kingsbury & McDonald toll road cost its founders an astonishing $585,000 to build. And in 1863, after the Kings Canyon route opened as competition, Kingsbury generated only $190,000 in tolls. Even so, the new Kingsbury toll road continued to operate. By 1881, the History of Nevada would grandly claim that the Kingsbury toll road had “annually returned double its cost.”

Perhaps this was pure puffery. Financial woes eventually forced Van Sickle, who had helped to finance the road, to foreclose on his mortgage and he wound up becoming its owner. For a time, it continued to operate as the Van Sickle Toll Road. But in 1889, Van Sickle sold the roadway to Douglas County for just $1,000. It now became a free road; the local newspaper happily advised readers that “no toll will be collected in the future.”

Genoa Weekly Courier, October 11, 1889.

The lack of tolls made a big difference for commerce over the Grade. In February, 1890, for example, ranchers in Carson Valley were able to supply Folsom’s logging camp at Lake Tahoe with beef, which they “hauled over the Kingsbury grade on hand-sleds.” And in 1894, a Sacramento hauler estimated the cost of delivery at a mere one cent per pound, compared with $1.25 per pound when the previous toll over Kingsbury was $22.

Given the road’s unpaved surface, maintenance needs were constant. In summer, horsedrawn carts would sprinkle water along the roadway to settle the dust. In winter, sleds were used to pack the snow down as a roadway.

Horrific accidents on the steep grade were also common. In June, 1890, a man named Green lost his brake while descending Kingsbury grade with a 6-horse team. Although the incident made the news, the Genoa Weekly Courier just calmly reported: “the wagon ran off the grade, causing quite a smash-up.” The following year, teamster Louis Lenwick was bringing a load of shingles down Kingsbury grade from Hobart with a 4-horse team when he hit an icy spot at the “first bridge above the Farmers’ Mill.” Luckily Louis got off with just a broken rib and a dunking in the creek.

Albert Bohlman grading Kingsbury’s dirt roadway in the 1930s, using an official Douglas County grader. (Photo courtesy of Dale Bohlman)

Then in May, 1892, someone made the bad decision to continue tugging an engine up Kingsbury Grade with a 12-horse team during a heavy snowstorm. The engine was destined for use at a logging camp near Meyers, but wound up being dumped off onto its side when the wagon’s wheels “dropped into a hole that was covered with snow.” The team and driver came out alright, but the engine later had to be rescued.

*Hope you enjoyed the story so far…  To read Part 1, click here. We plan to add Part 3 to the story later!

Header photo (used courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society – thank you!) is Old Kingsbury Grade, circa 1895. Note what appears to be a flume at right center of that photo. 

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Here are a few great personal memories of old Kingsbury Grade “back in the day,” from our readers

“My mom said they made movies on that road. I remember the hairpin turn punctuated by the lone pine tree.”

“I can remember traveling up the grade, scared to death that my father would get close to the edge on a sharp turn with a corduroy surface, and we’d all go over the edge! And I remember how relieved we were to make it to the ‘piped’ spring [where we could] refill the boiled-out radiator.”

“Many of the young men (my brother and my husband among them) who belonged to Carson Valley’s 20-30 Club would go up to the Lake after their meeting, and they’d talk about coming home in the early morning via Kingsbury with the sun in their eyes.”

“The lookout point was constructed by the local Kiwanis Club, I think. It became more of a ‘necking stop’ than an actual scenic look-out.”

“When I was in high school, the road was still dirt and people from California driving Kingsbury Grade would hug the side that is against the mountain and you would have to go around them on the wrong side because they were scared to go near the edge.”

“I remember in winter they would close the road with just a couple of saw horses and a board. If the snow was not too deep we would just move the saw horses aside and just use it anyway.”

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Mental Yoga

Starting to write can feel like this. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Totally unfamiliar. And like everyone else is better at this than you.

Just close your eyes and dive in. Remember any words you write can be fixed up, corrected, and changed later. But a blank page can’t be edited.

