By Mabel Plaskett
We have told of the time long ago when tribes of Indians lived in Pacific Valley, how they lived on fish and mussels, leaving rich shell beds in the area where they camped.
The valley was in a wild state for many years after the Indians left. The only sign of habitation was the shell beds and Indian artifacts and these were discovered only after cleaning the land of chapparal, consisting mainly of Carinthia (wild lilac) and grease wood or August Flower. The lilacs had grown to the dimension of small trees in this rich soil, so it was no small project the early families faced to clear a spot for house and garden and, as they could they cleared whole fields for grain beans and potatoes.
Five years after Curnell Mansfield and Jim Prewitt settled on the north end of the valley near Prewitt Creek, William Lucas Plaskett arrived with his family to make a home in the south end of Pacific Valley. There were two families as the oldest son Byron, brought with him is bride of less than a year to share whatever lay ahead in the remote wilderness. Martha (Bennett) Plaskett often told friends how she cried every day for her family, left in Fresno, the first few months being only 18 years of age, facing an entirely new way of life among comparative strangers. In a few years, however, she grew to love the new home and would not think of living any other place.
William Lucas Plaskett with his wife Sarah Barnes Plaskett came to California during the gold rush days. Mr. Plaskett did not make a fortune by prospecting, but he did quite well placer mining. At one time while on a prospecting trip to Nevada, he and a partner were working a silver claim. The tunneling became hard and nothing in sight so the partners sold out and returned to California only to learn, a short time later, they had quit within 12 feet of the famous Comstock Lode!
The Plasketts settled in Mendocino County and the place is still called Plaskett Meadows. Here was born little Mendocina, the first while child born in that county and the Plasketts fourth child. Three older boys were both in Iowa.
From Mendocino County, they moved to Fresno where they farmed and were very successful, but when the country around became too thickly settled, Mr. Plaskett, being very independent, started out to find a place to his liking. His search led him to Pacific Valley and it was he who named it. In July 1869 Mr. Plaskett and families with cattle, horses, wagons and all their possessions left Fresno, drove their ox teams over Pacheco Pass and up the fertile Salinas Valley then yellow with wild mustard, crossed the coast range over Indian trails and reached Pacific Valley in September, 1869.
Fearing early rains they set to work clearing a space for log cabins where they spent the first winter. The men set up a saw mill in Plaskett Creek and from the redwood cut and sawed lumber to build substantial homes.
That first winter the younger children dared not venture far from camp as wild animals abounded. Bear, deer, wolves and foxes inhabited the thicket and at night the eerie cry of the coyote sent the little tots scurrying to their mother’s side. Often the bright eyes of the animals could be seen through the chinks in the wall.
After a few years the entire valley was tillable and in the fertile soil and mild climate any crop could be raised. Vegetables were raised the year round and it was not unusual to see tomato and pepper plants several years old.
The home of the elder Plasketts was built on the bank of Plaskett Creek. It was a two-storied building with wide porches down stairs and a portico above. An orchard was planted in the meadow across the creek which grew and bore abundantly. Some of the trees can still be seen struggling to live after years of neglect.
At present the Old Orchard is the site of part of the Plaskett Creek Camp Ground, the recent recreational area set up by the forestry. The rest of the campground lies over one of the old grain fields and is equipped with tables, benches and stoves with adequate rest rooms.
The new Pacific Valley school house is near the site of the old Plaskett house which was torn down a few years ago. Part of the soapstone fireplace is visible near the old Magnolia tree, which is still beautiful.
The Byron Plaskett home, also two-storied, was built at the south end of the Valley a half mile from the elder family. This was a 10-room house, sturdily built to withstand wind and storm and stood in good condition until the family sold out to Hearst in 1922 when it was torn down and the lumber used to build the house near the forestry headquarters (the old Mansfield home), where Mr. and Mrs. Tony Vasquez now live.
Lonny Plaskett, the second son, married Nancy Summers and built a home on the Los Burros trail on the south side of Willow Creek about four miles from the coast line. They planted a large orchard, the fruit having wonderful flavor in this higher, warmer climate. Bees were kept yielding a fine quality of honey. Altogether it was a find place to live.
At first all supplies were packed in over the mountain trail. The nearest town was Soledad where the railroad ended. Stock was driven there to sell, four or five days being required to make the long drive.
