By Ora Mae Huston Willett Trager


Copy of text of booklet written in 1957




(Margaret L. Shuey married William Lee Huston)


  The small town of Bloomfield, Illinois was all excitement on a certain spring morning in April in the year 1860.


  The big Conestoga covered wagons were being loaded for the long six-month trek to California on the west coast.  The oxen were being yoked and several horses were being groomed for the trip.


  My Grandfather, Henry Shuey, was chosen captain of the wagon train. He had been captain of the home guards there in Bloomfield. He and Joe Antrim, a friend of the family were to ride ahead and choose suitable camping places to spend the night.


  In my mother’s wagon were her mother and father (*Henry and Sarah (Stowe) Shuey), her sister Lucetta Shuey (a young school teacher), and her nine year old brother, Edward. Of course my father (*William Lee Huston), a daring young man of twenty-four, drove the wagon. My mother had the care of my beautiful sister, Clara, not yet two years of age.


  In our imagination we see the neighbors and friends saying good-bye, and the long line of covered wagons starting out, plodding wearily along over the deeply rutted roads west to the Nebraska badlands. They followed up the north fork of the Platte River into Wyoming.


  My aunt (*Lucetta Shuey) kept a diary on the trip, and she mentions the fact of good grazing and water necessary when they camped. The wagons took them over the Laramie Trail, stopping at Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger.


  It must have been very tedious for my mother, jolting over the rocky, muddy roads, making only ten or a dozen miles a day.  In her secret heart she knew she was to have a second baby soon after she had completed her long journey to California.


  On a motor trip a few years ago, lasting only a few days over this same general route, I tried to visualize the trip of several months my mother took so many years ago.


  At night, the wagons would form a circle, the pole of one wagon being fixed the in the opening of the next one.  After the oxen had grazed, they were put into this corral of wagons, and two men would stand guard for the night. In the morning, the cows were milked and the milk was put into stone crocks. The jolting of the wagons made the globules of butter come to the top. So they had no need of churns.


  There were many wild animals to worry these brave pioneers. Also there was often sickness and disease to add to their discomfort. They sometimes had to bury their loved ones and leave them behind. All along the trail, mother told me, were graves where this had been happening since the “Forty-niners” had made the same trek in search for gold.

  It was when their journey was almost half completed that they began seeing Indians and they then realized they were in Indian country.  One time my father thought he was shooting a prairie dog! Well, it turned out that some Indian warriors came and wanted to know why he had killed one of their dogs!  They even threatened to take him off to harm him.  However, he, being quite an athlete, challenged them to a wrestling match. He then gave them a bright colored shirt. This way, by his friendly approach, convinced them that he had accidentally killed one of their dogs.


  My mother often twitted him about running a race with an Indian squaw, thinking she was a warrior.  The woman beat him, much to his chagrin, and the great derision of the friends gathered around.  The travelers had brought along bright colored blankets, shirts, beads, etc, to barter with the Indians.


  My mother worried about the Indians stealing the baby (*Clara). They would ride up on their ponies to the wagon and say, “Swap papoose?”  I presume that her beautiful blonde curls and rosy cheeks must have been a coveted sight to those Indian mothers!  I know my mother watched every minute over her little daughter.


  It seems that a year or so before my folks came west there had been a terrible Indian slaughter known as the “Mountain Meadow Massacre”. Mother told of seeing wagon wheels piled high where the whole train had perished in the fire.  It is thought that some ill-advised Mormons dressed as Indians had helped in this dastardly deed.


  As I told you, my grandfather, Henry Shuey, had been captain of the home guards, and had helped drive the Mormons out of Nauvoo, Illinois.  The people didn’t believe in their polygamy – that is, having many wives.  So they were driven west and settled in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The members of  my mothers wagon train thought it best that they detour around the Mormon city of Salt Lake where they were now located.  It was feared that there might be trouble if the news got around that my grandpa was captain of the wagon train.


  We can hardly believe that when the only means of communication in those days was the “Pony Express” that such a thing could happen. However, I think that even then there was a grapevine through word of mouth!  My mother often told me stories of the hardships and fears that they had.