So pull out a pen. Top off your coffee. Take a deep breath. And begin.

Maybe you already know where you want to start. Maybe you have no idea — you just know you want to write. Start somewhere. Write about how not-knowing feels, if that’s where you are.

Think of facing that blank page as a form of mental yoga. It’s a discipline. It’s a spiritual practice.

And you get better at it as you go along.

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The Story of Kingsbury Grade (Part 1)

Few people ever stop to read the Historic Marker for Kingsbury Grade. Perhaps that’s because the marker isn’t actually on today’s Kingsbury road at all, but rather on Foothill, tucked between Mottsville and Muller Lanes. But this small sign marks a fascinating and important early site: the original jumping-off spot for emigrants bent on taking the Daggett Pass route to the goldfields of California.

It wasn’t everyone’s first choice as a route, though.

The Nevada historic marker at the foot of the original Kingsbury Grade.

Long before white men arrived, this trail began as a simple Washoe footpath up to the lake. At the height of the Gold Rush, Georgetown (Calif.) boosters began working to press the track into service to draw emigrants to their community. These enterprising townsfolk sent “salesmen” over to the Eastern slope to divert would-be miners to Georgetown, instead of the usual Placerville route. Hired hawkers vigorously promoted what soon became known as the “Georgetown Cutoff,” assuring emigrants (falsely) that it would slash their trek to the goldfields by 50 miles or more.

But the Georgetown Trail or Cut-off (as it then was known) remained a barely-improved footpath. In July, 1850, emigrant Edmund Hinde took one look at the steep, rough climb and decided to stick with his original plan to follow the more-established Carson Canyon route. “On looking at the [Georgetown] road, we concluded to keep to the old one,” he sighed.

The flat at the base of the trail did make a fine place for a party, however. Many eager gold-seekers who opted for the difficult Georgetown route simply abandoned their wagons, guns, and other personal possessions at the foot of the trail and forged ahead as “packers.” Those piles of discarded belongings became a temptation to mischief. In his 1850 diary, Abner Blackburn recounts how the boys of Mormon Station would go on a “spree,” setting fire to piles of abandoned wagons, cutting up discarded harnesses, bending guns around trees, and “run[ning] amuck generally.”

Kingsbury Grade historic marker.

In 1852, J.H. Scott and his brothers settled at the foot of the trail, building a small log cabin there. The location was a good one: it had a spring, and was only a few miles south of Mormon Station. The following year, the Scotts sold out to Dr. Charles Daggett. Born in Vermont in 1806, Dr. Charles Daggett had come west in 1851. According to local lore, Daggett brought two African-American slaves with him to Carson Valley, a woman and her little boy, thus becoming one of the very few early slave-holders in the valley.

Daggett and his companions settled into the log cabin at the base of the mountain. His land claim, filed May 12, 1853 for 640 acres, was among the earliest in the “First Records.” In 1854, Daggett solidified his claim by having a survey made of his property. A graduate of Berkshire Medical College in Massachusetts, Daggett was the first doctor in the region and, by some accounts, the first in all of future Nevada. He also held public posts in 1855 as Carson County Assessor/Tax Collector as well as its prosecuting attorney. Not surprisingly,  the trail up the mountain near his home, the creek that flowed down the mountain, and the pass above all soon took his name.

The very fortunate traveler, Orson Hyde.

And a lucky thing Dr. Daggett’s presence was for Judge Orson Hyde, who arrived at Daggett’s cabin with frostbitten feet and legs in December, 1855, after crossing the mountains in the snow. Aware of the dangers of rapid-thawing, Daggett chopped a hole in the ice on a nearby stream and told Hyde to soak his legs. He then rubbed Hyde’s frozen legs with turpentine and bandaged them in soft cotton.

For several more years, Daggett Trail remained practical only for travelers on foot or with pack-horses or mules. Surveyor George Goddard, visiting in 1855, noted that although the trail from top to bottom was just under four miles, the drop-off was steep and “a false step would precipitate one into the rocky canyon 500 feet below.”

