As Told by Thomas Benton Smither
pine bough brushed across the page of the preacher's bible, and I can
still remember it-although I was only three when my father, Charles L.
Smither, was buried in the Mariposa Cemetery in
six of us children --- John, Isabel, Sophie, Richard, I, Thomas Benton
Smither, (named after the Senator Thomas Hart Benton) and Charlie. Life
was not turning out to be easy for our mother, the former Sarah Francis
Elam. Mother came overland by covered wagon from Tennessee in 1858.
They came by the southern route, and her father took sick and died on
the banks of the Red River. Later my grandmother, Sarah Ann Elam,
married a man named Parsley.
My parents were married in the
old Schlageter Hotel in 1862. My father was crippled, so he opened a
saloon at Mormon Bar across the road from where the China tree is now.
He used to ride horseback to town and back, but mother had to lift him
onto the horse. He always carried a switch to use on his horse, and the
China tree that is still growing at the curve of the road in Mormon Bar
grew from one of those switches mother planted. I was born there at
Mormon Bar in 1871.
After my father's death, Mother remarried
and had three children by her second marriage to Jacob DeMoss---Robert,
Pearl, and Etta. Only two of Mother's nine children are still
living--Charlie and I.
After my mother and Jacob DeMoss were
married, our family moved to Green Mountain and Mother ran a boarding
house at the Copper mine until 1878. Then we bought a mountain ranch
from my mothers brother, Taylor Elam, -the present Ball Place on Magoon
Creek on Triangle Road. My stepfather raised hay and a few horses, hogs
and cattle, and worked out when he could. Mother took in washings. It
was a hard life, but our folks managed to provide well enough for the
family by raising most of our own food.
There was fire trouble
too. The old house was built across the road on the creek, but when the
family began to grow, they tore it down and built a new one where the
present house is. The new house burned down, and they had to start all
over again-with the nine kids.
I remember the old Indian
graveyard on the hill above the house and the little snow creek, (or
Buckingham) School where we went to school during the summer months
only. My stepfather (Jacob DeMoss), my brother and I helped to build
that schoolhouse. The school was up the road from where it is now, and
there wasn't enough playground for a baseball diamond. My first teacher
was Annie Hall, who later married Mr. Green.
I remember going up
to Clarks sawmill up where the Barretts live, when I was a kid. I used
to watch them logging with oxen. Frank Clark started the sawmill. Later
they moved the mill farther up, and John and Fred Clark ran it until
1920. Fred Clark was from Massachusetts. Abby Clark married Jim Waller,
a blacksmith from Plainsburg, and Bert Waller was their son.
Indian rancheria was about three-fourths of a mile southeast of the
Barretts. Indian Wilson lived near the sawmill and worked for Westfall
at the Barrett place sometimes. I used to watch him taking his wives
out to pick acorns. He rode horseback and the wives packed the acorns
on their backs.
Wilson was said to have killed an Indian near
the Triangle store and buried him under a log. My brother-in-law had
the skull and was taking it to a doctor in Fresno Flats. The skull was
in a valise and an Englishman who was riding with him used the valise
for a pillow. This continued for about a week before he discovered that
it contained a skull. He opened the valise to investigate a rattling
sound in there and found it to be the bullet rattling around in the
After I grew up I worked at everything-lumber camps,
making shakes, carpenter work. In 1895 I filed a homestead on 160 acres
and built a cabin at Paulson's. Ollie Whitfield and I were married in
1897. We lived in that cabin for awhile, but later built a three-room
house there, where were lived until 1910-11 when we moved to our
present home. I got the lumber for this house from Clark's mill and
from the Standard Mill up by Conway at Cold Springs. Ollie and her
father helped me with the building.
Up at the other place we had
hogs, but we went out of the hog business when we moved up here. I
worked at a lot of different jobs until 1915, but from then until 1930
I worked steady as a lookout on Signal Peak. We had a telephone up
there then, but now they have a radio. Henry McNally took over the job
when I left. We used to do our washing down in the creek at the foot of
the hill, and we had to draw buckets of drinking water up the hill with
We only went to town about once every six months for
groceries, but the mail came to the post office at Darrah about twice a
week. Dick Darrah had a cabin on the flat of snow creek. He had a
sister, Margaret, and a brother, Pat. Years later Dick sent East for a
mail order bride. Dick Darrah lived right across from the schoolhouse I
had helped build when I was a kid, The house at the ranger station
wasn't put up until 1912.
One special thing I remember from when
I was a kid-A preacher was coming through to go on a hunting trip to
Fresno Flats. My brother and I loaded up an old muzzle loader so it
would kick him. Lucky thing, though-he didn't fire the gun but brought
it back still loaded. We were afraid of it, so we put it in the crook
of a tree and pulled the trigger with a string. The whole gun was
ripped apart by the explosion.
Another thing I can't
forget-George Price was living on the road. Two sisters were riding
when the creek was high, The horse drowned, and one of the sister
drowned in the creek at Mariposa.
Funny how once you start to
remember things that happened years ago, other things start coming
back. McSwains's grandfather Price (i.e. Thos. R, McSwain, one of our
Directors) had a place at Pea Ridge this side of the Hogan place near
the old McCoy place on what is now the Ben Hur Road. Several people
were supposed to have disappeared at McCoy's house, which was sort of a
way station. A man by the name of Wilson started to Mariposa on
horseback with a little dog, but he never showed up. Years later Pat
Stanton bought the place and wanted to clean out the well for water. He
found four skeletons buried around the well. Wilson's body was
identified by a ring on his finger.
Did you ever hear of George
Knight, who disappeared and his house was burned one day? It was
rumored that one of his neighbors thought he had money on him that he
collected that day. As it turned out, he had collected the money, all
right, but he had gone straightway and paid off the mortgage on his
place, so he had nothing on him. It was said that his house was burned
down with the body in it, to destroy the evidence.
people back then, just as they are now. But there was good enough to
balance the bad. Like the camp meetings that got started at Westfall's
in about 1895 or 1896. Preacher Charlie Westfall came from the East and
preached there. There was always need for preaching, and he had it most
of the time during those camp meetings. Some camped there for several
days, and some rode back and forth each day, but they were wonderful
gatherings, long remembered.
Contributed by Carol Lackey
MARIPOSA COUNTY FAMILY CHRONICLES
MARIPOSA COUNTY HISTORY AND GENEALOGY