Interview with Bill Ellis
North Fork

I would like to have a copy of this or have the historical society or somebody have a copy for future reference for the people in fifty years from now. They'd like to be able to say oh that isn't true. It never happened, there was never such and such a thing , there never was this that or the other. If a fellow can give a pretty correct description of something they can tie too, why it's there forever. What are you most interested in? (Any recollections that, you have of early days. What ever you'd like to tell me.) They're after me for this and that and the other. They're very anxious to know about the early days schools and then roads and bridges. The lumber companys of course. Cascadell has quite a history back of it. I'll tell you all I can about any of it.

(Would you like to start with Cascadell?)

Now starting with cascadell, in the very days Cascadell was known as Alder Creek by the old timers. There are a great many alders growing along the creek. Until about 1877 there were not many people got to the mountains, some few hunters, some trappers and some prospectors, but there never was much gold found beyond Fine Gold Creek down here. While there was a little mining above Cascadell and considerable up around Jackass Meadows there never was any gold found in paying quanties that I ever knew of.

The year 1877 was a very dry year in the San Joaquin valley. You must take into consideration in a story like this that there was no irrigation in the San Joaquin valley then. There was no alfalfa, there was no vineyards. There was just a little grain farming. The only way they had of getting water, they could dig a well and 1ift it with a couple of buckets. It was hard to water a few thousand head of sheep with a couple of buckets. So early in the spring of 1877 most all the sheep men left the valley from all parts of Madera, Fresno and Merced counties and went back into the mountains anywhere they could get. You understand there was no forest service at that time, there was no regulations. It was just a case of get up and go.

They had to get back there first of all, because they had a great deal of trouble watering their sheep after the warm weather set in and there was no feed in the valley to amount to anything. When they got up to the 25 hundred or 3 thousand foot level they began to find quite a little feed. They went back as the snow went off the higher country, why they kept on going back and went clear back to the summit. Most all of those sheep men had families to take care of as well as sheep. So they just got back to about what is now known as 77 corral and left a few men taking care of all the sheep. They let them mix up and a few men stayed back there and took care of them and the other men went out and did the best they could for their families.

In the fall time they gathered the sheep all up in one bunch. At 77 corrals they built a large log corral. The corral contained a great many acres. They gathered the sheep in that and drove them all out of the mountains together. They perhaps had 125 thousand sheep. When they got out to Oakhurst or what was then Fresno Flats why they divide them up there. Some of them went to Fresno Co. and some to Merced Co. and a good many of them stayed in Madera Co..

During that year in 1877 there was a Charlie E. Strivens, he was known mostly, he came up to Casadell and there was a sheep man, George Wagner had claimed Cascadel as his squatter claim. In the early days they had squatter claims, they called it a six shooter right. Mr. Striven settled there and perhaps planted the first apple trees that were planted at Cascadel. He put up a little store there and sold such things as he could get. It was hard to get things. Everything had to be hauled mostly from Stockton, in those days, by horse team or ox teams. But he sold whisky and some little groceries and some dry goods.

Well the Indians didn't know the meaning of the white mans word, Alder Creek, but they first started to call it Alder. When they got better acquainted with it and could get liquor there and when the liquor was called whisky why the Indians changed the name to Whisky Creek, because they could understand the whisky part of it. That's all they could understand I guess.

Now Mr. Striven continued on there for a year or two during the summer months and then he owed a big bill to a storekeeper in Madeira, E. S. Williams, early timers will know that name, and Mr. Williams took the squatter's claim over for what Mr. Striven owed him and Mr. Williams became the owner.

Mr. Williams had a J.E. Chaffin, who was one of the first supervisors of' Madera County. Mr. Chaffin was a Michigan man, educated man, a very fine man, never used liquor in any way nor never used tobacco in any way. He was a man that over reached himself in everything he done, He would buy anything he could get on credit. So Mr. Chaffin bought from Mr. Williams Cascadel. Whether he ever paid anything for it or not other than work. He was a bookkeeper for Mr. Williams, nobody has ever known.