Later some supplies could be purchased at Lowes Station at the foot of the Jolon grade where a flour mill and store were operated.
Still later, the families along the coast arranged to charter a boat to bring supplies from San Francisco once a year. Staple supplies for the whole community such as barrels of flour and sugar, bolts of calico and flannel and miscellaneous articles were brought by boat and unloaded at a quiet cove at the mouth of Plaskett Creek. This is still called “the old boat landing.” When the boat arrived great excitement prevailed. Everyone went to the beach, each household head with his list. Much comparison of lists and no little confusion was experienced before each family’s supplies were separated and piled apart.
The women of the Valley were proficient in pioneer life. Excellent cooks and house-keepers, they were ever ready to welcome a passing traveler. The name of Sarah Plaskett became a symbol of kindly hospitality and the younger women followed in her steps.
Although they worked hard, not all of life was drudgery. There were frequent fish fries on the beach and picnics in the cool shady canyons. Often at branding time the women rode to the camp and enjoyed a barbecue with the cowboys.
The Plaskett men were adept at carpentry and wood work and their homes were furnished with hand-made furniture. Reasons Plaskett built the Episcopal Church at Jolon in 1879. It is still in use being recently remodeled and it seems fitting that one of Byron Plaskett’s granddaughters, Mrs. W. E. Merritt, daughter of Lawson Plaskett, is an ardent worker in the church. Two other grandchildren, Clifford Plaskett and Mrs. Fred Merrit live nearby and attend this church.
In 1890 the post office was established and was housed in Byron Plaskett’s home until his death when it was moved to Mansfields. Billy Plaskett was the first postmaster, followed by Charley Plaskett, Lucy Plaskett and Jasper Mansfield. Byron Plaskett carried the mail from Jolon twice a week rain or shine for years. Later George Ames carried the mail, and Ed and Lawson Plaskett each took a turn at it. After Byron Plaskett death in 1911, it was carried only once a week.
At first a private school was maintained, but soon the Pacific Valley school was established. An unusually high order of social life prevailed, a band was organized and a literary club formed. Nearly all of the Plaskett boys married school teachers. There was a story told of the trail over the mountain being so perilous that once in the Valley, the teachers married and settled down rather than venture out. This was told in fun, but it is a fact that Judge Whitlock of Jolon made the trip over several times to perform the marriage ceremony at home weddings.
Many strange events took place in the early years. The grizzly bear was the most feared of all the animals. None ventured far without his trusty muzzle loading rifle. One day three of the older boys, riding home from tending cattle, came upon a large grizzly and two half-grown cubs. They killed the cubs, but the old bear could not be stopped by bullets. Charging at them with fierce growls of rage, the infuriated beast struck terror to the hearts of the boys who fired the last shot from the guns and fled homeward to get help. Returning with all the men available, they found the huge body of the mother bear nor far from where they had last seen her.
Another time a grizzly had killed a full grown cow on the mountain trail under a large oak. Frank Muma, Joe Stevenson and Curnell Mansfield built a scaffold and tied it to the branches of the tree as a hiding place. There they waited at night for the bear to return and resume his feast. After dark, sure enough, the bear came and started eating on the carcass. Some one aimed and fired, but in the darkness the bullet hit the rope that held the scaffold letting both scaffold and men fall on top of the bear. It was hard to tell which was more frightened as the bear with wild woops scampered through underbrush to safety, while the men ruefully untangled themselves and went home. The tree is known as the Bear Tree to this day.
During the Plasketts occupation of Pacific Valley more than 50 children were born to grow up healthy and happy. It was natural that a strong sense of clanship existed in the isolated community.
There were 11 children in the William Lucas Plaskett family as follows, Byron, Lonny, Reason, Marion, Mendocina, Laura, Olive, Robert, Josephine, William and James. Of these only James is living, his home being in Salinas.
Jack Plaskett, prominent son of Roy Plaskett and King City business man, is a grandson of Lonny Plaskett. The Lonny Plasketts moved out from the coast in 1902, making their home on the Jolon Road, where the Ed Plaskett family has lived since 1927.