  One story that particularly stays in my mind is the one I am about to relate.

  As you may know, they were now about to go through the rugged passes of the Rocky Mountains.  This time, as they were about to enter a narrow gorge (soon after seeing the pile of wagon wheels) [*this may be incorrect as the Mountain Meadow Massacre occurred in southwest Utah, not near Rocky Mountains] the Indians began to appear on their horses. Scores of them were all around, and I know it was a fearful moment for all!  All of a sudden, to the surprise of the immigrants, one big Indian warrior stood erect on his horse, shaded his eyes, and looked down the trail.  “Soldiers!” he shouted, as he saw a dust in the distance.


  Mother said that in a matter of minutes every Indian had disappeared. The U.S. soldiers had come to travel with them through this dangerous Indian country.  How delighted they must have been to have the protection for four days through this pass in the mountains where so recently they had seen the tragic fate of another wagon train!


  So now they journeyed on down to the Humboldt Sink in western Nevada.  It was then that the wagon train split up, some going up into Oregon, and the others continuing over Emigrant Gap, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, into the promised land – California!


  They were now in Tuolumne County. How wonderful it must have been to see that rich harvest of fruits and vegetables of late summer.  Mother said that all they had had on their trip was dried beans, corn, and apples! Of course their meat supply was game that they could shoot on the way. My mother often remarked that it was a wonder they weren’t sick, then, from gorging themselves on all the fruit and vegetables! How good things must have tasted after the long six-month trip.


  Our family had a very pleasant surprise when my two uncles, Will Shuey and Gus Huston, rode out from Oakland to meet them.  They had come west the year before (1859) with mother’s grandparents, General Martin and Mary (Shupert) Shuey.  What a happy family reunion when they got to Fruitvale, Oakland, where my great grandparents lived!  After a short visit with their folks, my mother and father went on to Contra Costa County, locating at Sherman’s Ranch on the spot where St. Mary’s College is today.


  Now, in just about six weeks, my brother, Henry (*James Henry), was born.  I know how happy mother was to be here after that long and perilous journey.


  My father, who was always interested in raising things – wheat, horses, etc., soon wanted to get a place of his own. So they moved into Oakland to a home just north of where the old St. Mary’s College was on Broadway.  There was a lot of vacant land all around, and father cut hay on New Broadway in the late 1860’s. It soon became too crowded, and he wanted a larger place.


  They then moved out to Walnut Creek where he purchased 130 acres, one mile south of the town.  It was about a mile and a half from where my daughter, Muriel (Willett) Davis, now deceased, mother of Sherri and Keith, had a very beautiful home. Sherri often tells her playmates that her great grandfather, William Lee Huston, drove the first team of horses and wagon to the top of Mt. Diablo which can be seen from her home.


  When Clara and Henry were of school age, they attended a country school in Crow Canyon, where my aunt Lucetta (who crossed the plains with them) taught. An amusing incident occurred at this time. One day, when little Henry was to receive a spanking for misbehaving at school, his sister Clara stuffed his trousers with her shawl to protect him from Aunt Lu’s hard hand!


  Well, my mother used to say that my father had the real spirit of a pioneer. So in the middle 1870’s, he heard of a great wheat country in the Salinas valley. He took his fine horses, of which he was very proud, to work in the harvest.


  The next year, he persuaded my mother that it was getting too crowded in San Ramon valley, and he wanted to go pioneering again. What if he were here to see it now!

  So in the fall of 1878, he loaded up his wagon and with his family, now three sons – Henry (*James Henry), George and Lee (*William Lee) – left the beautiful Bay area and started south. My sister Clara had married (*Thomas Reed) and was living in Oakland.


  They went through the Salinas Valley as far south as Paso Robles. It took more than a week to make the trip of a little over 200 miles.  In those days there was no transportation except by four-horse stages where horses were changed every thirty miles.


Our Home on the Plains

The Franciscan fathers had come through California very early and had established California missions about every 30 miles apart and named the ”King’s Highway” or ”El Camino Real”. San Luis Obispo County had two missions, one at San Luis and another at San Miguel, nine miles north of Paso Robles.


