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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Travel Tuesday: John Kinsey Smedley's Yosemite Journey 1874

John Kinsey Smedley (1839-1905)
In the Smedley Family at War, I featured  the story of John Kinsey Smedley's  service in the Union Navy in the American Civil War.   A second post looked at the lives of his Four Brothers - Isaac, Abiah, Jeffrey and Charles, sons of Jeffrey Smedley of Pennsylvania - a fifth generation family of Quaker English  descent.    

Here I look at John's life after he resigned as a naval engineer in 1866.

Unlike his brothers, John's life was to move far beyond Pennsylvania to Utah and California.
Golden Spike Ceremony 

According to a story  passed down through the family,   he was present  in 10 May 1869 at the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah to mark the joining   of two sets of rail tracks on the  completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.     This meant that travel time between America's east and west coasts was immediately reduced from months by wagon  to less than a week.

In the US Census for 1870 John  was working as an steam engineer at Corinne, Box Elder County, Utah.

 In 1872 the California Voters Register showed John to be in Sacramento where he was staying at the Pacific Hotel. 

In 1874 John wrote an account of his trip by coach and four to Yosemite Valley - in a journal which has been transcribed by his great granddaughter.   

Here is an entry  from late May, 1874: 
“Crossed the Tuolumne (River) at 9pm.   Arrived at the foot of Rattlesnake Hill at 10pm. Then it was our turn to walk. 

Just think of a hill two miles long and rising 1700 feet.  We all got out to walk but Sutton who was the smallest of the party.  Up, up, up we went and I thought we had walked five miles when Chase  said "This is halfway."  Oh goodness.  Only a mile, and up, up another.  Then we began to change riding as some had done the first quarter mile.  Around and around, thinking every turn would be the last. Coats and hats off, and 11pm.  By this time, we had all climbed in the carriage.

Finally, we heard the bark of a dog, knowing a house was near.  In a few minutes we reached Priest's, the best place and table in the whole land, and a pretty girl to attend to the table.  They were all snug in bed, but when we called they got up, and in 20 minutes, had a steaming hot dinner of fricasseed chicken, fried ham, beefsteak, good coffee and tea and milk, pie and cake and strawberries.  Such a luscious supper!  May Priest's shadow never grow less!

We enjoyed our supper and did not tarry long before retiring where we had good beds and slept sounder than ever.  In the morning, Saturday the 23rd, the sun was shining beautifully and when I got up and went down, I saw we were really above the clouds and to look down that awful long hill I could only laugh and think we would have the best of Old Hill when we returned.  Sure did!”

This is a section of Old Priest Grade – or Rattlesnake Hill as John Kinsey Smedley knew it, so named for Rattlesnake Creek flowing down the centre of Grizzly Gulch in Tuolumne County, CA.  It’s a shorter, narrower, steeper (15-17% grade) route up one side of the gulch.  It rises 1700 ft. in elevation in 2 miles.  The main highway on the opposite side of the gulch known as New Priest Grade (built in 1915) takes over 6 miles to climb the same rise in elevation with countless switchbacks. 

In California John worked as en engineer for rail, mill and mine companies from Monterey to Silver  Mountain in Alpine County.  In the same journal as he recorded his Yosemite journey he jotted down notes abut turntables being in good shape or needing repairs, and work needing to be done to mill and mine machinery. 

At the age of 38 in 1878, John Kinsey Smedley  married in San Francisco Ella Chase Taylor ten years his junior, with their only child Harriet (Hattie) Bell born a year later.   Ella’s mother died when she was a young girl and she was raised with her father’s sister’s family back east,  while he went out west to Sacramento, California to open an apothecary shop and tend, as a doctor, to injured gold minors.  

While in California he remarried and he and his second wife had a daughter  Eliza. On the death of her father and step mother, Ella traveled to California by ship around the “horn” of South America – with a piano, no less - to  look after her younger half sister.
Ella (right) with her sister Eliza

The voters' registers and census returns  continued to track John's moves across the state from San Francisco  to Alameda. 

In the 1889 census,  he was still in San Francisco, described as an Engineer with Ella occupation given as "Keeping Home".  

John later found steady employment with the US Post Office but his love of engineering did not fade and in 1898 he invented a "New Streetcar Fender" (right)   to be attached to the front of trolley cars - though there is no evidence that it was actually adopted in practice. 
Ten years on, in 1900, the family was in Oakland, Almeda with John described as:   aged 61,  a Stationary Engineer.  Besides Ella and Hattie was a "roomer" - 45 year old Elizabeth Soundry, a German widow. 

John died 22nd July 1905 at Alameda buried at San Francisco Cemetery with his gravestone paying tribute to his Civil War Service.

With special thanks to John's great granddaughter Gail
for her contributions to this post. 

Travel Tuesday is one of many daily blog prompts from Genabloggers encouraging writers to record aspects of family history. 


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