The Hitchcock Ranch
Probably the first to settle the lands now located in the Douglas Flat region was Isaac P. Hitchcock, a native of Pennsylvania and possibly a member of Heckendorn’s 1849 Pennsylvania Company. Certainly he was noted as working the Hitchcock Claim on the north side of Douglas Flat as early as 1850 (San Andreas Independent).
Hitchcock soon decided to establish a homestead and settle permanently in the area. In 1858 he was assessed for a 20-acre ranch and dwelling house on the east side of Coyote Creek, adjoining the Italian Garden on the north and known as his residence. He also owned another 20-acre ranch on the east side of the creek, with a brush fence, as well as a house and lot in Douglas Flat. His personal property consisted of two wagons, an American cow, three American horses, and three carts. The residence was assessed at a value of $500, the following year at $1000. By 1860, he was assessed for $6000 in improvements, suggesting major investments, probably in orchards and vines, as well as a sizeable dwelling, barns, and outbuildings (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls 1858, 1859, 1860).
When visited by the census enumerator in 1860, those residing on the ranch included Isaac, aged 38, listed as a farmer; his wife Elizabeth, aged 21, a native of Missouri; daughter Mary, aged one year; miner Thomas Lewis, also from Pennsylvania; and James Shannon, a day laborer from Indiana. In 1870 the household consisted of Isaac, Elizabeth, Mary, and sons Louis, 9; Ralph, 7, and Isaac, 2; as well as farm workers John Phipps, James Shannon, and Thomas Laws. Over the ensuing years Hitchcock continued to be assessed for 35 to 40 acres of land, as well as the Wild Goose, Hitchcock, and other mining claims (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, various).
The Hitchcock family farmed the land, planting orchards, vineyards, and wheat, and making wine and brandy. They sold fruits, wheat, and other crops, as well as barrels of wine and brandy to supplement Isaac’s mining ventures.
Hitchcock died in February of 1873, leaving a widow and five minor children with an estate consisting of real estate valued at $1000, a personal estate at $3000, and a sale of fruits valued at $1349. An account of the estate, filed first by Elizabeth as his executor, and after her marriage to Silas H. Stickles on November 14, 1877, with him as executor, provides a rare glimpse into the family’s life in Douglas Flat between Hitchcock’s death in 1873 and the sale of the property in 1880.
Hitchcock had made a great deal of money in his twenty-plus-year tenure in Douglas Flat, either from mining or farming or both.
The new family did not ignore the property, however, as in 1877 the executor noted a receipt for shakes and lumber for repair of the house (Probate Record, page 8). The statement of the account from 1875-1877 listed:
Income—sale of fruit, vegetables, interest on bonds, income from mining claim, and sale of grain and wine, $1890, cash on hand $540.33, total $2430.33.
Expenses—family supplies, clothing, carpets, stove, furniture, meat and vegetables, insurance premiums, schooling for children, $878.62, wheat sacks, wheat storage, farm horse, taxes, tank and lumber, lumber for fence, blacksmith work, windmill, boring well and pump, labor, plastering house, building fence, carpenter work, fees, assessment on mining claim, L. P. Tatton, interest on Davis’ note, traveling expenses, etc.
A notation stated that on March 20, 1875, the estate paid $3150 for land, and on October 6, 1875, an expense of moving to Santa Clara; money received $2430.33; money paid out $6202.31; with an excess of expenses over receipts $3771.98 (Probate Record, pages 7-9). Alice was attending Mills College, Louis was at college, and Ralph and Isaac were boarding.
On March 7, 1878, a patent to the land was issued to Elizabeth Hitchcock from the U.S. That same year the property was described as land located on the east side of Coyote Creek near Douglas Flat, known as the Hitchcock Ranch, with house, barn, and fences, cultivating and raising fruit, and valued at $2300. The family also began selling off personal property that year, including a horse, stove, 2 wine barrels ($14 each), horse harness, 2 barrels ($250 and $150), grain, wheel on Wild Goose Claim, wagon, 4 chairs, set of old harness, plow, wine press, brass kettle and wheelbarrow ($15), shoeing tools, sewing machine, furniture, and a silver watch; they received rent on the ranch in Calaveras County ($300), and rent on land in Santa Clara County (Hitchcock Probate Record).
In 1878 they paid Williams for labor, Roberts for pruning vines in 1879, and in 1880, John Phipps for labor and boarding, as well as water for irrigation, suggesting that the ranch was still in operation.
When Elizabeth Hitchcock received the patent to her land in March of 1878, it totaled 80 acres. The following September, however, her husband Silas Stickles, as administrator of the Hitchcock Estate, sold the northern 40 acres to G.B. Malatesta, noting “this includes the land in Hitchcock Estate claimed by Malatesta” (and certainly occupied by him and others for at least 10 years prior), for $41.83. The deed reserved the right of a water ditch through said ranch conveying water to the Hitchcock orchard (Calaveras County Deed Book 1:608).
In 1879 the Hitchcock land was noted as 37 acres (the southern portion of the land patent) with a house, barn, and fences, a small water wheel and some mining tools, as well as an additional 20 acres bounded east and west by Coyote Creek with a house and fence located near Wild Goose Gulch (Hitchcock Probate Record).
In June of 1880, the household consisted of Silas Stickles, a farmer aged 59, from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth, 41, keeping house, Ralph, 17, Isaac M. 13, and Elbert, 8; as well as Sarah Zitta, a 23-year old servant. Residing nearby were the former farm laborers James Shanon and John Phipps, as well as Ansil Davis, who was soon to purchase a portion of the ranch, suggesting they were still working on the property (U.S. Federal Census 1880).
Three months later the probate record noted that the dwelling was unoccupied; the property was used for farming purposes, and the family resided there only in winter. By that time they lived in Mountain View in Santa Clara County the remainder of the year. Stickles stated that it was too expensive to maintain the family and that the estate, valued at $5,500, must be sold. In November, as executor, he deeded the 80 acres, including the orchard and vineyard, to Ansil Davis for $2,500, without noting the prior sale to Malatesta of the northern portion (Probate Record). By 1900 the Stickles/Hitchcock family had moved to Lucerne in Kings County, where they were farming (U.S. Federal Census 1900, 1910).
By Judith Marvin