These recordings were created for Her Side of the Story: Tales of California Pioneer Women. They feature excerpts from thirty first-person accounts, read by a cast of women who volunteered their time and talents to this project.

Jump down:
Martha Goodsell, arrived in 1849 from Massachusetts
Mary Barlow Burke, arrived in 1851 from Connecticut
Cecilia Zenetta Dickson, arrived in 1852 from Illinois
Alida Wadhams Ferrill, arrived in 1850 from Wisconsin
Margaret A. McCarty Hotaling, arrived in 1853 from Kentucky
Maria Matilda Anser Hudson, born 1852 in Santa Clara, California
Thiklay Dutard Kleinclaus, arrived in 1849 from Valparaiso, Chile
Ellen Lavinia Yount McMahan, arrived in 1851 from Indiana
Caroline Ellis Mosse, arrived in 1848 from Valparaiso, Chile
Medora Wadhams Mundall, arrived in 1850 from Wisconsin
Margaret Frances Nolan, arrived in 1855 from Pennsylvania
Harriet Virginia Peyton, arrived in 1849 from Alabama
Martha Jane Bradley Scoofey, arrived in 1849 from Tennessee
Anna Helen Jordan Sea, arrived in 1850 from Australia
Harriet Zumwalt Smith, arrived in 1849 from Missouri
Emma Anderson Sullivan, arrived in 1850 from Australia
Nellie Thompson, arrival date and origin unknown
Elizabeth O’Hagan Wainwright, arrived in 1849 from Valparaiso, Chile.
Lizzie Shepard Wangaman, arrived in 1850 from Ohio

Martha E. Goodsell Botsford

arrived in 1849 from Massachusetts

“Mother often spoke of those days at China Slough and said among her nearest neighbors were several women, whose husbands later became the wealthiest R.R. (railroad) magnates in the state, who could be seen washing in their backyards every Monday morning. All envied Mrs. Goodsell as being the owner of the only sewing machine in the camp.”

Back to Top

Mary Barlow Burke

arrived in 1851 from Connecticut

“He (her husband, who was already in California) sent for myself and our child to join him as he had a prosperous business. My friends tried to persuade me from going as they knew the journey would be very severe for woman and a little girl two and half years old. However, in the month of May 1851, I left New York (on board) The Empire City. The steamer was crowded with passengers, all young and going to California. The worst part of the journey was on the Chagres River, Isthmus of Panama. The passengers of the boat before us had nearly all been murdered. Their bodies were floating in the river there. There was one man tied to a tree who was alive. One of our party released him, took him in our boat and saved his life. We took mules at Gorgona for Panama. I was obliged to trust my little daughter to a native. He carried her on his back. When I got to Panama she was not there and, lame as I was from riding, I walked halfway back. I found them but the native had stolen my shawl.”

“We (Mary and her two-year-old daughter) were twenty-eight days making the trip. We arrived at San Francisco July 21, 1851. I found the town in ashes. My husband’s furniture store was burned to the ground. The liveliest day of the week was Sunday. On that day the men did their washing, Telegraph Hill being the dressing room. The sports were gambling and bull fighting. Steamer day was never forgotten. It came twice a month on the fourteenth and twenty-ninth. Everyone who could spare the time went to the wharf to see the steamers off. Many … going east with their pockets full of gold. People came from all parts of the state to see their friends depart and to see the thousands of letters taken on board.”

Back to Top

Harriet Ashim Choynski

arrived in 1852 from Kentucky

“We came from New York via the Nicaragua Route. My sister Rose was five years old. She wandered away and was lost for hours while crossing the Isthmus. The worry and excitement so afflicted my mother she became ill and the captain of the steamer refused to take her aboard the ship on the Pacific side. My brother and sister and myself were placed in the charge of the stewardess and my mother was to be left on the Isthmus to die. Two returning pioneer miners took my sick mother in charge and forced the ship captain, at the point of a pistol, to take her aboard. The miners said they were members of The Society of California Pioneers and it was their duty to act in such emergencies. The captain’s excuse was that he thought my mother had a tropical fever, which was a common occurrence among the Argonauts coming this route. The steamer was over crowded (sic). There were over one hundred children on board. When we arrived in San Francisco, the newspapers commented on the largest accession of women and children to the city.”

