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Clayton made many stops before journey to namesake town

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A newspaper reporter visited the residence of Joel Clayton in the summer of 1863 as he gathered information for an article about the landowners and ranches of Ygnacio Valley.

The family home was situated on the banks of Diablo Creek. The two-story affair had three small rooms downstairs, one larger room upstairs and a lean-to that provided extra space. The writer described the house as a “very comfortable mansion.”

He stated that Joel Clayton owned “a large and valuable ranch under good fence, (having a) good barn and outbuildings, gardens around his house and streams of living water passing through them.” A herd of livestock, a dairy and a vineyard of 20,000 young vines completed the idyllic picture of the Clayton property situated in the golden foothills amid the majestic oaks.

Roaming interest

Clayton made many stops before journey to namesake town
Joel Clayton

But Joel Clayton was never one to be satisfied with the day-to-day duties of running a ranch. His interest in mining kept him on the move his whole adult life, beginning as a young man in Bugsworth, England, a locale rich in coal and lead deposits. He became a mining engineer traveling to Scotland and Wales. In 1837 at the age of 24, he was anxious to explore the riches of America. Thus began the many journeys he would undertake that would make him known as a “roamer.”

He joined his uncle in Pittsburgh, PA, and for a short time was involved in the manufacture of oilcloth, a relatively cheap alternative to leather used as a waterproof material. His next destination was Lowell, Mass., the “cradle of the American Industrial Revolution” and the first large-scale factory town in the country. There was a farming venture in St. Louis before he settled for a time in the “lead region” of Illinois and Wisconsin, where he prospected for minerals, purchased land, built a cabin, opened a store, built a grist mill and married Margaret McClay in 1841.

The Oregon Trail

The lead that could be easily mined was exhausted by 1844, and mining the area further would be prohibitively expensive. The Oregon Territory became the main topic of discussion amongst the restless miners, as officers of the Hudson Bay Co. spread tales of a land brimming with natural resources. Clayton made several trips to the West via the Oregon Trail with small, fast-moving groups of men and packhorses having no wagons to slow their progress.

In 1850, he was pressed to become the leader of a wagon train to California. As quartermaster, he had the privilege of selecting the types of wagons and essentially controlling all aspects of the journey. The group was comprised of mostly miners, a few families, 10 prairie schooner wagons, 80 oxen and 20 horses.

His brother, Charles, who had settled in Santa Clara in 1848, had likely told him how the tremendous influx of people seeking wealth during the California Gold Rush had increased the demand for beef and dairy products. Therefore, a herd of cattle was also part of the journey, with an ultimate destination of Placerville, known at that time as Hangtown.

Part 2 of Clayton’s ventures and adventures will continue in the April issue of the Pioneer.

Debbie Eistetter is a board member of the Clayton Historical Society. For more information or to become a member, visit claytonhistory.org. The Clayton Museum is open 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays at 6101 Main St.. Admission is free.

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