Mr. Chaffin filed homestead there himself. He got an old German by the name of Charlie Grunegader to file a homestead there but anyway he got title to 488 acres of land and Mr. Chaffin improved the place. He planted lots more apple tree and he built considerable fence and built a very large barn that he didn't have much use for. He lived there with his wife for many years.

During the time he was supervisor he handled the office of supervisor very much 1ike he handled his own business. He hired men to work on the road and he didn't have any money to pay them. When the next election came along, why nobody disputed Mr. Chaffins integrity or his ability or questioned his being anything but a good man except that they couldn't afford to work for nothing, and that defeated Mr. Chaffin. Soon after that he lost Cascadel and moved back to Madera with his wife. He was the head bookkeeper for for many years until he got so old he couldn't work anymore.

Another interesting part of Cascadel is the tramway that was brought down the mountain in the year 1897. Started in 1896 I think it was. That was up at the top of the hill in very fine sugar pine timber, and just about a mile due east of Cascadel. The country sets on edge there. In that mile the elevation raises from 3500 feet to about 5500 feet in perhaps a little bit more than a mile.

There had been two brothers, Eddie Heburn and Dan Heburn, take up 160 acres of land. It was a homestead act and had made final proof and had title to the land. They had encumbered the land to the old Commercial National Bank of Madera and in the course of a couple years, the bank took it over. I've always understood for $500.00. Now adays there would be half a million dollars worth of lumber on it.

The bank interested a Mr. J. W. Watkins and Fred Prosher. Watkins was a builder and contractor and quite a good business man in Madeira. Prosher owned a lot of property and cut this timber to build a tramway down the hill to Cascadel. That saved about five miles around the way it would have to go and there was no road. They made just a little temporary road to take machinery in but to have made a road they could haul lumber on would have cost a lot of money. They got the tramway operating in the summer of 1897, They had several little cars that would hold about two thousand feet and they got a large hoist and set it up at the mill. That hoist was to let the lumber down and hoist the cars back again.

Well, they also interested the Peckinpah brothers of the Peckinpah Lumber Co. to move their mill from the old Peckinpah site which is mostly northeast of North Fork, over about five miles to what is called the Watkins Mill. He was to do the cutting for so much a thousand and furnish the power to run this hoist. They didn't need it to let the cars down but they needed a lot to bring the cars back. Well, they didn't figure very correctly, it soon developed. One day there was a couple of cars down at Cascadel and when they undertook to pull them up they didn't have steam enough to saw with. So they had to do one or the other. They alternated. They'd saw for one hour and lay off for an hour until they got some of the cars up. They went broke. The Peckinpahs I guess lost two or three years work there and Watkins and Prosher both went broke. They didn't have nothing when they got thru.

Quite a bit of the timber was sawed up by Watkins & Prosher, but when they couldn't move any longer, Peckinpahs took over what timber there was left. They built a wagon road thru what was then call Ellis meadow. That Ellis by the way was no kin folk of mine. They built about five miles of road and hauled the lumber out with mule teams. They got thru there about 1900 I think it was, and nobody made any money to speak of. Just a lot of work. (Do you know how it happened to be called Ellis meadow?)

Yes, I know how it happened. In the early days in the '90s, around there, there was few people that had any money to invest in anything. There was few banks that wanted to loan money on little saw mills, little projects. If they (had) a big project like the Sugar Pine Lumber Co. use to be, or the California Lumber Co. and had thousands and thousands of acres of good timber then they could borrow money, but if they just had 150 acres of timber, no bank would look at them. So the two head men of the North Fork Lumber Co., after it had been running for 3 or 4 years, they had no trouble in selling and getting rid of their best stuff such as the best sugar pine and ponderosa pine, but saw mills in this country in order to get the good, they had to take some of the bad. The red fir and white fir and incense cedar is not bad lumber, but its not good lumber. It does for heavy building purposes and things like that but not for any finishing work. Well, this B. F. Ellis, his name was Bengerman Franklin Ellis, he was a contractor in Fresno and he took contracts to build raisin packing sheds and livery stables and that kind of rough work. He could use a lot of cheap lumber so they took him in as a partner. He was with them for a few years until they went broke. He started in to take up a homestead on Ellis Meadows. He had a log cabin there and lived there a little while at Ellis Meadow. It is now called Benidict Meadow. There was very fine timber there and a very fine meadow. (There is a great big tree up there they call the Ellis tree.)

