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The Johnson Ranch

The Johnson Ranch, near Angels Camp on the old road to Murphys, is thought to have had at least three owners prior to the Johnsons’ tenancy. In 1857 a newspaper account mentioned the garden of the “Hockman and Reynolds Ranch” containing a general variety of trees, plants, and flowers, but most especially the “Longworth’s Variety” strawberry (San Andreas Independent, November 14, 1857). Sometime prior to 1860 the ranch became the property of Philip Schwartz, who sold it that year to George A. Stoddardt (Calaveras County Deed Book E:543).

 In 1861 Stoddardt was assessed for a 100-acre ranch, ten acres enclosed (fenced), on the Altaville and Murphys Road, at a value of $600 (including a house) (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1861).

Ernest William and Margareta Johnson, both natives of Prussia, purchased the ranch from Stoddardt in 1867 (Calaveras County Deed Book Q:142). Married in 1848, the couple immigrated to California in 1853, and Ernest was naturalized under Section 6 (naturalization of his father). By the late 1850s the couple had settled in Murphys, where Ernest was engaged in mining. In 1858 they were assessed for a house and lot with one-quarter acre of land, possibly the ranch on Saw Mill Gulch below Murphys, which they mortgaged in 1862. The Johnsons also operated a bakery, selling it before moving to and developing the former Stoddardt ranch near Altaville (Francis Bishop Notes). The couple raised nine children on their ranch: Lewis, Mary, Marguerite (Maggie), Nellie, Caroline, Matilda (Tillie), Susan, William, and Henry. The oldest children were born in Murphys, while the younger were born on the ranch (U.S. Federal Census Rolls 1870, 1880, 1900).

By the early 1870s Johnsons' house, barn, and fence were valued at $120 (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1873-4), improvements that continued to be valued at the same amount through the decade, with the assessor noting personal property including a wagon, harness, horse, colts, sheep, poultry, sewing machine, furniture, and dog (total value $436) by the late 1870s (Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1878-9). By 1880 the Johnsons were assessed for the same personal property, although the ranch itself was enlarged by 60 acres. The ranch was patented December 1, 1882 (Calaveras County Patent Maps).

The family eventually outgrew the original dwelling, as in 1895 they constructed a major addition to the house. The value of improvements on the property began to increase in 1885, however, evidently reflecting the construction of barns, outbuildings, or additions. In 1885 the assessed valuation was for $150; for 1886, $200; and by 1893-4, for $250. The Johnsons were evidently able to add more farm buildings as the children grew older and were able to assist with ranching chores.

In 1895 the valuation jumped to $500 (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls), evidently reflecting the construction of a large addition to the home. Based upon photographic and archaeological evidence, it appears probable that the Johnsons erected a new front-gabled wing on the west side of the original end-gabled dwelling. The addition boasted a concrete cellar, evidently replacing the earlier rock-lined root cellar.

According to neighbor Nat Banchero, the house had no electricity and no running water; water for domestic purposes being obtained from a metal-lined well. Lighting was provided by carbide fixtures, piped from the extant carbide tank nearby. The house never had much of a driveway, as the Johnsons didn’t own a car. Mr. Banchero recalled that everyone walked directly into the kitchen when visiting the family (pointing to the front-gabled section of the house), and that the privy was located behind the house, south and downhill. The barn was located across the Murphys Grade Road, below the Pierano Shaft (Nat Banchero, personal communications 1994, 2000).

Although poured concrete construction was not common in the area during the period the home was built, the presence of a concrete cellar would not have been too unusual, given the proximity of the home to the mines in Angels Camp. During the hard-rock mining boom years of the late 1880s and early 1890s, numerous new stamp mills were built in the area, many with “modern” concrete footings and foundations, and the Johnsons could have readily obtained the materials and expertise from local sources.

Although Johnson was listed as a rancher and farmer in the Federal Census Rolls in 1870, 1880, and 1900, his first occupation was noted as “miner” when he registered to vote in Murphys in 1866. He evidently continued his lifelong interest in mining, patenting the Johnson Placer Claim, near the quarry northeast of the homestead, in 1891, and building a cabin and sluices on the property (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls 1891). In 1897 he filed a water right to 80 inches of water from Angels Creek, and constructed a ditch to his claim where he washed the gravels (Water Rights Book A:75). He later purchased the Kinney, Bull Pine, and Black Oak placer claims, also located near his ranch property (Calaveras County Deed Book 56:53; Mining Claim Book W:590).