Then about 1856, a Genoa merchant named William Nixon took an interest in improving the Daggett route. A Mormon from St. Louis, Nixon had arrived in Genoa that year from Salt Lake with a load of goods with which he opened a store at Mormon Station. Before returning to Salt Lake in ’57, Nixon had the trail over Daggett Pass improved so that wagons carrying goods had an easier time of it.

But “easier” was a relative term. In 1859, Capt. J.H. Simpson gave his own skeptical opinion that a great deal of work would be necessary to make the route truly passable by wagons.

The town of Genoa, as it appeared to Capt. J.H. Simpson and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1859. (National Archives).

For the most part, the Daggett route remained essentially a pack-mule or horse trail. But the Comstock Lode would soon change all that.

Two ambitious businessmen (D.D. Kingsbury and John M. McDonald) saw huge profit potential in improving the road (and, of course, charging a hefty toll) to serve wagons laden with goods for the mines of Virginia City. They constructed the “Kingsbury & McDonald Toll Road” over Daggett Pass, beginning in the winter of 1859 and finishing in August, 1860.

It was an important step not only for Kingsbury and McDonald, but for Carson Valley itself. Writing in November, 1859, Richard Allen predicted the road project would “facilitate communication, reduce freight, and add materially to the advancement of Carson Valley.” And right he was.

Stay tuned for “Part 2” of the Kingsbury Grade story!

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Many thanks to the Douglas County Historical Society for permission to use the wonderful image at the top of this post. It’s of Kingsbury Grade circa 1885-1895 taken with an early model Kodak camera, which produced these circular images.

Valentine’s Day Memories

Everyone loves a good love story. And love stories make an especially wonderful addition to a life story or memoir!

  • Maybe it’s that magic moment you first saw your future wife or husband;
  • Or the accidental meeting that brought your parents together.
  • Maybe it’s the high school sweetheart  you loved and lost – but never quite forgot;
  • Or the first time you heard someone breathe: “I love you.”

Everyone has a great love story to tell  – what’s yours?

This Valentine’s Day, add that special love tale to your memoir!

Like more tips, prompts, suggestions and encouragement to fuel your memoir writing? We send out free tips once or twice a month. Just tell us where to send ’em!  here

The Legacy of Roy Thran

A ten-year-old boy. A small box of his most prized possessions. And 83 years later — a very special legacy shared.

Father Dietrich (Dick) Thran, daughter Marichen, and youngest child Roy, in front of the Thran house on Dressler Lane circa 1927. (Photo courtesy of the family.)
Roy with his mother, Marie Thran, circa summer 1927, in the front yard of their beautiful home. (Photo courtesy of the family.)

Born June 10, 1925, Roy Thran was the last of five surviving children of Dick and Marie Thran. (You may remember our story a few weeks ago about the beautiful Thran House.) Roy’s mother, Marie was 48 years old when he was born, and had already lost three other intervening children. So Roy’s arrival must have been a time of great rejoicing. He was christened in the Lutheran Church on Sunday, June 21, 1925.

Roy did his lessons on a slate at the Minden School. He caught butterflies, played with metal trucks, dabbled with paints, and enjoyed games of marbles and Tiddledy Winks with friends. Someone (perhaps his father) carved him his very own wooden baseball bat. No doubt he had chores to do at the family’s dairy ranch on Dressler Lane. And even as a ten-year-old, he kept a stained and much-battered stuffed toy he’d carried in his toddler days.

Roy’s aviator’s cap, school slate (with his handwriting still on it), and a cigar box that held marbles and other toys. His childhood stuffed animal is at top.

Smitten with the great aviators of the day, Roy joined the Jimmy Allen Flying Club for kids, receiving an official acceptance letter, a silver pilot’s bracelet, and a bronze pin with “flying cadet” wings. Roy even owned his own pint-sized version of the aviator cap worn by Charles Lindbergh on his history-making solo across the Atlantic in 1927.

