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Roberts Ferry in Stanislaus County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)
Roberts Ferry History Walk
 
The First People Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
1. The First People
Displayed on the marker is a sketch of a Yokut Village - courtesy of the Bancroft Library, and an inset map of the Northern Valley Tokut Territory.
 
Inscription. [A short walk starting on the eastern side of the Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge; walking south, crossing over to the western side and returning north. Interpretive markers are placed along both sides covering the timeline from the first people who lived in the area to the building of the covered bridge in 1999.]

The First People
The first people in this area for whom we have historical records were the Yokuts who lived throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Only the names of six tribes who lived in Stanislaus County have been identified, one of which was the Tauhalame, for whom this river is named. The Yokuts built villages along rivers and creeks. They lived in houses partially dug into the ground with a framework made of poles covered with brush. Because of our temperate climate, little clothing was warn and most activities were conducted outdoors. The staple food was acorns, gathered in the Sierra foothills. Most Yokuts who lived in this area were taken away to Mission San Jose to work and become converted to Christianity. The few who were left were almost completely wiped out by an epidemic in 1833. Survivors fled the area to live with neighboring tribes such as the Miwok to the east.

The First Explorers
The first European to reach California was Juan Juan
 
The First Explorers Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
2. The First Explorers
Displayed on the marker is a sketch of a Spanish military expedition. Insets on the marker include a map showing missions, forts and towns during the Spanish Period 1769 – 1822, and portraits of Father Junipero Serra, Juan Rodriques Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake.
 
Rodríguez Cabrillo, sent by the Spanish Crown in 1542 to [...] “Northwest Passage.” Although no passage was [...] area was claimed for Spain. In 1579, on his voyage around the world, Sir Francis Drake sailed up the coast [...] California for England. This caused the Spanish Crown [...] several more expeditions to the California area but no colonization occurred. When England won the Seven Year War (giving to England all French lands in North America) their rising power coupled with Russian expansion into Alaska and California, spurred the Crown of Spain to order the settlement of California in 1769. An expedition was sent forth from Mexico led by Captain Caspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra to colonize the state and pacify the native peoples. This led to the establishment of the mission system and to the creation of the first ranches and towns. From Mission San José, established in 1797, military expeditions were sent to the Stanislaus County area to round up native populations for work at the mission, to capture and return mission runaways, and to punish natives involved in stealing horses and cattle. Raids by natives were a serious and constant occurrence at mission and rancho lands and required significant Spanish resources to control.

Colonization and Rebellion
The purpose of the California Missions was to expand the
 
Colonization and Rebellion Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
3. Colonization and Rebellion
Displayed on the marker is a sketch by Louis Choris of Spaniards and Mission Indians 1816 - Courtesy of the Bancroft Library. Insets include a diagram-map of the area where Miwok/Yokut raids into Mexican territory occurred from 1830 thru 1840.
 
Spanish frontier and to control the native populations. The Missions were almost entirely self-sufficient, growing and making all necessary items. They also controlled huge tracts of land where cattle and horses were raised. The native peoples supplied all of the labor required for the missions and surrounding towns. Military expeditions would be sent out to round up natives (sometimes entire villages) to work at the missions. Missionaries would visit villages and baptize children, forcing them to live at the mission after age five. These recruiting expeditions extended into Stanislaus County. One baptized, and Indian could not leave the mission. Many tried, and would rebel and escape to live in these foothills. Because their native life had been destroyed, they resorted to raiding mission and other lands for horses and cattle to eat. Military forces from Mission San Jose often came to this area to stop raiding, capture the runaways, punish them and bring them back to the mission.

Estanislao
Native American groups revolted and made numerous raids on mission and rancho lands during the early 1800’s. One of the leaders of these raiding parties was a Yokut neophyte (convert) from Mission San José named Estanislao. Mexican authorities in March of 1829 sent veteran Indian fighter Sergeant Antonio Soto and 15 soldiers to Estanislao’s well fortified
 
