Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Isaac Webster Holcomb, son of Nathaniel Holcomb

© Kathy Duncan, 2015

Isaac Webster Holcomb was a son of Nathaniel and Sarah Holcomb. Isaac was born in Galena, Illinois on 19 Sept 1829 and died on 19 Feb 1901 in Lassen County, California. He traveled west to California from Illinois in 1849 with the Rice-Imus wagon train. Upon reaching California, he married Emily Imus, daughter of Hiram Imus on 25 Sept 1851 in Santa Cruz, California.

The following account of the their wagon to trip to California is a ripping good yarn, but is unreliable since it cobbles together the accounts of other wagon trains, including the Donner party, which traveled west in the winter of 1846-47.

"Across the Plains, the True Story of a Caravan of 49ers" Los Angeles Times 6 Sept. 1908. Apparently an interview with Helen Rice McLaughlin (1840-1909).

"ACROSS THE PLAINS, the true story of a Caravan of 'forty-niners.' The Imus family leaves Illinois May 3, 1849. It was springtime of that momentous year 1849. Even in Illinois the birds were singing. The green blades of grass peeping through, the delicate little blossoms opening their dainty petals. Everything breathed of life, of hope, and pulses thrilled at the magic word 'California.' The call of the west was in men's blood. Beyond the Rockies lay the land of gold, the land of sunshine. Why toil for bread and shovel snow when once over the Great Divide, it was possible to shovel shining nuggets?

At Galena, Illinois on the morning of May 3, 1849, a party with their faces set westward were bidding farewell to friends and neighbors. Strong wagons drawn by the best horses and mules procurable were packed with household treasures and provisions. As staunch prairie schooners as ever floated on wheels waited for the tearful women and excited children to clamber to their seats, the men with shouts and jokes pretended to think only of what lay before; for once the teams were started, there must be no turning back. In the party were Philip Rice, his wife and 6 children; Hiram Imus [Sr.] and wife, parents of Mrs Rice; and Hiram Imus, Jr., and his wife and 11 children. All the spring months and up to early summer they journeyed on, driving their extra horses and cattle. The stock fattened on the luscious prairie grass. The women and children grew accustomed to the new mode of life and health came to even the weak ones of the party. They came up to and passed other parties bound for California and many trains of Mormons bound for the promised land of Utah. At the Platte River their first misfortune overtook them. Here they had settled their cattle, picketed and hobbled their horses and made camp for the night. Early next morning campfires were lighted, coffee pots were bubbling and bacon sizzling. Suddenly a herd of buffalo came tearing along and charged straight into the cattle, traveling north and crossing the river. They started in at daylight crossing at a lope and taking the cattle with them. This continued until 10:00 o'clock. They party rounded up the horses giving up the cattle as lost. A few of the men undertook to find them and at length discovered them with a Mormon train, declaring they had found them a hundred miles from the scene of the stampede. Before reaching Salt Lake City, they overtook the Donner party. The two parties traveled on to Salt Lake City, planning to rest there and lay in provisions for the last and hardest part of the journey. Many scouting bands of Indians had been encountered on the way but no serious trouble had come from them. Now, however, they were out in larger forces threatening and destroying. A number of small trains had returned to Salt Lake City because of the Indians. The Mormons were not prepared to accommodate so many transient people, so they were advised to move on. A great train consisting of the families that left Galena, the Donner [!?] party, and several smaller parties numbering fifty families left Salt Lake City early in December, Captain Fly being selected as commander.