There has always been a question, in the early days they took up land under the Homestead Act. I have just told, you about the Heburn brothers taking up 160 acres of land and making final proof on it and getting legitimate title to the land. There was lots of other people that did the same thing and that was absolutely against the law because in order to make final proof on a homestead they had to go into the land office, which was then located in Stockton, and at least the applicant or homesteader and two witnesses had to make affidavit that the land was worth more for agriculture purposes than it was for timber and stone. About that time there began to be a lot of question about that. It got back to the forest authorities in Washington, there was no Forrest Service or Forest Reserve in those days, homesteading was being practiced all along the Sierra Nevada mountains for five or six hundred miles and when you come to put it all together there was a lot or it. So I think, it was in 1895 or 96 Washington began to look into that and they sent government men all along the forrest for many miles and investigated a lot of those homesteads. They cancelled a lot of them and Ellis's was one that was cancelled.

(What was your first job in the timber?)

The original Peckinpah Mill where they first settled was about fifty five hundred feet high. The Brown Mill which was a mile this side of the Peckinpah Mill was not quite so high. From South Fork to either one of those mills you climbed between two thousand and twenty five hundred feet in elevation in six miles, which made a very steep road. It was a very poor road to begin with. It was first used by Jessie Boss and his brother. They made shakes up there, bringing shakes down the mountains, mostly with a sled they gradually made it a little better until Cal Ross, who perhaps was the first man who ever drove more than two horses up or down the hill, got to going up and down with a four horse team. That was perhaps along in the late 70's or early 80's.

The Peckinpahs were here when I came in 1890. I have always understood that there were six Peckinpah men that came here. One more, Henry Peckinpah, that stayed back in their native state of Indiana and never did come west. There were six of them all big men, all hard workers. They were very sober men. They had no use for liquor in anyway and they used no tobacco except one. They had one brother, David Peckinpah, that would smoke a cigar once in a while, but he was not a habitual smoker. They started the first mill as I understand it, but that was before my time by about five years. The old Peckinpah site is known by most everybody by the great big pile of sawdust that there is there. It covers a few acres. Well, that was the first site and they got along in every way there for years and years.

One of the brothers, Nip Peckinpah, who for a few years ran a harness and saddle shop in North Fork, his little shop and house where he lived was just about on the corner where the Italian Hotel or saloon is. It was right on that corner until he got too old and then he went up to the mill and did as much as he could for a few years, but he soon died. He was buried up at the mill and later moved to Sebastopol in Sonoma County.

There was three that never married and three that did marry. Edgar Peckinpah married and had no childfen. David Peckinpah was married and had no children. Charles M. Peckinpah didn't marry until about the spring of 1891. He married a San Francisco girl who had never been out of the city hardly and took her up there and kept here there most of the time for 10 or 15 years. They had three sons. One lives in Fresno now. One is up in Willows in Yolo County I think, it is the third one, Dave got to be quite a prominent lawyer and later got to be judge in Madera County. He passed away 3 or 4 years ago. They lived up there during the winter time. There was six feet of snow, sometimes ten. The last time I ever seen her and we were talking about old times, she says "It was kinda hard going, but I'd like to go back and go thru it all again." I believe she told the truth.