The elder Plasketts retired and moved to Salinas in 1896 leaving William and James to run the coast ranch. They lived in Salinas the rest of their lives, where they made many friends, both retaining their unusual mental alertness to the last. William died in 1909 at the age of 94 and Sarah lived to be 96 passing away in 1923. Reason lived in Cambria until his death. He was a skilled cabinet maker. Marion and Robert, also carpenters, made homes in Salinas and Watsonville, Mendocina married a neighbor, Curnell Mansfield, Olive married Allen McClain, county assessor, and the others married and moved to various homes of their own. William’s wife, who was a school teacher near Jolon, Miss Jessie Case, still lives in Salinas. Their daughter Viole is Mrs. John Lowe who lives in Gorda near the old family home.
The Byron Plasketts also had 11 children. Dudley, Charley, Albert, Laura, Marion, Matilda, Edward, Lawson, Lucy, Fanny and Wesley. Of these Marion, Mrs. Lawson Shaug live in Cambria, Edward and his wife, who was Mabel Sans, daughter of Edward Sans who ran a saw mill in Mill Creek, now live in Pacific Valley. Lawson married another Sans girl, Olive, who died in 1936, leaving eight children, lives by himself near Jolon. Lucy, Mrs. Lon Davis lives in Santa Maria. Fanny, Mrs. Jasper Mansfield, makes her home in Santa Cruz. Wesley, the youngest son who moved to Salinas in 1925, passed away suddenly in February of this year. His wife, Mrs. Jessie Byron died in 1911 while his wife Martha, lingered until 1931.
The second son Lonnie raised 10 children Cora, Jim, Annie, Lee, Roy, Sadie, Arley, Jess, Hally and Louis. Of these four are living: Cora Mahoney in Santa Cruz. Annie Williams in Cambria, Hally in Long Beach and Louis in Santa Cruz.
The coast ranchers sold out to Hearst in 1922 and the once closely knit families scattered. The coming of the coast highway wrought many changes in the way of life, but it is still a wonderland of natural beauty, which brings to mind some passages from “Alice Eastwoods Wonderland” by Carol Green Wilson with which I conclude my story:
“Oldtimers in King City, where she left the train, tried to discourage the strangely-clad woman from attempting the difficult trip across the maze of cattle trails leading into the mountains. That only spurred her determination. She engaged a seat on the stage to Jolon, plying the driver with questions as they approached the back country. He gave her little encouragement.
“That night her optimism was rewarded. At the stage depot she met Byron Plaskett who had ridden in from Pacific Valley near the coast escorting the school teacher’s sister to the stage connection here. He had a saddled horse to lead back. Alice, equipped as she was, had a cordial invitation to ride to the coast with him.
“Whenever they stopped to rest the horses, she learned from Plaskett about the isolated community which his father had pioneered in the coastal valley – in later years part of the Hunter Liggett Army Post established on a section of the Hearst San Simeon ranch. By the time they reached his home she felt fully acquainted with the settlement which welcomed her warmly as a rare guest from the outside world. She discovered that the head of the gold rush and finally migrated to this outpost.
“Each home she visited exhibited Grandfather Plaskett’s handiwork, evidence of his skill as a carpenter and cabinet maker. At ease among these mountain people from her own teaching days in the Rockies, she was as much interested in their primitive economy as in the shrubs and plants she collected in her daily wanderings.
“They told her that everything they had beyond the Plaskett heirlooms – even to the community sawmill – came from a San Francisco mail order house – Smith’s Cash Store. Once a year all supplies ordered from catalogues were sent down by a coast steamer and landed by raft. ‘Boat Day’ surpassed every holiday – even Christmas.
“Cash to pay for these necessities came from cattle driven over the mountains to King City. Here Smith buyers took the cattle on to San Francisco, sold them and placed the money to the credit of Pacific Valley owners. Her hosts were astonished that their visitor had never heard of this important establishment. (Alice looked it up when she returned and found an inconspicuous shop near the Ferry Building.)
“Alice Eastwood collected friends as she did plants. Here-after these Pacific Valley folk were part of her life. When she read an article by Amanda Mathews, the rural teacher, in the Atlantic Monthly many years later, she realized why the children of these detached homes had seemed so much better educated than many she knew in city schools. They had no diverting amusements, but they had a library well-stocked with books chosen by Miss Mathews. Alice made a mental note to recommend this feature of the California school system to her friends in rural Colorado.”
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.