Estanislao Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
4. Estanislao
Displayed on the marker is a sketch by Louis Choris of California Mission Indians 1815 - Courtesy of the Bancroft Library. Insets include a map of "The Mexican Attack on Estanislao", portrait of General Mariano Vallejo - Courtesy of the Museum of the City of San Francisco, and a sketch of California Indian War Costumes 1816 by Louis Choris - Courtesy of the Bancroft Museum
 
camp on the present day Stanislaus River to quell the revolt. The attack failed and Soto withdrew, eventually dying from his wounds. Another experienced Indian fighter, Sergeant José Sanchez, was sent with 40 men and a swivel gun in early May 1829 to subdue the band. After suffering 14 wounded and 2 captured, Sanchez retreated back to Mission San José. Encouraged by these victories, Indian raids intensified. Determined to tame the Indians, Comandante of San Francisco Ignacio Martinez then sent Lieutenant Mariano G. Vallejo with 154 men and a cannon. On May 29th, 1829 they attacked the Indian encampment and set the surrounding woods on fire. The Spanish troops were driven back and barely escaped being surrounded. The next morning Vallejo found that the Indians had escaped upstream. When he reached their new camp that night, he again sets the woods on fire and attacked. The battle continued through the next day and night. When dawn came the 4th day, Vallejo found that Estanislao and most of the warriors were gone. Estanislao found his way back to Mission San José, where he was eventually pardoned by Father Duran, and lived out the rest of his life as a vaquero. He died in 1839 of smallpox and was buried at the mission. Stanislaus County was named after this brave chieftan.

Estanislao was a member of the Laquisimas Tribe, a division of the Northern California Yokuts. He
 
The Gold Rush Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
5. The Gold Rush
Insets on the marker include photos of miners working their claims – Courtesy of the McHenry Museum, and a map showing the route of the Stockton-Mariposa Road – Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
 
was born and educated at Mission San José and worked as a vaquero, or breaker of mules. Estanislao was a Christian name given to him at the mission. It is a Spanish version of St. Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland. There are no known portraits of Estanislao. He has been described as standing “six feet in height, his skin was rather white than bronze, his body svelte, his face covered with a beard, and he was very much the cavalier.” (Juan Bojorges)

The Gold Rush
The quest for gold was the first non-native settlement of this area. After the initial discovery of gold in the American River in 1848, miners fanned out over the Sierras looking for more of the precious metal. Numerous strikes were made in the mountains east of here, with that area becoming known as the Southern Mines. One of the main obstacles facing the crowds headed to these mines was crossing the major rivers. Numerous ferries sprang up to meet this need, with first settlements developing around them. Roberts Ferry was one of the most important ferries, lying on the main stagecoach route from Stockton to Mariposa and the mines. Stockton was a major port and starting point for miners, and this route to the mines was a well-used one. It was also on the route used by the Butterfield Stage Line to points east, including St. Louis, Missouri.

Roberts
 
Roberts Ferry Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
6. Roberts Ferry
Displayed on the marker is a sketch of the community of Roberts Ferry showing the ferry and hotel. Also displayed is a photo of the steel truss bridge, built in 1916, which was destroyed in the the flood of 1997.
 
Ferry
One of the most important stopping places on the Stockton-Mariposa Road, the first Tuolumne River Ferry was established 3/8 mile downstream from here by Alden Jackson and Dr. Benjamin Horr in 1850. Dr. Horr, who came to California in 1849 for the gold rush, was a State Assemblyman who, in 1854, introduced the legislative bill creating Stanislaus County. In 1851 Dr. Horr sold the ferry to Gallant Dickinson who again sold it, now including an adjacent hotel, to Cornelius Osborn in 1857. The ferry and the hotel were controlled by Osborn until 1862 when they were sold to John Roberts. In 1854 the ferry was either leased or sold to John Morley, moved upstream 3/8 of a mile to this location in 1865, and was once again operated by Roberts in 1872. It remained in Roberts’ name until 1887 when he built a wooden truss toll bridge. In 1916 Stanislaus County constructed a new toll-free steel truss bridge, which was used until destroyed by floods in January, 1997. The present bridge, concrete with a wooden cover to blend in with the historic nature of this area, was completed in the same location in 1999.

Roberts Ferry Hotel
The first hotel was constructed by Gallant Dickinson prior to 1857 when the hotel, along with a ferry and surrounding land, was sold to Cornelius Osborn, who in turn sold it to John Roberts in 1862. The hotel was
 
Roberts Ferry Hotel Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
7. Roberts Ferry Hotel
Displayed on the marker is a photo of the Roberts Ferry Hotel with Ann Roberts in her horse-drawn buggy, circa 1910 - Courtesy of the McHenry Museum. Inset is a photo of a water tank, located on the Jamison Ranch. It is similiar to one located at the Roberts Ferry Hotel - Courtesy of the McHenry Museum.
 
totally destroyed by fire in February of 1865. Roberts rebuilt another hotel here, which is 3/8 of a mile upstream from the original location, on a bluff above the river to protect it from the frequent floods. The ferry was relocated here as well. The hotel, now a fire proof brick two-story building, was opened on Christmas Day 1865 with a grand ball attended by members of the state legislature and local dignitaries. The hotel became well known for marble and walnut furniture and fine feather beds. In 1905 the hotel closed but remained is use as the headquarters of the Ketcham family farm until it become no longer usable. The first story of the hotel still stands, the second story having been removed after being severely damaged during the Tehachapi earthquake of 1950.