After they got the lumber cut and piled up the question was to sell it and get the money out of it. Well now, most of that lumber had to be hauled to Fresno or maybe to Madera. There was a lumber yard. in Madera for a number of years, and later on to Friant. That meant a lot of horses and mules and wagons, and bad roads. From the Peckinpah Mill or the Brown Mill, when you first started down the hill, the old granite hill, it was very steep. Just a little of the steep part of it was about 32 percent. Teams never could have held their wagons coming down there if it had not been for the fact the soil conditions was a loose granite of course, a lot of rock and the brakes would hold the wagon in the granite but not on hard land. Often times the teamsters have to use what is known as a shoe; they put on the front wheels and that slid one of the front wheels. They would use that for the very worst places. A good ten animal team could make a trip, if nothing happened or he didn't have a sick horse or broke down his wagon or anything, they could make a trip to Peckinpah Mill and back in six days. A good team with a good driver could haul about 8,000 feet of dry lumber.

There was a lot of talk then about teamsters. were good, some were indifferent, and some were poor. Once in a while somebody got hurt. I don't thing there ever was any man killed up on this mountain. There was one wreck there that a man got pretty badly mashed up. I guess he died from it three or four years afterwards. Now over on Pine Ridge, Fresno County, conditions were very similar to what they had been here, but they had lots of accidents over there. Pine Ridge was called the graveyard of Fresno County for a number of years. I don't know why. In my own mind I think there was too much drinking over there. There was two or three saloons on the top of Pine Ridge. Up here there never was a saloon got on the top of the hill. There was liquor in North Fork. There was a place that .sold liquor up where the mission is now. It use to be called the Basket of Blood.In the first place I think there was a better quality of men here. I use to see those Pine Ridge Teamsters. We use to go to Friant and stay all night and then to Fresno. On top of the hill, ten miles this side of Fresno, was the old Lane stage. I think there's some of it there yet. There's where the Pine Ridge teamsters and the North Fork teamsters got together. Often times there was demonstrations as to who was the best man. There were several teamsters here that teamed for years and years and years and never had any serious accidents. Never killed any horses or broke up any wagons. Well, of course, once in a while there was some fellow that would (complain) about something or other.

I had a friend, he was a Dane, Pete Anderson, who drove a six horse check team. He was a good man, was raised in Denmark. Didn't know much about horse and mules and wagons and things here, but in the early days lots of men got a few head of horses and drove teams. They thought they'd like to do that. Well, old Pete was a pretty good man, he did pretty well with his team too. He drove a six horse check team, he drove from a seat and had six lines, a line on each horse called a check team. A jerk line team or a long line as lots of them call it, is where the man rides a horse and just has one line and guides his mules by Gee and Haw. That is considered easier and better. A check team is used mostly in breaking young horses. Pete had only been married a short time, for a month or two, he had married a girl from down there at O'Neals. Well, he was coming down the hill one morning, it was kind of slick and I was right behind him, I had a bigger outfit and better control, I guess, anyway, coming down what is know as the "S" turn it kinda got away from old Pete and he finished the last part of it very fast. However, he wound up at the bottom of the run into a bank and his lead wagon tipped over. I could see him very plain, that old fellow jumped off the wagon seat and he hit the ground on his feet with all six lines. He talked to the horses a little bit and they stopped so there wasn't anybody hurt, no horses were hurt.

I never will forget, he was very enthusiastic about his marriage. I got my team stopped, I had to tie all the brakes and everything, I was afraid to let them stand free, a brake might fly off or something. My team was still on the bad part of the hill, but I ran down there to see if I could help him and the first thing he said to me was "by Jesus Christ a got to write a letter to tell my wife Dora about this." I can see him yet standing there all excited. He done very well, better than lots of men would have.

In the fall after the lumber got wet and they couldn't mill the lumber anymore they got rid of lots of their men and boys. Lots of boys worked in the box factory. They kept a skeleton crew and done some hauling all winter. There was a fellow, Westmore, teamster, had come down the mountain two or three days before. He run his trail wagon off the road and tipped it over and left it laying there. One morning Mr. Bartrum who was one of the heads of the North Fork lumber Co., went to an old fellow that was working there, Mr. John H. Olster, he lived down near O'Neal's he was a well liked man. Mr. Barturtn says to Mr. Olster, "John do you think you could take four horses and go up there and get the wagon out where Les Westmore left it and bring it down here and we'll get it fixed up again?"