Only two of the Johnson children married and moved away. The eldest, Lewis, joined his father in the ranching business at first, but purchased a large ranch on the northeast side of the Altaville to Murphys Road in 1881. He was married to Melzeanna Wyllie in 1887, and the couple raised six children, some of whom continued to reside on the ranch until the 1960s. Lewis’ sister Susan married W.E. Smith in 1895 and moved from her family home. The other daughters continued to reside on the ranch with their parents until adulthood and then returned in later years.

During the early 1900s sons Henry and William assisted their father with ranching operations, listing their occupations respectively as farmer and stockman or rancher (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters, various; 1920 Federal Census). By 1910, Maggie had moved back home (U.S. Federal Census 1910).

After Ernest Johnson’s death in 1911, the ranch passed to his widow Margareta and daughter Matilda (Tillie) and son Henry. Margareta died in 1916 and more of the children moved home. In the early 1920s, William (Bill), Henry, Marguerite (Maggie), Caroline, and Matilda were all residing in the house. Bill was listed as the owner of the farm, and both sons were occupied with “general farming.” None were married (U.S. Federal Census 1920). Bill died in 1945, and Henry soon thereafter. Margaret died in 1931, Caroline in 1940, and Tillie in 1961. By the late 1940s the property was assessed 9/16 to Tillie and 7/16 to Henry. It continued to be assessed to them through the early 1950s, but in care of neighboring landowner Romie Rolleri; by 1953-54, it was assessed to Rolleri alone (Calaveras County Assessment Rolls, various). The house evidently stood vacant for a time, for Antone Quijada moved there after his nearby cabin burned in the 1940s.

The last person to reside in the house was Antone Quijada, who moved there from the Sabini cabin on the adjoining Beda Blood placer mine when it burned in the 1940s. Antone Quijada was born in Calaveritas in 1876, the son of Antonio Quijada and Francisca Guiterra, married in Mokelumne Hill in 1866. The senior Quijada (a Californio) was born in California ca. 1843, and naturalized by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The family resided in several places in Calaveras County: Mokelumne Hill, Mosquito Gulch (Glencoe), Calaveritas, and Esmeralda, with Antonio noting his occupation as “farmer” (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters 1866, 1888).

Antonio Quijada died in 1890, leaving his property to his sons Louis and Joseph only, who evidently reared their younger brothers on the 80-acre ranch located on the ridge between Calaveritas and San Domingo creeks. By the early 1900s Antone had homestead property near Esmeralda, selling it in 1903 (Calaveras County Deed Book 44:651). From 1902 to his death in 1951, Antone was registered to vote in the Altaville Precinct, noting his occupation as “laborer” (Calaveras County Great Registers of Voters, various).

When Antone married Edna Tarr in 1915, they were attended by his brother David and Dollie Sabini, evidently a close friend (Calaveras County Marriage Book G:257). Edna, who was one-quarter Miwok, was born on Washington Flat, the daughter of Margaret Henderson and Jasper Tarr. Margaret (Maggie) was the daughter of Mary Ginn and Sanford Henderson. Mary’s mother was a full-blooded Miwok who married Washington Flat rancher Henry Ginn. Although married to Euro-Americans, the Miwok women continued to reside within a few miles of their ancient village for several generations after the Gold Rush (Calaveras County Native American Genealogies, Foothill Resources, Ltd., Murphys).

After their marriage, Antone and Edna resided in a home located on the east side of the present Rolleri Bypass, just south of the quarry (Edith Ross, personal communication 2000). Antone Quijada was noted as a farm laborer in the 1920 Federal Census, and worked for the Rolleri family for most of his life, residing in various dwellings on their ranch (Nat Banchero, personal communication 2000). After the death of John Sabini, who had resided in the “Sabini Cabin” on the Beda Blood Placer Mine (purchased by the Rolleris), the Quijada family moved to the Sabini cabin, where they raised five children (Annie, Josephine, William/Billy, Tillie Bessie, and Martin Bert). After the children had grown and Edna died, the cabin burned, and Antone moved into the Johnson house by himself.

When Quijada died in 1951, his occupation was noted as “pensioner,” evidently to the Rolleri family (Calaveras County Register of Deaths Book 8:307). The Johnson house stood vacant again until Romie Rolleri tore it down in 1955 (Nat Banchero, personal communication 1994; Calaveras County Assessment Roll 1955).

The stone walls, trees, fences, and road within the Johnson Ranch were torn up by Romie Rolleri in the mid-1950s after he purchased property. (Nat Banchero, personal communication 2000).


By Judith Marvin