Back to Top

Mary Riley Coghlan

born c. 1858 in Princetown (sic), California

“They (her parents) came to S.F. on the steamer Golden Age. Father had told mother of the beautiful Golden Gate as the entrance to the harbor. Mother was up at six o’clock to see the gate open and was very much disappointed at its real appearance. After mother’s arrival at the ranch, now Glenn Ranch in Colusa County, she could hardly be reconciled to the surroundings. The nearest neighbor was twenty miles away and there was no church. Father purchased a side saddle, the first one in the county, and mother used to ride to Colusa often. Mother has in her possession a feather bed made of the feathers of wild geese that had been trapped by the Indians. They caught them in nets on the beautiful plains of Colusa.”

Back to Top

Mary Butler Cole

arrived in 1854 from Dublin, Ireland
written by her daughter, Kathleen Cole

“The disabled steamer finally reached Aspinwall but mother was so ill from seasickness and exposure that she had to be carried off the steamer. After leaving Gorgona she was strapped on the back of a mule, but the mule refused to move. After some coaxing, he trotted off, passed all others on the way, reaching Panama far in advance. The natives helped her from the mule back and placed her on a mat for she had lost complete use of her limbs. The natives rubbed her with oil. They were very kind. She asked for a drink of water, but they persuaded her not to drink as it would make her ill. In the meantime, her brother and the rest of the passengers arrived.”

“The men on board seemed to lose their heads completely (when their ship encountered a storm before reaching the Isthmus of Panama). They cursed and fought for life preservers, forgetting all about the women and children. The women wept and prayed in silence. They were much more composed than the men. One big German woman from steerage put on a pair of life preservers and walked up and down the deck with a large market basket on her arm which contained all her belongings. She was ready to jump overboard at any moment. When the storm subsided, the passengers helped the crew put things in order. In time many of them became drunk and quarrelsome. They broke the trunks of the passengers, taking away all that was valuable. My mother lost everything.”

“Mother spent several seasons in Benicia but on her return the Indians were always there to welcome her. They would beg to hold the children and counted the age of each child by the moon. The Indians would bring her presents of beads, baskets, etc. and in return received meat, bread, and salt. Mother had but one white neighbor, a Quaker family. During the fall and winter of 1861 the American River was very high but no one thought of danger. Father was trying to save his big derrick from being washed away. Cook was in the kitchen preparing dinner. About an hour later, after father had given up all hope of saving his derrick and other mining utensils, he came to the house and told his wife to gather up what she needed most and the men would carry them up to the side of the mountain. While mother was packing a few of her belongings, father declared we will have to leave as soon as we can. They managed to get under a large oak tree. It was raining in torrents. As they stood under the tree, they saw water raise the house from its foundation and float down river. The smoke was still coming out of the chimney.

By 12:00 nothing was left. All that could be seen was a vast sheet of water. Men tried to arrange, by the aid of blankets, a sort of tent under the oak tree. The next morning everything had changed. It was a grand and wonderful site to see large boulders, together with huge oak trees and all sorts of underbrush, lying across the river. A huge column of water would smash against the mass and be thrown many feet high like a geyser, but the debris could not stand the force of the water. At last, the column struck the mass and a roar like a cannon followed, it broke away and ran down the river. The next morning the rain had ceased somewhat and they managed to reach a little cabin four miles away. They had to walk and, as the trail was narrow, only one person could cross at a time. On either side were deep precipices. As soon as possible they returned to Benicia and remained until April 1862, when they returned to the mines. Mother found two dinner plates belonging to her. They were found between two large boulders, uninjured.”