Settlement
The surrounding areas began to be settled with farmers supplying food and clothing to the miners and mining communities. After the euphoria of gold wore off, people realized that the real road to wealth lie settling the land and raising a family and not in the pursuit of elusive dreams. By the mid 1850’s mining activity greatly slowed and many discouraged miners were looking to settle down and became farmers. The river bottom lands were the first to be farmed because they contained the richest soils and could be irrigated with river overflow water. The primary products
 
Settlement Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
8. Settlement
The marker displays a photograph of the activity at the ferry. Insets include photos of ranching activity from around the area – Courtesy of the Mabel McMillan Crew
 
were grain and vegetables. Cattle and horses, descendants of stock stolen from missions by local Indians, also became important commodities. With farming came the establishment of the community, with towns and social structures such as schools being founded to serve their needs. As the ferries were the original settlement points, they were also often the sites of the first towns. Two other nearby early ferry towns that are still with us today are La Grange and Knights Ferry.

The Ketchums, a pioneer family
Ann Ketchum was born in Illinois and came to California with her sister at age eight. They took the Isthmus of Panama route and arrived in 1949. John Roberts was born in Boston in 1827 and came to California in 1849 by ship around Cape Horn. John tried several businesses, including gold mining, until he moved to Stanislaus County in 1856. He ran a successful cattle operation on 1000 acres on the north side of the Tuolumne River. John and Ann were married in 1857. They had one son who was killed in a freight wagon accident at age 17. In 1862, John and Ann purchased the Dickinson Hotel and Ferry, which burned, then they built the Roberts Ferry Hotel. John Roberts died in 1894, afterwhich, Ann continued to farm the Roberts Ranch with the help of her nephews, Oliver, Alfred and Burns Ketchum. Upon Ann’s death in 1911, a La Grange ranch went to
 
The Ketchums - a pioneer family Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
9. The Ketchums - a pioneer family
The marker displays a photo of Ann Ketchum Roberts sitting on the porch of her gracious home at 14th and K Streets in Modesto after the turn of the century – Courtesy of the McHenry Musrum. Insets include portraits of Ann Ketchum Roberts, John Wesley Roberts and a portrait of the Ketchum nephews, Alfred, Oliver and Burns.
 
Oliver with the rest of estate divided among a brother, sister, and six other nieces and nephews. Burns returned to the ranch in 1912 to be a partner in the ranch operation. By 1916 all of the other heirs had deeded their interest in the family property (except the La Grange ranch) to Alfred and Burns who lived with their families in the Roberts Ferry hotel. In 1950 the Ketchum property including the hotel was sold. The new property owners converted the hotel to employee use until it became impossible to maintain. Many members of the Ketchum family continue to live in the area.

Roberts Ferry School
Schools were an important part of local life, dating back to the earliest days of the community. They were used for Sunday school, dances, and other community functions. There were several single room schools in this area, serving groups of families. The first of these was the Branch School, founded in 1855, which was located on the Ollie Ketchum ranch near La Grange. Other schools were the Hermitage, Davis (on the Davis Ranch), and Tilden (located on the Robinson Ranch). Each of these schools had an average attendance of 10 students. In 1854, there were only 81 children between the ages of 5 and 18 in all of Stanislaus County. By 1880, this number had increased to approximately 1,845 children. During the late 1800’s, teachers salaries were approximately
 
Roberts Ferry School Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
10. Roberts Ferry School
The marker displays a photo of Roberts Ferry School. Insets include photos of the Hermitage School, circa 1900 – Courtesy of Julie Ferreira, Roberts Ferry Grammar School 1925 – Courtesy of Don Hawkins, Heritage School, 1918 – Courtesy of Albin Crabtree and a photo of Fred McMillan and daughter, in front of the Heritage School, 1923 – Courtesy of the Mabel McMillan Crew
 
$60 per month. These schools merged to form two local districts which in 1922-23 merged again to form the present Roberts Ferry School District. A new building was constructed, where the present parking lot is located. The present school was constructed in 1971 with donated labor and materials from the local community and was expanded in 1987. Roberts Ferry remains an active community with activities centered around the Roberts Ferry School.