Mr. Olster says, "Oh I never handled no horses, I don't know how to drive any team." He says, "get that kid there. He can do it," and he pointed to me. I was supposed to be done, but I was over there for some reason and Bartrum turned around, "Oh yes, Willie, you did drive horses last winter. Well, if I sent Mr. Olster up there do you think you could get that wagon out and drive it down so we could have it fixed and get to using it?" I said, "Oh I guess so." So I got the horses out and Mr. Olster and I went up there. Well, I rode one or the horses and led the others. Olster, he walked. He wouldn't ride a horse. In all the fifty years that I knew him I never seen him ride a horse.

We went up there and got the chain loose and let the lumber out, tipped the wagon back and when we got it up into the road I said to Mr. Olster, "We can take that lumber down just as well as not. He says, "It will be much harder to hold it." "Well," I says "We'll tie a tree behind.' "Well if you think you can do it alright." It wasn't very much. Perhaps about two thousand feet or something like that. We had to pick the lumber up out of a gulch where it had landed, way down below the road. Packed it up one board at a time, but we put it on the wagon.

The wagon had only a trail tongue in it that made it kinda hard to steer. I cut a pine pole and stuck in there and lengthened the tongue out some and we tied quite a good size pine tree behind it and that was enough to hold it. We pulled it to North Fork. When we got there I never will forget that Mr. Bartrum came out and looked and says "Was that all of the lumber?" I says, "Yes sir." He says, didn't expect you to get the lumber. I just wanted you to get the wagon." Well, the wagon wasn't hurting very much, the brake was kinda knocked out. After that I drove one of their teams down this side of Clovis. They had a ranch down there called Farfield. took one or their teams down there. In fact, the same team that I drove down the hill and they parked it there for the winter time. Most or those teams when it got too wet when the road got too bad up here, they kept them down there and plowed with them and leveled land and all those things

The next year, pretty early in the year Mr. Bartrum says to me, "Willie, are you coming to work for us again this summer"and I says, "Well, I don't know, I think I ought to have more money. I only got a dollar a day last year and I think I can beat it." Well he says, "If you'll come and stay and behave yourself like you did. last summer, well. pay you thirty five dollars a month." That was pretty good so I says, "Alright, I'll come." That was six days a week. At that time they had a fellow by the name or Beeson that was related to him in some way. I don't know what he had to do with it. Maybe he had put some money into it. He says to me very abruptly one morning after I had worked two or three days, "How much do you think you're getting here this summer?" I says, "Well, Mr. Bartrum says I'd get $35.00 a month." He says, "Boy'll you'll get no such thing. You'll get one dollar a day." Well," I says, "You can take your job and go to hell with it. I'm not going to work for you." and I didn't, so I come home.

We settled over here where my brother lives now, that was our home. I bought this place. I came home and I told my father I quit and he felt pretty bad about it. He says, "I don't blame you." In those days it wasn't so easy to get a job. But in a day or two I got a job with a man bailing hay. I got two dollars a day at that. I worked for him about three weeks. As long as he bailed hay in the neighborhood. Then I came home. I was going up to Soquel and the California Mill. They hired lots of men up there, but they didn't want boys very much. I'd only been home a day or so when John Walker who lived down below here came and offered fifty dollars a month there and I worked there four years and got more. Hauling lumber and freight year round. Hauled lumber in the summertime and wood, posts and shakes. All those fellows up on the hill in the early days, if they had had a lot of shakes they'd get them down to South Fork or North Fork then they'd get them to Fresno during the winter, or if they had a lot of posts. There would oft times be a lot of lumber. The Peckinpahs had lumber to haul most of the time.