Mabel Relives Days of Her Youth Spent on Mill Creek
By Mabel Plaskett
There are many lovely streams on the coast side of the Santa Lucia mountains. Mill Creek is my favorite as it is filled with memories of my childhood. I can’t remember when my parents moved there as I was less than two years old.
My father, Ed Sans, and his brother Charles bought the upper portion of Mill Creek from Polk Fancher around 1900 and ran a saw mill there for 10 years. They sawed lumber for the house and barn which were soon built.
Beautiful tall redwoods grew all around so timber was close at hand. Not only lumber for building, but shakes, shingles, pickets and posts were produced and it proved a profitable business. A lumber yard was maintained on the summit with the wood being hauled by wagon up the steep, narrow road. Customers came from Bryson, Lockwood and Jolon over Nacimiento grade to pick up the lumber or it was delivered to their ranches at a higher price.
IT WAS NECESSARY to keep a good six-horse team so my Uncle Charley homesteaded a place on the open hills above the mill where hay was raised for feed. He also planted an orchard and some of the trees are still living.
Joe and Dave Moro, two trusty young Indians worked for my folks all of the years they operated the mill. They lived near Chalk Peak and their sisters Juana and Fidele helped my mother with the house work. Their niece, Regina, often stayed with us and we became great friends.
We had two milk cows named Daisy and Cheeva. I remember my mother milking while my older brother, Carl, and I stood by with a tin cup which she filled with foaming milk. I can’t imagine drinking warm milk now but at the time we thought it wonderful.
A happier more carefree childhood cannot be imagined. Our play was rough and rugged as no toys were to be had but we loved to climb trees or slide down the hillside on the sled. Sometimes the sled hit a root and overturned sending us in all directions, often landing in the creek. This was great fun. I wonder how we survived.
THE BIG SAW dust pile was a wonderful place to play. We wore shoes only to school and when going “outside”. Outside being Jolon, King City or any place out of the mountains.
We loved these hills and when our mother made visits to our grandparents who lived near Watsonville, we always asked if “us kids” couldn’t stay with the mill hands. Of course, we were never left but were always happy to get back to our wilderness home.
The story of our life at the mill would be incomplete without mention of “Old Cap. He was a real character. His name was Orval Olmstead but he was known to everybody as Old Cap. He was the engineer as he called himself. He kept the great boiler going, stoking in great lengths of wood. He blew the whistle for the start of work, at noon hour and at quitting time with great regularity.
Old Cap swore like a trooper and used rough language but quoted Shakespeare, Tennyson or the Bible eloquently. Friends from the city sent him great rolls of newspaper so we had access to the Examiner and Chronicle funnies which was a big treat for us.
Old Cap had his own cabin up the logway. His yard was filled with masses of flowers which he tended with loving care. He was often left in charge of us when the folks went on trips.
MY BROTHER CARL and I were inseparable, going for the cows far up on the hills, gathering wild pea vines for the calves, carrying in mill ends for firewood, all of which was more fun than work.
Later our sister Olive joined us in our wanderings and another brother, Albert. Another sister, Elsie, was too young when we moved away to take part in our life and the youngest brother, Charley, was born years later at the McKern place.
At the time we lived in Mill Creek at least a dozen families resided in the area. The Digges, Mitchells, Moros, Caniettis and all those living in the upper area went to King City for supplies. The families who lived in the lower area either went to Cambria on the old coast trail or used launches for transportation.
The cabin of Cayatan Canietti still stands a few hundred feet above the mill site of Henry Kilsdonk on the middle fork of Mill Creek. We called this Canietti Canyon. Nearby is an old shake cabin where we went to school for a semester while the school house was being built just below the Sans saw mill. When we moved the school was moved to the lower mill.
WHEN THEY left the mill our folks sold the land to Joe and Dave Moro and the mill and equipment to Henry Kilsdonk who moved it to Canietti Canyon. About this time a fire broke out and all the buildings where we had lived were destroyed.
There was no road into the new location so Kilsdonk rigged up a hoist from the mill site to the summit where posts, pickets and shakes were sent up by means of cable. Later he moved to the lower part of Mill Creek, leasing the Davis mill which he operated for some years, shipping all material by sea.
By the time the Nacimiento Road was finished in 1935 all of the families had moved out of Mill Creek. The land was sold and finally came to be a part of the United States Forestry. Last year the Forest Service renewed the road from the summit to our old house and extended it around the point to Canietti Canyon.
Many cuts of timber were still there and they were used in making posts and more recently a fence around the parking area near Sanddollar Beach. After all these years the cuts yielded sound posts from the heartwood of the redwoods.
It was my great privilege recently to ride over this jeep road in a Forest Service vehicle driven by Ray Thompson who engineered the narrow turns with expert dexterity. We explored the area where my family lived and although all the buildings were gone.
I COULD PICTURE it as it was in my childhood. In a clearing nearby I could see the cow corral and several stands of beehives, a small hay barn also stood here. Down a short grade, across the creek was our home, a six-room house with a porch on two sides. No leveling was done so we could walk and play under the porch which was high off the ground. A separate cabin where the school teachers lived was located near the house.
My mother had the whole hillside planted in flowers and a high fence protected an orchard and vegetable garden. We found Iris and Tritoma still growing after all these years. A large oak tree was growing out of the hearth of our fireplace by the tumble down chimney.
The mill was set over the creek below the house and a horse barn below the mill. All trace of mill and barn are gone but we found an old wagon tire which I brought home as a souvenir.
We leave Mill Creek to the silence, broken only by the cry of the Blue Jay, the scurrying feet of the tree squirrels, the occasional scream of a mountain lion or perhaps the shadow of a California Condor as it ventures out from its last stand in the craggy fastnesses of Cone Peak.
What vast changes in the last 50 years!
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.