Now the year was waning with short days and cold nights. No longer the swelling Platte, the silver Nebraska or any other refreshing stream quenched the thirst of man or beast. The sand and sage brush, the scantily filled water holes of acrid water replaced them. Often after goading the worn out animals to the limit of their endurance, a dry camp had to be made. For weeks the train had passed piles of furniture, bedding and even good wagons that had been left behind to lighten the burdens of the used up horses and scrawny oxen. Often a paper was found pinned to a pile of goods bearing the legend 'Take any of these things you want, they are clean but our beasts are given out.' Skeletons of horses and oxen strewed the trail and often a little pile of stones or crude cross marked the grave of one who had fallen by the way. As winter came on, hardships were greater. The train, now greatly lessened, for many died before the Sierras were sighted, divided. The three families that left Galena decided to try to get into California by turning south, passing down Nevada and coming into Los Angeles. The rest formed a train that took the Donner Lake route. The Rice and Imus families were now in a sad plight. The stock had all been abandoned save the horses and mules, and a few forlorn oxen that were, one by one, killed off to save the lives of the starving people. By the time they had abandoned everything but the necessities of life, the stock was so thin and jaded that travel was about to a standstill. First the salt gave out, then food became so scarce that they had to put what was left under lock and key and the key delivered to Mr. Rice. Everyone was allowed just so much. Regular rations were served, one slice of bread while the flour lasted. The oxen, when killed, had little to offer besides bone and hide. The bones were boiled and a broth made. The hide was scraped, cut into strips and dried, and a bit of rawhide was given out to chew on when the stomach could no longer be denied. At last they were forced to eat one of the mules. They even boiled the hide for soup. The scarcity of the food supply was getting serious and the train was slowed down almost to a halt. At last the end seemed to have come. The jaded mules could not be goaded another mile. For weeks there had been no bread, nothing but coffee and rawhide. Death seemed a welcome release from such horrors.

One young couple, whose names little Helen Rice, now a white- lady, Mrs McLaughlin living at El Pismo, has forgotten, started out on foot, saying if they failed to reach help they could only die, anyway. Ike Holcomb and 'Kentuck' Phillips volunteered to try to reach a settlement and started. A few miles from where they had left the others, they passed the young man and his wife, and no human eye ever again beheld them, so far as known. What their fate was, or where it met them, can only be conjectured.

After traveling day and night, Phillips and Holcomb sighted a ranch owned by a man named Rollins. They told their story and begged for supplies to carry back to their comrades. Rollins at first refused to send aid, saying he had already been duped by several parties who told similar tales. Phillips offered either himself, or Holcomb, as hostage, saying Rollins could put irons upon the one left, and if within a reasonable time he who went failed to return, or send proof of his story, they one left could be hanged or shot. Rollins being convinced or partly so, Holcomb was put under guard, and Williams, a man who supplied flour to the ranch, gave flour, Rollins other supplies, and 'Kentuck', without one hour's rest, loaded his goods on an old Spanish oxcart, and started back. He was told it was 150 miles to where he had left his party. Day and night he traveled, never leaving the cart, reaching the desolate camp at midnight. The children were sleeping, but around a little fire, sat the men and women. At his call the men sprang to their feet, but the women fell to their knees, and the tears so long withheld, now streamed over their haggard faces.

Mrs. Imus mixed some flour, water and salt together, and some small 'pancakes' were quickly baked in the frying pan. The children were awakened from their sleep and sitting about on wagon tongues, on rocks, and on the ground, each one received a tiny cake, but after the long fast, danger must be averted, so to the piteous begging for 'just one more, Aunt,' the woman shook her head and hid her face in her apron, and cried. In a few days the party started for Rollins' Ranch, and on reaching it were made welcome, and given food and shelter both for themselves and worn out animals. Mr. Rice was anxious to get to his brother-in-law, Capt Charles Imus of the Mexican War, who lived at Santa Cruz, so started out and left Los Angeles May 3, 1850 just a year from the day he had so hopefully set out for the golden west. Charles Imus was a Captain under General Fremont. He and Rollins had served together in war and both were together in the same war prison, so his relatives were well outfitted when they left the Rollins ranch for Santa Cruz. In time the remnants of the Rice and Imus party reached Santa Cruz and their descendants became well known citizens."
[Source: Los Angeles Times. September 6, 1908].

