Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Forgotten Township Worth Remembering

Just 28 miles northeast of Stockton, and only six miles north of Lockeford, sits a cemetery forgotten in time. People pass through this area daily without batting an eye, never knowing that the farmland they are driving through at one time was the Elliott Township.  Now considered part of Galt, this area was once a bustling little town full of people and businesses, but you would never know from the looks of it.  All that is left as you drive up to the area is the oak trees and a few visible monuments in a small cemetery off the side of the road. Headstones wore out by the hands of time, basking in the sun and the shade of the trees, showing the affects the elements have had on them is all that is left of the town legacy, the graves.

Thankfully, not everyone has forgotten the cemetery or the people from Elliott Township. A handful of people including the cemetery caretaker, many local volunteers, historians and a young man by the name of Drew Klaege are all determined to bring this cemetery back to life again. I had the pleasure of speaking to Drew and his mother Pam a few weeks back and I was really impressed with the passion this young man has for working on preserving the history and the cemetery of Elliott.

When I asked Drew what sparked his interest in the cemetery, he explained that two years ago he had met the caretaker of Elliott Cemetery, Eric Schneider, and after learning about some of the history he became interested in it.  Although time had passed, the thought was never far from his mind, and when the opportunity arose to become involved in restoration effort of the cemetery, he took an idea and ran with it. 

In order to earn his Eagle Rank in Boy Scouts, he had the opportunity to lead a community service project. Naturally, Drew thought of building a kiosk for the cemetery in order to allow visitors to learn the history of the Elliott Township and those who are buried there. The idea was a home run!

Along with being the leader of the project, which involved designing, planning, financing  he also had to bring his idea to fruition by being an overseer of the job.  The task was not an easy one, according to Pam, "The process of getting the project approved took three separate presentations. After gaining approval from the Boy Scouts, the cemetery caretakers and finally the Galt Historical Society, Drew's project was on its way."

After appropriating the funds totaling  $1,000.00 by way of donations, Drew was able to gather the materials needed in order to build a kiosk for the cemetery. The kiosk will feature the names of those interred at Elliott Cemetery as well as historical information on these people, the town's history and several photographs to be displayed for posterity.

History of Elliott Township 
According to Pam Trassare, Elliott was originally known as Hawk's Corner, for the general store built by Mr. Hawkins on the northwestern side of Liberty Road and the intersection on Elliott Road.  Later, when John Hurd Hickey purchased Mr. Hawkins land,  he and his brother, along with fellow resident Mr. Johnson, renamed the town after the pioneer rancher, Dr. George Elliott who developed the settlement of Dry Creek just two miles north of Elliott. Being that Dr. Elliott had just died a few years earlier in 1858, it is safe to assume that the naming of the town was done as an effort to honor the doctor, posthumously.

By November 25, 1863, it was officially a town with the opening of its very own post office.  Old township records show that at one time there was 51 farmers, 1 merchant, 2 doctors, 2 carriage makers, 1 civil engineer and a stock raiser living within the township. Although a small area, the little town was certainly growing, eventually building a school house for the children. It was recorded that by the 1880's, 70 percent of the men working in the area were farmers.

The photo to the right above was provided to Drew by Don and Gayle Gibson. The image shows the boarding house which was located in Hawk's Corner along with some of the early residents: the Ralphs family and the Hart family.

According to the book"Lockeford's Beginnings: A Pioneer Doctor's Dream" by Delia Marcella Thorp Emerrick, a county tax for schools was passed in legislation, allowing for 5 cents to be taken out of the 30 cents tax for every $100 of property to allow for a school fund.  A name that may be familiar, Dr. George Locke, of "Lockeford," was the clerk for the newly established school district, while G.C. Holman was the school commissioner.   Unfortunately there wasn't enough taxes collected to make a dent in building the school, so it was documented that all bachelors in the area donated $5 each to appropriate the funds necessary to build the school house. The cost was $100, and the building was known as the "Rag School House" due to its construction of wood frames and floors, with canvas walls.

The town seemed to flourish for a good twenty years or so, but according to journals of Delia Hammond Locke, it appears as if the Elliott Township started to feel the effects of the economy by the 1890's and dwindled down to nonexistence. "There was a railroad strike that greatly affected the residents in the town," stated Pam Trassare. "That and the possibility of fatal outbreaks in the area during the same time period could have all played a part."  An outbreak of tuberculosis in Clay Station, as well as a Diphtheria outbreak in Lockeford during that very time period, could very well have affected the population of the small township of Elliott. It seems like the perfect storm: health crisis, economic woes due to the railroad strike, all leaving residents without food, supplies, etc. It was a recipe for disaster, more than likely forcing most residents to leave.  Other historians such as Amy Berkebile have been researching the history of Elliott as well as the residents interred at the cemetery, and there is a lot of history to be told and much left still to be uncovered.

The Cemetery

The Elliott Township Cemetery appears to have been there long before the town officially was. The sign outside says the cemetery was established in 1859. Interestingly, the oldest grave there is dated at 1822. I know in many cemeteries relatives were often disinterred from their original burial place and reburied in other cemeteries to be closer to family, and perhaps that could account for the gap in years from the earlier burials to the year that the cemetery was officially established.