  Paso Robles was named by the fathers going through on foot. The country was covered with beautiful white oaks, so “Pass of the Oaks” was and appropriate name for the village. Because of the hot sulphur springs, Paso Robles became a favorite spot for the weary travelers after they chased away the bears!


  My father bought a 160-acre ranch four miles east of town across the Salinas River. He hauled lumber from Cayucos, a small seaport, to build a nice frame house. It was a very hard trip over the mountains to the coast, though only thirty miles away.


  Before the house was really finished, a fire started from a kerosene lamp being too near the curtains.  At midnight the house was burned to the ground. A good kind neighbor took us all in for a length of time.


  I know my mother must have felt very discouraged and sad about losing her nice carpets and many household thing, as well as all personal belongings that she had brought down from Oakland.


  There was nothing to do but for my father to make trips across the mountains again for lumber for a new house. Mother told me that they couldn’t afford to build quite as good a one as the first one.


  My mother, a very devout Christian, did not lose heart. She took an active part in a little adobe Methodist Church that had just been completed.  It was the first Protestant church on the north side of the Cuesta mountains.


  Unfortunately, as towns grew up around, the little church was abandoned and went to ruins.  I am happy to say that recently it has been restored and is now one of the registered historical landmarks of California.  The project, sponsored by the history and landmarks committee (of which I was chairman)  of the Paso Robles Woman’s Club, employed the help of the Paso Robles Boys’ School who made 5000 adobe bricks for the restoration.


  There were the usual hardships in the early 1880’s. There were droughts when no wheat crops were raised. Sickness often invaded the community. There was one doctor at the hot springs, but he would not serve the rural area.  Kind neighbor ladies had to bring babies into the world and also help out in nursing.

  One time an epidemic of diphtheria struck, and children, especially, succumbed to this dreaded disease.  In the little cemetery near the adobe church, three little graves from two different families, have dates on the stones showing that they died on a matter of weeks apart. Such was one of the sad stories of these early pioneers!


  It was then that I, only a small child, went to my mother’s bed and said, “ I am going to die!”  No doubt it was because I had been hearing all the sad news.


  My father, who had taken up a homestead about twenty-five miles up in the hills of southern Monterey County, decided to move us up there.  So mother had again to leave a comparatively comfortable home and move to a log cabin on our mountain claim.  Anyway, I escaped the terrible disease!


  Father and my brothers continued to farm the wheat ranch on the Estrella Plains for several years. He had to haul the wheat over the mountains to San Luis Obispo. He could only make two trips a week by going part way and camping out. It was a strenuous journey to care for his four and six horse teams, keeping them fed, curried, and harnessed. He was always so proud of his fine work horses. I can hear now the tinkling of the bells that were attached to the hames on the harness!


  Well, in time father sold our wheat ranch to live up in the mountains, eking out a rather hard living by raising a few cattle, hogs, and enough hay to feed them.


  By this time, we had another house built with lumber hauled from San Miguel and Paso Robles. Then the railroad had reached down here and things were shipped in.


  My father was rather a sentimental type, so he built our house on a knoll above the spring. There were three large pine trees there, and he insisted on naming it “Pinyon Ranch”


  The trips to either town were never more than once a month.  In the winter, the Salinas and Estrella Rivers were often very swollen. Many times crossings had to be broken by driving a band of cattle or hogs across to harden the stream bed. Even then perhaps the horse, hitched to a spring wagon, would have to swim part of the channel.


  I realize now what a good manager my mother must have been to have kept us in clothes, all of which she had to make, and to see that we had sufficient and nourishing food. Flour and sugar came in big barrels. Coffee beans, corn, peas, etc. had to be dried. All the supplies had to be laid in because sometimes we didn’t get to town for several months.