Back to Top

Cecelia Zenetta Dickson

arrived in 1852 from Illinois

“In company with my father and step mother and our little sister, we left Galena on the last day of April 1852. We arrived at Council Bluffs by boat. There we found our wagons and cattle waiting for us. There were one hundred wagons in our train, each one drawn by three yoke of oxen. We were seven months on the plains. When we arrived in Sacramento, we found the entire city under water. From Marysville, also flooded, we took the stage for Grass Valley. I was a little girl at the time but have never forgotten the trip. We had skirmishes with Indians and I delayed keeping with the train. When they camped for the night, I was not to be found. Twenty-five men on horseback came back after me. They found me hidden behind a lot of sage brush. Half an hour before they arrived, I saw a band of Indians pass by on the road near where I was hiding and was frightened nearly to death when my father found me. My father died the following year in Grass Valley, California.”

Back to Top

Alida Wadhams Ferrill

arrived in 1850 from Wisconsin
sister of Medora Wadhams Mundall

“In July 1849 my parents, with three girls between the ages of five and nine, and a baby boy of two months weight but 4 ½ lbs., started with a company of twenty-five families with ox teams to cross the plains in search of a better climate. We wintered in El Paso on the Rio Grande. We left there late in the summer and crossed the Rio Colorado at Fort Yuma, then deserted, and entered California. We reached Los Angeles Dec. 1850. Our trip ended in the City of Angels where we continued to live for the next seven years and we found what we were looking for—health and happiness. The little adobe town contained but few Americans, but we soon learned to speak the Spanish language and learned to love the generous light-hearted people who made us welcome to the dances and amusements.”

Back to Top

Margaret A. McCarty Hotaling

arrived in 1853 from Kentucky

“I walked a good part of the way to relieve the oxen. We met a man who came out with water. He offered us some but I felt I could do without and others might need it. When I reached Truckee it seemed like heaven. There were beautiful trees and a clear river. We bought some potatoes which were the best I ever ate. We arrived at Cache Creek, Yolo County September, 1853. We had no trouble with Indians. There was a very large immigration (sic) that year. Miles and miles of wagons. They called one place The Land of Nod. One could not keep awake. Everyone was asleep including the oxen. My sister and I rode on horseback and, when we wanted to, used to go with the men and select camping places. We were once surrounded by a large band of Indians. One of them offered my mother several ponies if she would sell me. I was frightened for fear she would take them.”

Back to Top

Maria Matilda Anser Hudson

born c. 1852 in Santa Clara, California

“My mother (Martha Lord Otterson Anser, who arrived in 1848) was about 16 years of age at the time of her arrival in California. She rode the entire distance across the plains on horseback. She was a fearless rider and related a great many thrilling stories to me of her adventures on the way and after her arrival in California.”

Back to Top

Thiklay Dutard Kleinclaus

arrived in 1849 from Valparaiso, Chile

“The most vivid recollections of my childhood are connected with the months spent on the ship Alice, named after my eldest sister. This was our home for months until my father built a cottage in North Beach which boasted an unobstructed marine view. I attended the first public school in San Francisco, situated on Powell Street between Union and Green, and afterwards called Washington Grammar School.”

Back to Top

Ellen Lavinia Yount McMahan

arrived in 1851 from Indiana
written by her daughter, Anna Yount Reed

“In 1904, at the age of 81, she returned to Missouri on a visit. But how different the journey of 1857, with the perilous sea voyage. Now, after a lapse of more than fifty years, the traveller enjoys the luxury of a palace car, by locomotives over a great highway, climbing mountains, leaping chasms, speeding through canyons, in sight of the most magnificent scenery in the world. Mrs. McMahan made the trip in four days. In a half century she has lived to see a great transformation, giant strides of advancement and a great development and growth of civilized power.”

Back to Top

Caroline Ellis Mosse

arrived in 1848 from Valparaiso, Chile

“When we landed we had to jump from rock to rock on the beach. We took our trunks and baggage up to Portsmoth (sic) Square and my father left my mother, two brothers, and myself to guard them while he went to see about a tent to shelter us. While we were sitting there a good-natured man came along and spoke to my mother and asked her if we had a home and she told him father had gone to get a tent. When he found out she had none, he said no woman should live in a tent as long as he had a shanty. He left us, got a dray (a small cart), and took us to his shanty. It was on Green Street between Stockton and Dupont. A large room about 20 feet square, it contained a stove, two chairs, and a large table … also, a hammock hanging from the ceiling. Mother had some heavy curtains and she divided the room by tacking them up, making part of it a sleeping room. Captain Fletcher slept in his hammock. He owned a sloop that he ran to Sacramento. He would go away and be gone several days at a time.”