The Elliott Methodist Church was later built in 1876 on the cemetery grounds, although there is no trace left of it today. In all there are 80 residents documented at the Elliott Township Cemetery that caretakers know of.  When I interviewed Drew, he mentioned one particular grave that stood out to him. It was the grave of Joseph Steely.

Joseph Steely
"I like history," Drew explained, " and here was this unmarked grave of a civil war veteran. They just recently found his grave and put a new gravestone, so I became very interested in who he was."

Joseph Steely was born in August of 1828. Although born a native to Ohio, Joseph's family stemmed from Old English roots. He married in 1854, to Rachel Briggs, and later enlisted in the military after the news of Fort Sumpter's attack in 1861.  Documented as First Sargent for Company B of the 3rd Regiment in the Ohio Infantry, Joseph was stationed at Camp Chase in Columbus. He continued his service, reenlisting twice up until the middle of 1864. When his service was finally over, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri and again to Johnson County, Kansas and raised his family there. Sadly, his wife passed away in 1881, and Joseph was permanently disabled after an accident at a saw mill. From then on, he depended on his sons to care for him and the household. Eventually the idea to move to California came up, when his now adult sons had the opportunity.

The California Great Register's list Joseph Steely as being a resident in Elliot in 1884. It also lists him as living in Clements in 1892, 1894 and Mackville in 1896. He later passed away on May 18, 1898 and was buried at the Elliott Cemetery.  His children, sons Marcus and George lived in nearby areas, while his daughter Mattie lived in Clements. In all he had 5 children: 2 sons and 3 daughters. His oldest son, Marcus later committed suicide in 1941 at the age of 81.

There are many people buried at the cemetery with fascinating stories still left to be told. Take the story of Eliza Ann Peter whose broken and forgotten headstone is all that remains left of her memory. Her beautiful epitaph reads,
 "Remember me, as you pass by, 
As you are now, so once was I;
 As I am now, you soon will be,
 Prepare for death, and follow me."

Her cause of death still eludes researchers to this day. In hopes to get answers, I tracked down a gentleman named Jim, who is a descendant of Eliza's husband. Merriman Peter, whom I will be writing about extensively in an upcoming blog, was Eliza's husband. I have found out more about him than I have Eliza, although his story is quite interesting as well. Combined with the research I completed along with Jim's information, I have been able to come up with a short biography on Eliza.

She was born as Eliza Ann Peck on September 27, 1841, in the State of Texas. When she was just a child, her family moved to California, as the Census records for 1852 state that she was 11 years old living in San Joaquin County. She later popped up in archived marriage records, in Sonoma, when she wed Merriman Peter on October 20, 1859.

The Census records for 1860, lists Eliza and Merriman living in Petaluma with an infant (one of their daughters) and a young boy, John (9 years old). This couldn't have been Eliza's son, for she had only been married to Merriman less than a year and she was only 19 years old. Merriman had been married once before, and his wife died in childbirth, so it is possible that this was his son from his first wife he had in Missouri. The child's state of birth was also listed as Missouri, which strengthens my theory.

At some point Merriman moved out to Dry Creek which was just a few miles north of Elliott, and there they settled. Eliza gave birth to three daughters: Marietta (born 1860), Josephine (born 1862) and Amelia (born 1864). Sadly, Eliza died on July 27, 1865, due to reasons unknown. In an old interview published in the Stockton Record, honoring Merriman Peter's life, it briefly mentioned his marriages, noting :

  “Peter has been married three times.  His first wife, taken when he was 24 years of age, in western Platt County, Missouri, died nine months later in child birth.  In 1858, while farming in Sonoma County, Peter again married.  Three children, all daughters, were born before death again reached into the life of Merriman Peter, snatching the second Mrs. Peter away six years after the wedding. Peter, as he explains, then became both a father and mother to his three little girls, until some years later he "finally found a mother for them, a good mother, too, and we raised them up all right."---

Unfortunately, I was still unable to find out the cause of Eliza's death, although it still remained a tragedy.  In the end, I bet if we were to take each and every person buried at the Elliott cemetery we would find a plethora of history and fascinating stories. I was very happy to be able to write this short blog about this lovely and historic cemetery, as well as bring attention to the fine folks who are so passionate and willing to restore it. I hope that more and more people will be drawn to the wonderful history of this place, and that it will never be forgotten again.

 COPYRIGHT- 2015, J'aime Rubio (originally published on April 10, 2015)

Census Records, Marriage Records,,,
San Joaquin Historian, Peggy Ward Engh, 1996
Interviews with Pam Trassare & Drew Klaege
Photos from: Drew Klaege, Pam Trassare, Don & Gayle Gibson, Amy Berkebile, San Joaquin Historian, Friends of Elliott Cemetery Facebook Page.
"The History of Clements." by Margaret L. Lathrop
Newspaper article c/o Jim Carpenter
"Lockeford's Beginnings: A Pioneer Doctor's Dream" by Delia Marcella Thorp Emerrick

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