Marriage record of Isaac Holcomb:

Isaac Halcomb married Emily Imus on 25 Sep 1851 in Santa Cruz Co., California.
[Source: "California, County Marriages, 1850-1952," database with images, FamilySearch.org]

7 July 1860, Soquel Twp., Santa Cruz Co., CA, P.O. Soquel:

575-463
Isaac Holcomb 30 M Stable Keeper $500-$2,500 b. Michigan
Emily ----- 29 f b. Michigan
Stephen ----- 8 M b. CA
Hiram ----- 6 M b. CA
Walter ----- 5 M b. CA
Charles ----- 3 M b. CA
Cyrus Duncan 35 M Common laborer b. KY
James Hoffman 33 M Common laborer b. MO

12 Aug 1870, Soquel Twp, Santa Cruz Co., CA, p. 443:

Holcomb, Isaac 42 M W Farming 0 - 300 b. MO
---Emily 40 F  W Keeps house  b. IL
---Stephen N. 18 M W Works on farm b. CA
---James H. 16 M W " b. CA
---Walter H. 14 M W b. CA
---Charles A. 11 M W b. CA
---Eliza 9 F  W  b. CA
---Etta 7 F  W b. CA
---Alfred 4 M W b. CA
---Edwin /12 M W b. CA

1876 Voter Registration, Soquel, Santa Cruz, California:
Isaac Webster Holcomb, age 37, b. U.S.

1877 Voter Registration, Soque, Santa Cruz, California:
Isaac Websgter Holcomb, age 37, b. U.S.

1879, Voter Registration for Big Valley, Lassen County, California:
Isaac Webster Holcomb, age 50, b. U.S.

4 June 1880, Big Valley Twp., Lassen County, California:

45-45
Holcomb, Isaac W M 50 Farmer b. IL fb. MO mb. MO
-----Emily W F 49 Wife Keeping House b. IL fb. Y mb. PA
-----Stephen W M 28 Son Laborer b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Hiram W M 26 Son Laborer b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Walter J. W M 24 Son Laborer b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Charles O. W M 22 Son Laborer b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Alfred O. W M 14 Son At school b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Edwin W M 11 Son At school b. CA fb. IL mb. IL
-----Oscar P. W M 7 Son b. CA fb. IL mb. IL

1882 Voter Registration, Big Valley, Lassen County, California:
Isaac W. Holcomb, age 53, b. Illinois

1884 Voter registration, Big Valley, Lassen County, California:
Isaac W Holcomb, age 53, b. Illinois

1886, Voter Registration, Big Valley, Lassen Coutny, California:
Isaac W. Holcomb, age 53, b. Illinois

1890, Voter Registration, Big Valley, Lassen County, California:
Isaac W Holcomb, 53, b. Illinois

1896-1898, Voter Registration, Bieber, Lassen County, California:
Isaac Webster Holcomb, age 67, b. Illinios

1898, Voter Registration, Bieber, Lassen County, California
Isaac Webster Holcomb, age 67, b. Illinois

The following newspaper notice is significant because it indicates that I.W. Holcomb of Lassen County, California had a nephew named James A. Holcomb:

Jas A. Holcomb of Surprise Valley was here last week visiting his uncle, I. W. Holcomb.
[Source: Big Valley Gazette; Lassen County, CA; Thurs., 17 March 1898]

By late 1898, I.W. Holcomb was in declining health:

I. W. Holcomb was reported much worse yesterday and Dr. Bradshaw was hastily summoned to his bedside.
[Source: Big Valley Gazette, Lassen County, CA; Wed., 21 Dec 1898]

1900 Voter Registration, Bieber, Lassen County, California:
Isaac Webster Holcomb, age 71, b. Illinois

11 June 1900, Twp. 4, Lassen County, California:

46-50
Holcomb, Isaac W Head W M b. Sept 1829 70 M-48 b. IL fb. MO mb. MO Dairyman
-----, Emily Wife W F July 1828 71 M-48 1-1 b. IL fb. NY mb. PA
-----, Edward Son W M b. Oct 1869 30 S b. CA fb. IL mb. IL farm laborer
-----, Alvin N. Grandson W M b. Mr 1884 16 S b. CA fb. CA mb. CA farm laborer