“My father and brothers went to the mines and my mother and I were left alone. I had to do my brother’s work. Took a hatchet, went up the hill, and cut some branches for firewood and brought them home. We had no stove. We placed our pots on an iron bar that was fixed in the chimney. We baked our bread and roasted our meat in a Dutch oven. All our water was brought from Selina Place. The owner of the well was Mrs. Patch. She would watch and see that no one took more than two buckets at a time. We paid her five cents a week. We were obliged to make our own candles. I have burned my fingers many times with hot grease. Mrs. Gillespie and Mrs. Brannan called one day and asked my mother who made her dresses. She said she made them. They then inquired if she would make them some dresses. Mother replied she did not think she could make them well enough. They said they would be satisfied. After that she was kept quite busy and had to employ help.”

Back to Top

Medora Wadhams Mundall

arrived in 1850 from Wisconsin
sister of Alida Wadhams Ferrill

“I was ten years old when I arrived in Los Angeles, but I distinctly remember my first impressions of the little old Spanish town as it was then. I see now in my mind’s eye the old two-wheeled carretas drawn by two oxen. The vehicle was covered phaeton fashion in warm weather, with a sheet perhaps if nothing more gorgeous was at hand. The Senores and Senoritas of the family usually rode in the carreta while the Caballeros rode on horseback. The old church is still standing near the old plaza at the foot of Main Street.”

Back to Top

Margaret Frances Nolan

arrived in 1855 from Pennsylvania

“I arrived in San Francisco on the steamer Sonora June 1855. I resided for a short time with my uncle who owned a milk dairy on Guerrero Street from 18th to 21st sts San Francisco. At that time there were no streets in the Mission district. The entire tract was one vast vegetable garden. Adjoining my uncle’s property was a large field. It was used by the Spanish residents for various purposes, chiefly bull fighting. On one occasion which (sic) I and my cousin were endeavoring to look through the tent, someone asked if we would like to go in. I was only six years old at the time and my cousin a few years older. We both entered and found a bull fight was going on. We were both glad to escape and avoided the street tent and its occupants ever afterwards.”

Back to Top

Harriet Virginia Peyton

arrived in 1849 from Alabama

“When the cry of gold rang over the world, and California answered Eureka! I have found it… people everywhere made ready to rush to the gold fields in the far away West, but the problem was how to get there for no railroads or steamboats … and the great Panama Canal offered no transportation in those days. We had either to cross the plains and rugged interweaving mountains, have the dangers of the Isthmus of Panama, or go around the continent of South America on a sailing vessel.

With the family of my brother, Reverend William Taylor, I left Baltimore in April 1849, in the ship Andalusia and sailed on the long voyage to California. We had a voyage religious service held every Sunday. A weekly paper was published with Father Neptune as editor … whose diversity of life was playing around the ship – shoals of whales, flying fish. We celebrated Fourth of July off Cape Horn. The Declaration of Independence was read. Coming up the coast of the Pacific we stopped at Valparaiso, the first land we had seen since we had left Baltimore. We enjoyed its fruits and flowers and the music of its happy people.

Never shall I forget with what eagerness and thankfulness we watched that beautiful day as our ship glided into that wonderful harbor of safety, The Bay of San Francisco, which today invites the commerce of all nations and the fleets of the world to come and rest on its placid waters. We anchored far out in the bay as the water came up to Montgomery Street and, in small boats, landed near Pacific and Montgomery. We arrived Sept 25 1849, five months after leaving Baltimore.”