  One of my early memories was the wonderful treat when father came from town, bringing a five-gallon keg of mixed pickles. How we did enjoy the sour cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, and onions! The coffee came as a green berry. Mother would roast it, without any thermometer, in the wood stove to a lovely brown. Then we had the task of grinding enough for breakfast each morning by turning the crank of the coffee mill which was up on the wall. It was good coffee too, so the grownups said. Of course we children never had any.


  My childhood was rather lonely as my brother Lee was eight years older than I. We were over two miles from the nearest school. My father thought I was too young to ride my horse that distance alone. However, I did learn to read.  I almost forgot to tell you that my mother had taught school in Illinois in the summers when she was a young woman. In the winters, when the big boys came, they had to have a mad for a teacher.


  As wallpaper was scarce, my mother used to paper our kitchen with “Harper’s Weekly”, sent by an Oakland friend very often. So I would follow mother around asking words, so when I went to school at the age of eight, I was in the second reader.


  When it was very rainy, I remember that father would get the big old work horse out and take me to school. I would ride behind him on Nig’s spacious back. I can still smell the spicy pine needles, manzanita blossoms, wild lilac, and other delicious odors of the Parkfield hills!


  About the only social life we had was the Lyceum meetings held on Friday nights at the school house. There we had musical programs, speeches, and debates. Of course we looked forward to our school exhibitions at Christmas time and at the end of school. We did have occasional country dances, also held on Friday nights. I was never allowed to go unless my big brother Lee could take me. He was very good to me and I loved to go with him, He was an excellent dancer and always paid attention to his little sister. I was free, too, to have a good time with other country swains.


  We also had an organized Sunday school at the school house on certain Sunday afternoons. We received book and cards for regular attendance. Reading material was rather scarce as our library finds in the school were very limited. Some of us read the few books over many times.


  At home, we were allowed to play cards any time except on Sunday. My mother, being a good Methodist, made us put our cards away on Saturday night. My father and I used to play against my two brothers, George and Lee. We played “Pedro” mostly. The boys loved to tease me by having signs under the table. I took my playing rather seriously, and often they made me cry as a result of their teasing. My father would only laugh, but I can hear my mother say, “Boys, if you don’t stop teasing Mae, I shall put the cards in the stove.” Anyway, I always thought a lot of my big brothers, and I know they were very fond of me.


  When I was not quite sixteen, I went away to San Jose to become a teacher. My aunt Lu lived there and I stayed the first year with her. In the normal school I finished my high school work and took the teacher training.


  It was quite an experience to leave home and go so far away, as very few rural children went away to college in those days.


  I used to be the envy of some of my classmates when I came out with a new dress that my mother had made and sent to me. After cutting out a picture of a dress that I would like to have, I would send it to her. She had learned to cut patterns from one’s measurements. I was very proud when someone would ask me who my dressmaker was. I thought how wonderful she was, away down in the Parkfield hills, with only a paper pattern and a few yards of cloth, to turn out the creations that were the envy of my city friends!


  When I was about half through my teacher training, there was a dreadful drought. Scarcely any rain fell during the year, and consequently there was no feed for the stock. My father decided to move up to San Jose so that he and Lee could find work. So the last two years of my education I had my folks with me. They brought my saddle mare with them, and I used to ride all around the San Jose suburbs!


  When I graduated, the old urge to return to the country came to my family. I also knew I must get a rural school for my first teaching. So back we came with our wagon and horses. It took us almost a week to get to our Parkfield ranch. My brother George who had married my second teacher, now lived on the home place.


  Father then bought a place nearer the town so I could live at home and begin my teaching career. When the weather was good, I drove in a cart to the school four miles away, but in bad weather, I rode on horseback as the adobe would roll up on the cart wheels and make it impossible for the horse to draw the cart! In my two rural schools that I taught, there were all eight grades. Six months, or a total of one hundred and twenty teaching days, was the length of the school year.


  During my second year of teaching we visited the county fair held in Paso Robles. There a music house had pianos to sell. I wanted one very badly. When I asked my mother whether she thought I could buy one costing over three hundred dollars out of my measly salary of sixty dollars a month, she smilingly assured me that she thought I could. All I needed was her assurance and gracious cooperation which was always coming! The first night I had that lovely shiny piano I hardly slept a wink. I left my bedroom door open so I could see it sitting in our small living room!