The following death notice for Mrs. Sarah Holcomb, widow of Nathaniel Holcomb, links Mrs. J.A. (Phoebe Holcomb) Owens and Isaac W. Holcomb together as siblings:

Died -- HOLCOMB -- at San Francisco, Nov. 14, Mrs. Sarah HOLCOMB, mother of Isaac W. HOLCOMB and Mrs. J.A. OWENS, formerly of this place, native of Missouri, aged 92 years.
[Source: The Free Lance; Hollister, CA, 16 Nov 1900]

Obituary for Isaac W. Holcomb:

DEATH OF I. W. HOLCOMB
Another pioneer has gone to his rest. Isaac W. Holcomb passed peacefully to the great beyond Monday morning at 10 o’clock. He had been ailing more or less for the last two years and was so feeble all this winter that his death was momentarily expected.

Isaac Webster Holcomb was born in Galena, Illinois, September 19th, 1829. He was among the early argonauts, who came here after the first discovery of gold, but instead of engaging in mining, settled down to a pastoral life and was among the first cattle raisers in California.

In 1851, he was married to the wife, who now survives him, and though several children preceded him to the grave, four sons and two daughters remain to mourn his loss.

In 1880, Mr. Holcomb moved with his family to this valley, where they have since resided, and that he was held in high esteem was attested by the large concourse of friends who followed the remains to the Mountain View Cemetery this afternoon.
[Source: Wed., Feb., 20, 1901; Big Valley Gazette, Bieber, Lassen Co., CA.]

Horace Edward Holcomb, b. 12 Oct 1869 in Santa Cruz Co., CA, married on 19 Nov 1913 in Anderson, Madison Co., Indiana to Emma Isabel Beezley b. 26 Oct 1885 in Steelville, Missouri. Horace's father: Isaac Holcomb and mother: Emily Imez. Emma's father: William Beezley and mother: Clarice E. Norris.
[Source: "Indiana Marriages, 1780-1992," database, FamilySearch]

Obituary record for Emily (Imus) Holcomb:

Obituary for Emily (Imus) Holcmb, who came to Big Valley in 1878,  was published 25 March 1915 in the Big Valley Gazette of Bieber, Lassen County, California

California Death Index:
Emily Holcome, aged 84, died 20 Mar 1915 in Lassen County, California
[Source: "California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch]

Cyrus Owens was evidently the author of the following letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in 1937 in which he names his grandfather Nathaniel Holcomb (the same Nathaniel Holcomb who traveled to Bolivia), an uncle Isaac Holcomb, and an uncle Alfred O. Holcomb [please pardon the tortured transcription]:

...to learn that my grandfather Nathaniel Holcomb settled in Santa Cruz county in 1850. He built the first wagon road over the mountains to San Jose. He crawled on his hands and knees to cut the underbrush and without the aid of surveying instruments picked out a grade that a team could head-trot over most of the way. The first stage that passed over this road was specially reserved for my grandmother and mother, no other passengers being carried. As a girl my mother stopped at the home of Elihu Anthony and attended school in Santa Cruz. My grandfather's place was 21 miles from Soquel on the Soquel creek. In December of 18?0 my grandfather went to South America where the Bolivian government gave him a tract of land three leagues square. From there he wrote some interesting letters which will be found in the files of the Santa Cruz Sentinel of 1867 or 1868. He and my uncle Alfred O. Holcomb were in possession of this land for seven years when my uncle advised us that my grandfather had passed away. We received two letters from my uncle after that. His last letter stated that he was going with a party of 50 men to explore the Beni river. We never heard from him again and every effort we made to trace him was fruitless. Almost ?? years ago my uncle, Isaac Holcomb ran a ??? between Soquel and Santa Cruz. --C.W. Owens, 1225 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco.
[Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz, California, 20 Nov 1937]

Note C.W. Owens' address in the letter above. Cyrus Owens was living with his mother Phoebe Owens at 1225 San Bruno Ave., San Franciso, California on the 1910 and 1920 census.

This page last updated on Dec. 25, 2015



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