Back to Top

Martha Jane Bradley Scoofey

arrived in 1849 from Tennessee

“Clothing was the hardest part, no sewing machines or ready-made clothing for women & children. Seamstresses were scarce and had to be employed three months beforehand. The lighting facilities were so poor we could not see at night. Gas and coal oil had not been put to general use and all we had to depend upon was whale oil, Chinese oil, and candles.”

Back to Top

Anna Helen Jordan Sea

arrived in 1850 from Australia

“After some years hearing of this land of gold they (her parents) left Melbourne and sailed in the ship Orator, arriving at this city of tents and dilapidated shacks in May 1850. They brought a house with them, rented a lot on Vallejo Street from Samuel Brannan for which they paid $90 dollars a month.

In 1851, my parents bought a lot on Stockton Street between Greenwich and Lombard. They erected the first brick cottage in San Francisco. They moved, by oxen, their house on Vallejo Street to the rear of the Stockton Street lot. In 1852, father built a three-story brick house on the adjoining lot and rented it to P.B. Cornwall, who had recently arrived from Sacramento.”

Back to Top

Harriet Zumwalt Smith

arrived in 1849 from Missouri

“We left our home in Bolivar, MO May 1, 1849. All went pleasantly until we had passed the last settlement and stopped to camp for the night. We made a corral of our wagons and drove our stock into the enclosure. No Indians appeared, but one of our party died of cholera leaving a wife and two children. They returned to their home in MO. When we reached the Platte River we made a boat of planks and wagon beds to ferry the wagons and other property across the river. A strong rope was attached to the opposite bank and served as a cable to draw the ferry over. An accident happened as the last wagon was being drawn over and my mother and her eight children were obliged to wait on the opposite shore without food until one o’clock in the morning.”

Back to Top

Emma Anderson Sullivan

arrived in 1850 from Australia

“I arrived with my mother and sisters in San Francisco January 15, 1850. We came in the sailing vessel Victoria. We were three months coming from Sydney Australia by way of the Hawaiian Islands. We stayed one week in Honolulu. We landed were Sansom Street now is. It was then the waterfront. Where the Palace Hotel now stands was called Happy Valley. Everybody lived in tents. I saw San Francisco burn in 1850 and 1851. Provisions were very high and there were not comforts of any kind in those days.”

Back to Top

Nellie Thompson

Arrival date and origin unknown

“The road to the Presidio ran past our place. Almost daily, Vaquero were seen driving the immense droves of cattle. The old road was very picturesque, bordered with brick and yellow lupin. Our neighbors and always our dear friends were the Spanish families. The Valencia family lived in a long adobe house on Sixteenth Street, then called Centre Street after John Centre, an early settler of Mission Dolores. The Sanchez family lived in a modern house opposite the old adobe. In the rear lived the Galindos and the Noes lived in the valley named for them at the foot of the Twin Peaks. It was the joy of my girlhood days to hear Mrs. Tissori tell of the fiestas held at the Mission. When she was a young lady, the Spanish families from far and near would gather here and the celebration would continue for a week.”

Back to Top

Elizabeth O’Hagan Wainwright

arrived in 1849 from Valparaiso, Chile

“I arrived in San Francisco from Valparaiso on a sailing ship after a very hard and perilous trip. The provisions having given out, we had only one meal a day and scarcely any fresh water, everything being cooked in the ocean’s water. On arriving, my parents rented a one room shanty for which they paid one hundred a month. When we lighted a fire, we had to sit outside until it was started. The home was located on Battery near Vallejo.”

Back to Top

Lizzie Shepard Wangaman

arrived in 1850 from Ohio

“At last we arrived, the same as thousands of immigrants, in The Land of Gold stopping in Hangtown, later Placerville, in El Dorado County near where Marshall made his discovery of gold. We camped by a little brook where father built a shack house to live in, it being as nice as any in those days.”

“Several years after we arrived in the State, we thought best to visit San Francisco, so we took a steamer to Sacramento and sailed down the river until we came to the Bay of San Francisco and then we had our first view of the “Golden Gate” and the Bay and City of San Francisco. I am lost in admiration of this beautiful city of ours—with nothing but sandlots to begin with fifty years ago.”

Back to Top