Roy celebrated his tenth birthday that summer of 1935. His beloved Tante Behrman, his mother’s sister, wished him “more fun than a circus” in a cheerful birthday card. But according to a story handed down through the family, Roy’s mother, Marie, had an awful premonition. As she glanced at Roy one day, chilling words formed across his forehead: “I won’t be here long.” And not long after the vision, Roy’s family was attending his funeral at the same Lutheran Church where he’d been christened.

On August 6, Roy had gone to visit a childhood chum. They took a leisurely ride on a horse, and grabbed a late lunch, and decided to take a dip in the West Fork in the late afternoon. They rode out to a spot at a dam near the Schwake Ranch. The water was deep, and neither boy could swim. Roy stepped off the bank into the cool water — and disappeared.

Roy’s young friend rode quickly for help. But by the time Roy’s body was recovered, it was too late. Two doctors tried in vain for several hours to revive him.

Roy’s birthday card from “Onkel & Tanta Behrman.”

Imagine Marie’s grief: her premonition had come true. Carefully, she packed away all of Roy’s treasures: his aviator cap, his school books, his slingshot, his birthday card. A butterfly pressed in the leaves of a book. It all was gently tucked in a special box, handed down through the family for the last 83 years.

And now, with the family’s permission, Roy’s treasures will be shared with the community in a very special exhibit at the Carson Valley Museum. Two glass cases will display the loves of a ten-year-old boy growing up in 1935, preserved just as he left them. It’s an amazing snapshot in time.

“So many people were touched with sadness back then, and now this journey will come full-circle,” notes Krista Jenkins, a Thran descendant. “The sadness will be different now. Memories have softened with the passing of time, and it’s nice to know that this journey of the ‘Boy In A Box’ will now be told again to a different generation.”

Metal trucks; marbles; hand-carved baseball bat and sling-shot, animated butterfly, and much, much more from Roy’s special box are now on display at Carson Valley Historical Society & Museum.

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Come View Roy’s Special Legacy:   The Roy Thran exhibit will be on display at Carson Valley Historical Society & Museum through the end of 2019, in the “Women’s History” room, located on the second floor. We hope you’ll stop by to see Roy’s legacy!

Special thanks to Krista Jenkins and the Thran and Cordes families for sharing Roy’s amazing legacy. Top photo: Roy Thran from Minden School photo in October, 1931 courtesy of Carson Valley Historical Society & Museum. 

Memoir Tip – A Funny Thing Happened

Life isn’t humor-free. Don’t forget to capture those silly, awkward, and downright hilarious times in your memoir, too!

  • What pranks did you play on friends and family — or got played on you?
  • What stunts did you pull as a kid? (And did you get away with it, or did you get caught?)

Tales of our days as little angels aren’t nearly as much fun to read as those about the times we were little devils.

Drop a line on Facebook and let me know what funny stories you remember!

 

 

Memoir Tip – Small stuff IS the big stuff

For us memoir writers, the small stuff really is the big stuff. Great stories often spring from really humble things.

  • Mom’s pin-cushion, always at the ready to mend a tear, re-attach a button, or stitch up a hem.
  • The smell of baking bread from the kitchen.
  • The flat stones by the ocean that you learned to skip on the waves.
  • The hayloft where Grandpa caught you reading instead of doing chores. 

What simple things were ever-present in your early life? What stories do they bring to mind?

Drop a line on Facebook and let me know what you remember!

 

 

 

Memoir Tip – Finding Time

How do I find time to write? It’s a dilemma for nearly every memoir writer.

Here’s a fresh thought: instead of fighting the calendar, treat it as your friend. Remember that every day brings you 24 fresh hours. Every week, that’s 168 precious chances to find an hour – just ONE hour! – to write.

Steal five minutes in the grocery line to jot notes. Borrow 15 minutes to scratch out a paragraph while you’re waiting for the rice to boil. Better yet, write your own name in on your calendar for a solid hour sometime in the coming week.

And treat it as precious “reserved” time. Because you deserve it. And your story is precious.

Drop a line and let me know how it goes!