Knights Ferry
Knights Ferry is located on the Stanislaus River approximately 12 miles north of Roberts Ferry. It was founded in 1848 by William Knight as a trading post and ferry on the road from Stockton to the Southern Mines. Due to the heavy us, the ferry was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1857. This bridge was washed out by a flood in the winter of 1861-62 and was quickly replaced with a new wooden covered bridge which still stands today.

In 1855 a grist mill was opened that ground wheat into flour. Most of the wheat grown in the Roberts Ferry area was sent to this mill. The mill produced a brand called “Stanislaus Flour” which was well known throughout the Mother Lode. By 1899 business had fallen and the mill closed. Impressive ruins of the mill remain today. Knights Ferry is still an active community with many early period homes and a rich history.

Gold
 
Knights Ferry Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
11. Knights Ferry
The marker displays a photo of the Knights Ferry Covered Bridge. Insets include a photo of the Stanislaus Flour Mill of which ruins still remain.
 
on the Tuolumne
This section of the Tuolumne River has an active history of gold mining. In 1850, a relatively large settlement was established approximately 10 miles upstream on a gold-bearing bar by a group of Frenchmen. The camp became known as French Bar and had rich placer claims. After a great flood in 1851-52 that destroyed the camp, the miners established a new town on higher ground upstream which they named La Grange. The La Grange Mining District was formed in 1855 to bring order to the mines. Among other things, it set rules that limited the size of claims. (Claims on a bar in the river could not be larger than 150 square feet.) Most of the activity involved placer mining, which required large volumes of water. Several ditch/water companies were formed in 1854-55 to meet this need. Placer deposits became depleted by the 1870’s so hydraulic mining was then used, in which a stream of water under tremendous pressure is directed at the soil, washing it into devices to capture gold. This type of mining was extremely harmful to the environment, resulting in the silting of the rivers, and was outlawed by the courts in 1884. Next came dredging. In 1907 a dredge started working the river upstream from here. In 1921 a new dredge was built that continued operations until 1959. About 1 mile south of La Grange, the largest dredge in the area was built and began operation
 
Gold on the Tuolumne Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
12. Gold on the Tuolumne
Displayed on the marker is a photo of the Tuolumne River Gold Dredge, 1938 - Courtesy of the McHenry Museum. Insets include a photo of miners at the town of La Grange and a photo showing hydraulic mining activity.
 
in 1938. It could dig 75 feet deep and had a line of 100 buckets, each with the capacity of 12 cubic feet. It ceased operations in the 1940’s. This dredge, partially dismantled, is still in the area, sitting in the pond that it dug for gold.
 
Location. 37° 38.143′ N, 120° 37.093′ W. Marker is in Roberts Ferry, California, in Stanislaus County. Marker is on Roberts Ferry Road 0.2 miles south of Yosemite Boulevard (California Highway 132). Click for map. Markers are located on both sides of the Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge. Marker is in this post office area: Waterford CA 95386, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Roberts Ferry (approx. 0.2 miles away); La Grange Gold Dredge Co. Camp (approx. 7 miles away); Tuolumne Gold Dredge (approx. 8 miles away); LaFayette Historical Lodge #65 (approx. 8.7 miles away); La Grange Saloon (approx. 8.7 miles away); The Old La Grange Schoolhouse (approx. 8.8 miles away); Saint Louis Mission (approx. 8.8 miles away); La Grange (approx. 8.9 miles away).
 
Marker Display Along the History Walk Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
13. Marker Display Along the History Walk
All markers along the walk are placed at stops such as the one seen in this view.
 
 
View of the Tuolumne River From the Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
14. View of the Tuolumne River From the Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge
 
 
Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge Photo, Click for full size
By Syd Whittle, May 19, 2011
15. Roberts Ferry Covered Bridge
Site of the Roberts Ferry History Walk. The bridge was built by Stanislaus County and opened in 1999.
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on May 21, 2011, by Syd Whittle of El Dorado Hills, California. This page has been viewed 1,101 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. submitted on May 22, 2011, by Syd Whittle of El Dorado Hills, California.
 
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