  I forgot to say that my father bought me a big organ when I was about eleven years of age. It had a mirror on it, and also two lamp stands on either side. I was very proud of that. My aunt Lu gave me lessons and I also had a teacher in the seventh and eighth grades who gave me more lessons. Soon I was able to play school and simple church music. I remember that my mother used to sing all the old hymns to me. She was a product of the old “singing schools”. She could take a song, sing the syllables, hum the tune, and then sing the words off readily. I marveled at her ability! She also spent her youth at “spelling school” too. We could never stump her on the spelling of a word. Of course we had many spelling matches at our school in those days!


  After living at home for about seven years, I finally took a position in the town school in San Miguel where I was to meet my future husband. He was my principal, and it was a very short time until we were married. We soon had two little daughters, Margaret and Muriel, the latter, the mother of Sherri and Keith Davis. During our stay in San Miguel, my father passed away(* 25 Dec 1911) soon after he and mother had celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. This left my mother very lonely, and she spent her time visiting several months with each of her children. She was always a welcome guest, for her quiet, gentle manner made her a very adjustable person.

  My husband Harry Willett decided that he wanted to complete his college work which had been interrupted by ill health, so we moved up to Berkeley. Before long, we had a third little daughter, Ruth, mother of Arleigh, David, and Linda Williams. Mother came then to help me with the baby.


  After our daddy had received his master’s degree in education, he got the principalship of the high school in Paso Robles.  So then we all made the move south again, mother and I happy to be back in our old environs. Mother then decided to make her home with us. In a short period of less than two years, my husband fell ill and passed away suddenly, leaving me with my three little girls, two, four, and six years of age.


  It was then that I needed my dear mother most. I had to go back into teaching, and mother was left to take over the home. She just seemed to take on new life, though past seventy-five years of age. I know now it was because she felt, probably for the first time since my father’s death, that she was really needed. What a comfort she was to us all in those trying days. She was always patient with the children. She would enter into their games by sitting in her chair and guessing where they were hiding. Her baby Ruth was the one to get her slippers and do many little things for her. Muriel and Margaret were soon enrolled in school. About her only social life was her church, and its meetings. She never missed a Sunday, walking four blocks each way, since we were still without a car.


  Mother was spared until Ruth was eight years old, so by this time, we had worked out of our hardest times. One Sunday afternoon, after one week of not feeling too well, she was sitting in her room with all of us gathered around her. Ruth was playing her violin for her. She said, “They say the violin is the hardest instrument to learn to play”, and with that, she dropped her head and she was gone to her heavenly reward. (* 7 Nov 1920)


  We missed her greatly, but we couldn’t wish her back, after the shock of her going it just seemed a beautiful ending to a wonderfully well-spent life! Her spirit seemed to permeate our whole living, and her kind understanding and noble spirit became an everlasting inspiration to me, and I hope to my girls.


  I was given strength to carry on and send my girls on through five years of college. I saw them all grow up in our church, have their weddings, and see their children baptized.


  Now, to my grandchildren, and the other grandchildren, I hope that my attempt to write this tribute to a wonderful pioneer lady has not been in vain. There may be no more lands in which to pioneer, but here will always be great endeavors and purposes in life in which you will always have a part. There will also be many decisions to make which will determine the way you will go. A fine character and a useful citizen will largely be the result of these necessary decisions.


  I hope you will always have the courageous patient loving spirit that this wonderful pioneer mother showed all during her long life.


“Her children arise up and call her blessed”

Proverbs 31:28


Note: The above narrative [and a set of scanned images from the typed booklet] have been donated to the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Library. It is our privilege to put a copy online so that Researchers who might have a connection to this family might find data pertinent to their Family History.  If you find that you have a family connection and wish to contact Judy, here is her email address:



My thanks to Judy Chadwell Balen of St George, Utah for contacting us and for sending along this family story.


Martha A Crosley Graham

Projects Chair


Site Updated: 20 October 2015